As a favorite chicken dish goes scarce, Britain looks for someone to blame

Nando’s is running low on peri-peri chicken. British panic ensues.

The South African chicken chain, which has a large following in the U.K., has had to temporarily shutter 10% of its 450 shops in Britain and has deployed 70 members of its staff to help pack chicken as supplies run low.

Nando’s is not the only business to cut menu items and shutter doors owing to low chicken supply. KFC said recently that its U.K. restaurants were facing “disruptions” and that some items may not be available.

The culprit? Suppliers unequivocally blame Brexit. But there are other forces at work, and shortages can be found worldwide.

In the U.K. industry, however, the Brexit angle reigns supreme. The British Poultry Council says that EU workers leaving the U.K. after Brexit, which has left one in six sector jobs unfilled, has caused a 10% drop in poultry production in an industry that usually processes some 20 million birds each week.

2 Sisters Food Group—the country’s largest supplier of supermarket chicken—points to a “chronic” shortage of staff to process birds, noting that workforces had been affected by the coronavirus, but that post-Brexit immigration restrictions had a far more severe effect.

Meanwhile, Avara Foods, another leading chicken supplier, said that while it was not experiencing any inconvenience from the pandemic, the U.K. workforce had been severely depleted as a result of Brexit.

“It looks increasingly like this is a structural change in the U.K. labor market, which shows no obvious signs of being resolved quickly,” Avara said.

Shortages everywhere

However, this labor shortage problem isn’t unique to the U.K.

Restaurant Brands International (RBI), owner of fast-food giants Burger King and Popeyes, said this month it expects U.S. beef costs to climb this quarter as labor shortages across the country are making it tough to staff meatpacking plants. RBI suggested that workers rich with stimulus checks lacked the incentive to show up for the job.

This labor shortage, combined with the ballooning demand for meat in the U.S. from grocery stores and reopened restaurants, has put pressure on meat supply chains that are still grappling with higher feed costs for cattle and hogs.

The U.K. is dealing with a similar equation. The industry urgently needs to fill meatpacking jobs just as the sudden increase in demand for chicken caused by the flash opening of restaurants on July 19 is exacerbating shortages. Chicken accounts for half the meat consumed in the U.K.

The industry in the U.K. faces a more difficult road to filling those jobs, as the work has traditionally been performed by “low-skilled” Eastern European workers who, under a new points-based system that favors educated and skilled workers, have mostly had to retreat home post-Brexit.

The British Poultry Council noted that it had warned the government in a letter to Home Secretary Priti Patel that staff shortages would result in chicken producers cutting weekly supply by up to 10%. The council is calling for immigration changes, such as making poultry workers eligible for “skilled worker” visas and including them in seasonal labor schemes.

Meanwhile, people on Twitter are clocking on. Some are asking if Nando’s should have been considered in the fated Brexit vote back in 2016.

Similarly, some snidely suggested Nando’s could serve the “sovereignty” offered by leaving the EU.

While others are quick to blame a certain type of Nando’s clientele who might not have so refined a taste.

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