Low inventories of chicken, especially wings, constrain supplies as restaurants reopen

Two lne charts showing the total broiler meat and chicken wings in millions of pounds for 2020, 2021, and the average for 2018-2020.

As restaurants gradually return to regular operations after more than a year of capacity constraints related to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, they may find challenges trying to stock enough chicken and chicken wings to meet growing demand. Broiler (chicken) production in the first quarter of 2021 was down 3 percent from a year earlier, while stocks of chicken meat in cold storage are at record lows. In combination, these conditions create low chicken availability at a time when demand is building. Broiler meat in cold storage at the end of March totaled 700 million pounds, 220 million pounds less than the same time last year and 79 percent of the 3-year-average for March. Chicken wings, which have been in high demand as takeout food during the pandemic, are at their lowest level in cold storage since 2012 and around 17 million pounds below the same time last year. If the chicken industry were to respond by expanding production, rebounds would probably take at least 9 to 12 weeks—the approximate time it takes for a broiler to hatch and reach maturity. This chart is drawn from USDA, Economic Research Service’s Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook, May 2021.

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