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The Continuing Chicken-Wing Crisis and What It Means for Your Business

Yes, your company. Because winging it in any area might cause you to fail

Image by Bazilfoto from Getty Images, edited by Author

If you’ve tried to purchase anything of significance lately (more than just, say, an apple or some canned salmon at the grocery store), you are familiar with the phrase, “The supply chain is broken.” Indeed, the pandemic has created a number of supply and demand crises, in addition to causing havoc with the service industry.

“It’s impossible to find help” is a cry I hear over and over again from restaurant owners and others in retail/food. I won’t get into political “flavor of the month causes” for shortages, and I won’t delve into the worker backlash of “going back into the office.”

No, my friends, I’m here for a bigger, nobler cause: the coming chicken-wing shortage.

Yes, it’s true, and we’ve been told it’s coming since February. The price of chicken wings has skyrocketed in the past few months. Several issues were revealed — increased demand certainly plays a part — but there is also a rooster performance issue. (I am NOT making this up. Here’s the story.)

Yep. Tyson Foods, the largest supplier of chicken, admitted they “picked the wrong rooster type” and thus have suffered a serious downturn in new chicks hatched. The under-performing roosters are being fired, well, “laid off,” according to Reuters. Fired might have resulted in some roasted adult rooster-sized chicken wings. (I wonder if Tyson tried “Chicken Viagra” before giving up on this bunch?).

Tyson is bringing back the old standbys to increase production. (I bet THOSE guys are strutting their stuff around the barnyard now.) The old roosters are seemingly up to the task at hand, and apparently appreciate being called back into action. Tada! Problem solved? Not so fast…

Don’t just wing it

Other issues are at play here, as well. First, let’s take the obvious. Each bird has only two wings. (This brings to mind the joke about the farmer who raised chickens with four legs, instead of two, since everyone likes drumsticks — well, before wings grew in popularity, of course. When the salesman asked the farmer how they compared in taste, the farmer said, “I don’t know! I’ve never caught one!”)

So, if consumption of wings outpaces the use of the rest of the bird, well, you’ll have a wing shortage. Although the history of the origin of “buffalo wings” isn’t crystal clear, it’s generally accepted that it includes the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, NY, in 1964. Most people (according to the National Buffalo Chicken Wing Festival) consume 9–12 wings per serving. So do the math. (I’ll help. That’s up to six chickens providing their wings per person.)

However, while the consumption of wings has indeed increased, the rest of the bird also has become increasingly popular. In fact, KFC (formerly known by Kentucky Fried Chicken) has introduced a new chicken sandwich that has proved so popular, the chain has difficulties in keeping up supply with demand.

Chicken is rapidly becoming a “go-to” meat as it is lower in cholesterol and saturated fat. It is often recommended in diets (chicken-fish-vegetables-repeat), so chicken dishes (at home and at restaurants) are gaining market share. Thus, again, a shortage.

As the average U.S. consumer eats 97.8 pounds of chicken per year, the low availability of wings and breast meat will continue to ruffle feathers (yes, I said it) for the next several months. Importing roasters has been considered in an effort to ease the pain, but the USDA has strict criteria for bringing chickens into the U.S. Also, certainly the pandemic has played a part, closing processing plants and causing serious employee shortages.

Stay abreast of the issues

So what’s with all this and how does a chicken wing shortage relate to my usual writing direction? It’s an example of the need to bring all the factors into play. Considering everything — not just one facet of a problem — will often help you solve that particular issue. But this shortage also shows that even when you know all the variables and address them, you may not achieve instant relief.

In Tyson’s case, even though the company is returning to its former rooster stock to increase breeding capabilities, it will be nearly a year before they see significant supply relief. “Well, at least they know what caused their problem and they addressed it,” you might say. While true, however, it doesn’t solve the issue at hand today. Consumers will simply have to pay more — or do without — until the factors affecting the shortage are all addressed. Suppose consumers find an alternative to wings that they like better?

You may have problems with your business and/or product that are a result of complex factors coming together to affect delivery/supply/quality/etc. While I certainly encourage you to pursue every solution you possibly can, I also recommend making the effort to understand the impact the problems as a whole will have on your business model.

Too often, people look at issues and pick out the easily solvable ones in an effort to show progress with difficulties. Frequently, coming up with simple solutions doesn’t really attack the overall issue affecting your customers. Why not survey your customers and find out what problems are affecting them? What do they see as the problem? Talk to your employees, especially if you have people involved in different aspects of the business. Marketing problems are not always the same as production issues.

Try to find commonalities in roadblocks, items that can be addressed across systems/product lines. The more solutions you find, the better off you will be.

Before I fly the coop today…

Keep “eggsploring” (I couldn’t resist) every option for every situation with your supply chain, with your vendors, with your manufacturing and quality processes. Every facet of your business should be constantly evaluated to head off problems before they hatch (I’m killing it, aren’t I?).

Be sure you don’t “chicken out” and take the easy route for problem solving, and keep “pecking away” at every aspect of your business. Continue to attack the difficult problems just as enthusiastically as the simple ones.

When all else fails, avoid picking the wrong rooster. The results could be “eggestentially” disastrous. (Okay, okay, I’ll stop now).

Mark S Long has long experienced the intricacies of business incubation, acceleration, coworking spaces, makerspaces and other entrepreneurial assistance venues. UF Innovate supports an innovation ecosystem that moves research discoveries from the lab to the market, making the world a better place.

Originally published at http://incubatorblogger.wordpress.com on September 21, 2021.

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