If you’re stuck in “Groundhog Day,” you’re not alone. For the second year in a row, we see grocery shortages across the nation, with recent supply chain issues enhancing the problem. While stores are struggling to stock the shelves with your favorite soda brand, cleaning products and pantry staples, meat, and poultry products seem to be the items that are in very short supply. When you do find it, the prices are rising at a rate most Americans are having trouble keeping up with - with chicken coming in at nearly a dollar per pound higher than last year.
With recent spikes in covid cases and after two years of cooking at home, many have found themselves out of meal-time ideas or simply burnt out. The result is an increase in fast food and restaurant popularity in the last few months.
With dining out back on the rise, many operators are turning to raise their menu prices to combat the higher supply costs, which will increase by another 2.3% this year alone. With whispers of chicken tender shortages heading our way, it may be time to consider swapping these menu items out early for easier-to-find cuts or fewer poultry options overall. Schools are swapping chicken nuggets for PB&J’s, and popular fast-food chains like KFC have had to close their doors due to inventory shortages.
Restaurant operators need to look at their menu and all the labor that makes the food and simplify wherever they can. Sit down and create a strategy that includes menu optimization and innovation - taking a moment to regroup and plan is key to overcoming the current supply challenge.
While popular cuts like breast, wings, and tenders will have some scrambling, others have begun utilizing less choice cuts such as thighs and drumsticks on their menus - see our recent blog post on using dark meats. While we love to see poultry as the star of the show, you may need to swap to a more economical use of America’s favorite protein by using chicken as an ingredient rather than the center of the plate.
A change of thinking may solve many of your menu woes - whether you’re an operator or just a home chef looking to get dinner on the table, let creativity be your friend. Shredded chicken can give the appearance of bulk on a plate. A single 6 ounce cut of chicken that would typically play the leading lady on your dining table can be incorporated into the ever-favorite “bowl,” making a single-cut stretch to at least two portions alongside those bright, fresh greens. Pasta and salad options are another great way to stretch your protein into multiple quantities and allow you to opt for lower-priced bulk cuts that can be cooked and distributed throughout various dishes.
Operators and consumers alike can use dark meats, which will be priced lower than white meat and choice cuts like wings, in soups, salads, and flatbreads to make the most of their ingredients, or utilize a mix of dark and light meat where possible.
Other solutions could be making room in your freezer to ensure a full stock of ingredients when you come by them - we are not by any means encouraging panic buying, but stocking up on your menu’s most frequently used items can be an excellent way to avoid having to move from a food distributor to your local grocer during the dinner-time rush, saving time and money.
The good news is, with the surge in eating out, you are not likely to lose business with menu changes that utilize other ingredients over whole cuts of protein, so you do have room to experiment - now is the time to let your chef’s and line cooks have a little fun in the kitchen and share new specials and promotions for protein-light meals.
One last thought on stretching your inventory: offering dine-in promotions and getting guests out of the drive-through window. As many operators already know, the supply chain issues go far deeper than ingredients. Everything from plastic wear, napkins, bags, and side containers are rising in price, disrupting profit margins further. Many of these items end up in the garbage. Consider offering dine-in-only specials that bring guests to the table where you can utilize non-disposable products and save your take-out inventory. If this is not an option, consider working with your teams to ensure proper take-out and fast food goods packaging - limiting napkins or asking diners if they will require plastic flatware or condiments before adding to the bag.
Overall, flexibility and versatility will play a huge role in getting through the next few months, but you can keep your doors open and diners happy with the right swaps.