One-third of Canadians have experienced meat shortages

The latest survey from Field Agent also shows which consumers are most likely to turn to alternatives.

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Supply chains across categories have been rattled by COVID-19, and it’s not just with cleaning products and toilet paper. Consumers are beginning to notice the impact in the meat aisle, according to a new study.

Field Agent polled 647 respondents across the country, asking them if they have noticed issues with product availability since physical distancing was enacted. Consumers report issues with beef (according to 36% of respondents), chicken (36%), pork (15%), turkey (6%) and lamb (3%).

The research firm also asked consumers how concerned they are about the availability supply of different meat products in Canada over the next few months, due to potential shutdowns or capacity reductions at processing facilities. According to the findings, when it comes to beef, 39% of respondents are “moderately concerned”, 24% “concerned” and 13% “very concerned.” With chicken, the numbers are 34%, 20% and 14%, respectively.

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In Canada, there have been high-profile COVID-19 outbreaks linked to meat processing. A plant for U.S. meat company Cargill located outside of High River, Alberta, was reopened on Monday – despite the fact that over 900 employees have tested positive for COVID-19 and 85% of employees believing it was unsafe to return to work, according to the workers’ union, which attempted to block the reopening. Brazilian meat company JBS has not closed its plant in Brooks, Alberta, despite the fact that 390 cases have been reported among staff and contractors.

Field Agent also polled consumers with a preference for each of the most popular meats where they would turn, should they experience more shortages. Nearly half of beef aficionados (47%) would turn to chicken, while 34% of turkey fans would do the same. By contrast, pork and chicken and pork eaters are less particular, opting instead for “any other type of meat,” (32% and 24%, respectively).

Seafood eaters, according to Field Agent’s survey, are most likely to switch to plant-based alternatives (22%), followed by turkey eaters (14%). By contrast, only 8% of beef eaters would opt for that option.

Reverberations throughout the food chain caused McDonald Canada to announce last week it would rely on imported beef as a temporary measure. The QSR brand has used its Canadian food sourcing as a point of pride and a key element in much of its brand marketing over the last six years, most recently in a see-through restaurant activation in Toronto.

According to Euromonitor International’s Price and Availability Tracker, 8% of Canadian poultry SKUs were out of stock from April 26 to May 2, compared to 18% of all essential product SKUs that were out of stock.