The army of people needed to grow, process, transport, prepare and deliver food to your doorstep has been decimated by Omicron, with no silver bullet for a system that sells itself as such.
Empty supermarket shelves and renewed purchase limits were an ominous – if all too familiar – development this week for a society that is two years deep in a global pandemic.
But as Australia’s wave of Omicron builds to a crescendo, there appears to be a new canary in the coal mine when it comes to supply chain chaos.
Where once shortages of toilet paper and fresh fruit served as a barometer of the logistical storm, this week the country’s deep fryers, griddles and deli counters suddenly found themselves on the front lines.
McDonalds, KFC and Subway were among the fast food names to grab headlines as a frustrating link of supply issues shattered a web of comfort and convenience that had until now seemed unresponsive to the pressures of the virus.
The disease has caused severe staff shortages and delays in the supply of basic ingredients, forcing several take-out giants to eliminate their menus, change opening hours and even consider using planes where trucks failed as a spike in infections strangled the farm-to-fork supply chain.
On Wednesday, Inghams – a key chicken supplier to McDonald’s and KFC – revealed how the creeping level of Omicron cases across Australia had forced many of its staff into self-isolation and severely cut production.
As a result, some restaurants have been forced to offer a smaller menu, with completely unsourced chicken, zingers, tenderloins, or wings.
McDonalds, meanwhile, also revealed how it had to change opening hours at some locations, while chicken barons Red Rooster Oporto and ASX-listed slinger Pizza Domino’s admitted their supply chains had been under unprecedented stress.
Elsewhere, Chargrill Charlies – which has stores in Melbourne and Sydney – had to eliminate part of its menu and move chickens between stores to provide some semblance of service.
In the case of Subway, the sandwich chain said it was considering doing switch from road freight to air freight to ensure that its network of nearly 1,500 stores would be sufficiently supplied.
“We’re keeping this open as a real option,” Subway’s interim national manager Scott Buckman said. The Australian Financial Review.
“It’s not an ideal solution, it’s not something we’ve done yet, but it’s something we’re considering.”
“If we find that there is a supply problem in one state and an excess of supply in another state, one solution would be to get the excess on a plane and fly it there to solve this problem.”
While many view fast food as a treat – something for a special occasion – for others, take-out food serves as a bastion of reliability and service in uncertain times: a balm for mind-boggling hangovers, a pit stop on a multi-hour family road trip, or a safe and familiar option for dinner in an unfamiliar city.
During a pandemic, fast food has taken on a more central role in society, as have the gig economy runners needed to fuel the delivery system.
Inexpensive, high-calorie comfort foods, such as hamburgers and fried chicken, have helped fill the food gap on stay-at-home orders and are often a safety net for people looking for a quick and easy way to feed the family.
While the situation facing calorie-heavy megacorporations is unlikely to persist for too long into 2022 — or garner much sympathy from a downtrodden legion of independent restaurants and cafes — the failure of seemingly untouchable service was shocking to an audience that has come to rely on fast, cheap food.
Staff shortages have also plagued supermarket giants Coles and Woolies, with both companies warning of a tough few weeks ahead with distribution centers working with just 65% of their workforce, emptying shelves across the country .
Of course, the prospect of tight supply and long shipping delays is nothing new, with most people well aware of the failures of the “just in time” business model over the past couple of years of the time. of Covid.
The difference this time is that the large number of people harmed by Omicron infections cannot be replaced by a quick pivot to online sales or automation.
The army of people needed to grow, process, transport, prepare and deliver food to your doorstep has been decimated by Omicron, meaning there’s no silver bullet for a system that sells like this .
Still, the national cabinet discussed a series of measures on Thursday that it hopes will speed up the process.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said premiers and health workers had agreed isolation exemptions for a number of business sectors in a bid to get people back to work.
Workers considered a close contact of a positive case will no longer have to self-isolate and will be allowed to return to work if they show no symptoms and return a negative rapid test result every other day for a week.
Restrictions had already been eased for food industry workers who had come into contact with a positive Covid case, with emergency services, transport, freight and logistics added to the list.
“It will also include those who work at service stations to ensure they can continue to be staffed and people can access these services,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.
Not everyone liked the developments.
In a statement to news.com.au, Transport Workers’ Union national secretary Michael Kaine criticized the national cabinet, saying the disease would not solve but further cripple supply chains.
“The National Cabinet has cut the last thread of hope the transport industry had to recover from chronic worker shortages,” Mr Kaine said in a statement.
“Distribution centers will become hotbeds of viruses sending more essential workers to their sick beds, infecting their families along the way.”