Will 2021 be the year of COVID, too?

2020 is ending and it will be long remembered as the year of the pandemic. However, will the disease roiling the United States slow down any time soon?

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(doomu | Bigstock)
(doomu | Bigstock)

2020 is ending and it will be long remembered as the year of the pandemic. However, will the disease roiling the United States slow down any time soon?

Eight months after COVID-19 arrived in the U.S., the disease is still defining daily life. While Americans are showing pandemic fatigue – or a growing frustration with the life-altering measures designed to slow the spread of the disease – it is nevertheless spreading uncontrollably in much of the country and putting stress on all aspects of American society.

I believe 2021 will also be the year of the pandemic in the U.S. While the concerns about its virulence are lesser than they were in March 2020, there is still no vaccine or proven treatment available and the country has failed to control the disease’s spread.

WATT Global Media’s recently held Virtual Poultry Tech Summit 2020 shined more light on what this situation will mean for the poultry industry.

Back to business as usual at the end of 2021

During a panel discussion, Richard Kottmeyer, managing director of FTI Consulting and a member of the White House COVID-19 Task Force representing the food and agriculture industries, said he believes business won’t return to normal until the end of 2021.

For chicken integrators, that means preparing for another year of depressed demand from foodservice clients as consumers avoid going to restaurants, eschew unnecessary travel and schools, if they hold in-person classes at all, host fewer students. The entire industry could face tough economic conditions, as many Americans continue to suffer from lost jobs or wages due to the pandemic, and may need to scale back production.

It also means planning on spending more to protect workers at the processing plant. Earlier this year, I surveyed the largest integrated poultry companies and found they’d already invested heavily in new measures designed to boost social distancing, sanitation and the public health knowledge of their workforces. On a broader level, integrators should prepare for their workforce – at all levels – to be facing higher than normal amounts of mental stress from the long-term effects of the pandemic.

Back to normal will take years

During another panel discussion, Philip Wilkinson, the executive director of 2 Sisters Food Group who oversees national poultry operations in the United Kingdom and Australia, said when the disease is under control, the global poultry trade won’t suddenly snap back to normal.

He said industry professionals need to consider the stocks of meat sitting in freezers around the world. Those stocks only built up when foodservice demand collapsed, and he estimated it could take a year to 18 months after the end of the pandemic before those stocks are cleared and the poultry trade returns to more normal conditions.

For integrators in the U.S., this means anticipating a higher than normal amount of chicken to be available for quite some time after the pandemic ends and planning on freezer space to be at a premium.

Chicken consumption will remain high and grow

Globally, it’s not all bad news for chicken. While much attention is paid to COVID-19, China continues to deal with another significant disease outbreak: African swine fever (ASF). The continued fallout from that disease means the world’s most populous country still needs to import protein.

In the event’s keynote address, Paul Aho, president of Poultry Perspective, said chicken is currently the world’s most consumed meat thanks to the impact on pork created by ASF and that trend will continue around the world due to chicken’s low price, high availability and general lack of religious dietary objections.

If more in the U.S. continue to face economic hardship, it’s likely consumers will stick with products that get them the most for their money. Low chicken prices are painful for the integrator, but they are helpful to consumers looking for comfort foods and deals during the pandemic.

Attend the 2021 Poultry Tech Summit

Join an exclusive international gathering of industry-changing innovators, researchers, entrepreneurs, technology experts, investors and leading poultry producers at the 2021 edition of Poultry Tech Summit on October 31 - November 2 in Atlanta, Georgia. Attendees can expect the same groundbreaking innovation and insightful presentations that made the previous events well-attended with deep dialogue on new prospective solutions and developing technologies.

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