The Surprising Reason Frozen Chicken Nuggets Are So Hard To Find
Everyone wants nuggets. Everybody Needs nuggets. “It’s the nuggets or the tenders,” says Matthew Easton of the best-selling items from Waitoa’s frozen food range, which can usually be found in the refrigerated section of your local supermarket. “I see pictures of people storing them in their freezers.”
But not everyone can have nuggets. Over the past two years of Covid-inspired stay-at-home orders, demand for Waitoa’s frozen chicken products has steadily increased. Now that the confinements are over, it has not calmed down. With labor shortages, staff catching Covid and up to 100 vacancies across the business to be filled, Easton, the managing director of sales and marketing, says Waitoa has caught up.
People take whatever the company can give them, and whatever is there sells out quickly. This is the case for nuggets, tenders and chicken burger patties, as well as vegetable nuggets manufactured under the Let’s Eat brand. “We do it, then right away it goes away and it sells again.”
But these are the nuggets that people want the most. Easton is constantly asked when they will be back in stock. My own kids are begging me for them, but on my local countdown, there’s still a big vacuum in the cooler they were in. “Your kids are onto something,” Easton admits.
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That’s part of why I called Easton, to relay their complaints and find out when I could cook them for dinner again. He’s a salesman, sees those empty shelves of chilled goods in supermarkets all the time, and admits it’s hard to see demand grow and not make the most of it. “We want a full freezer so everyone can enjoy nuggets whenever they want – and we’re working on that,” he says.
I expected Easton to relay the same concerns that all businesses in Aotearoa have – supply chain issues, staff shortages, Covid diseases. Michael Brooks, executive director of the Poultry Industry Association of New Zealand, says he has seen chicken factories with up to 50% of staff absent. “The processing side of the industry is suffering,” says Brooks. “Some of the products, like chicken skewers – these are the ones that companies look at and say, ‘We don’t have the labor resources to do this. “”
But there is a third problem at play, one that came out of nowhere. “There is currently a shortage of carbon dioxide in New Zealand,” Easton explains. Carbon dioxide? Isn’t that exactly the thing the planet absolutely lacks, the one blamed for causing global warming, epic wildfires, major storms and floods?
Easton laughs when I say that. He does not talk about global emissions. He’s talking about the cold stuff – food-grade liquid carbon dioxide. It turns out that cold gas is not only useful for releasing a Terminator, but can also be used as a preservative and to keep chicken nuggets in their nugget form. “We have to keep it nice and cool to keep it that nugget shape,” he says.
It’s true – there really is a shortage of carbon dioxide. Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse at your local supermarket, supplies of craft beers, cheeses, canned meats, soft drinks and sparkling wines are suddenly under threat. It’s all tied to the closure of the Marsden Point refinery, where the carbon dioxide normally comes from. The only other place to get it is at a production facility in Taranaki.
A Food and Grocery Council spokesperson recently said Things this means increases in food prices – beyond the rise in the price of groceries – could be on their way. “If this situation is not resolved, before long there may be a shortage of these products on supermarket shelves and prices may even rise accordingly,” he said. “Manufacturers will have stocks of carbon dioxide and products on hand, but they won’t last forever.”
What does this mean for nuggets? It’s not just Waitoa who are worried – even the McNuggets are in danger. Although there is no immediate threat, a McDonald’s spokesperson said: “Like anyone sourcing products that require carbon dioxide in their production, we are working with our suppliers on planning and contingencies. depending on different scenarios.
Easton says they are doing the same in Waitoa. “We are still doing [them]. But as the demand increases, once you’re late, it’s hard to keep up. When I ask him to predict exactly when his nuggets will definitely be back in stock, he stalls. “We are working to reduce our carbon dioxide consumption, and once availability improves, our team will work hard to increase production to meet demand.”
But he has good news. A new chicken factory processing line is being created which will allow Waitoa to start reversing the major chicken nugget shortage of 2022. “It’s a good time,” he says. “We will be able to increase production to increase the level of stock in our customers’ freezers.” The kicker? It can’t be done until “we don’t have the carbon dioxide”.