Chicken prices on the rise as demand returns

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Poultry prices, especially prices for chicken breasts, have skyrocketed due to surging demand, tighter supplies and a transitioning supply chain, according to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service experts.

While production of poultry, beef and other livestock declined during the COVID-19 pandemic, companies scrambled to keep up with the rising demand as restaurants reopened and the infamous chicken sandwich wars continued among fast food restaurants.

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"There is a lot of chicken being produced, but we are seeing restaurants that aren't getting as much supply as they want to get," Texas Agrilife Extension economist David Anderson said. "There is plenty of chicken, but when you have all these chains making chicken biscuits and chicken sandwiches, which are a hot product right now, and they're all made of chicken breasts, there is only so much of those specific cuts to go around."

While restaurants and supermarkets worked through the supply challenges, ag producers and vendors like Les Ray struggled with another challenge -- the price of feed.

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"Our vendors tell me there's a shortage of milo, corn and soybeans," Ray said. "I've got a list of before and after. They've gone up two times this week, 50 cents to $2."

The challenge for Ray and his staff at Ray's feed on Houston's south side is not keeping the customers happy. Instead it's keeping up with the constant changes lately.

"In the last few months, corn and soybean prices have really increased," said Texas A&M poultry expert Craig Coufal. "About 90% of what we feed a chicken is corn and soybean meal for the calories and the protein. That cost must be passed on in the final price of product."

"For our hen scratch here, this is mixed with chopped corn and then this little round ball, that's your protein ball," said Ray's employee Mistie Martin. "That's what helps your chicken gain weight."

Experts say supplies of chickens and feed will eventually even out with the demand once more birds grow to maturity.

"The birds that were being grown during the pandemic were grown smaller because they were going to end up in grocery stores," Anderson said. "The birds that meet the demand for chicken strips and sandwiches and processed nuggets are much bigger, and it can take some time to shift production. It will happen, but it may take some time."

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