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Latest US Cold Storage report shows marked declines in poultry

The most recent Cold Storage report from the US shows that stocks of red meat and poultry have declined alongside supplies of chilled fruit, according to AFBF market analysis.

30 June 2021, at 10:34am

The latest Cold Storage report from USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, released this week , shows depressed levels of red meat and poultry as well as a marked decrease in total fruit stocks. The monthly report shows the end-of-month volume of commodities in freezer storage throughout the US.

Meat and poultry in cold storage

At the end of May, total cold storage stocks of meat and poultry (excluding duck) came in at slightly above 2 billion pounds. This is approximately 190 million pounds, or 9%, below a year ago. All meat and poultry categories showed a year-over-year decline, with chicken declining the most.

Total levels of red meat and poultry have been down since the height of the pandemic last year when packing plants were severely disrupted by the, leading to a decline in production and consumer panic buying. Total levels of animal protein followed the typical seasonal pattern through the rest of 2020 but began to diverge from the expected in February 2021. Normally, stocks would begin to rebuild this time of year, but instead cold storage levels have been declining for the last several months.

The story in cold storage so far in 2021 is largely a chicken story. The overall declines in red meat and poultry were mostly driven by chicken, with 730 million pounds of the protein in cold storage, according to this most recent report. This equates to a drop of nearly 130 million pounds, or 15%, from last year. While this was actually an increase over last month, there was a counter seasonal decline over first five months of this year compared to recent years. It remains to be seen if chicken will experience its typical fall build-up in cold storage levels.

When looking at individual categories, we get a mixed story. The largest driver of the decline in chicken levels compared to 2020 is in the “other” category, which dropped by 85 million pounds, or 23%. Other notable declines were in breast meat, which decreased by nearly 15 million pounds, and thigh meat, which dropped almost 20 million pounds, or 60%.

Drumsticks jumped by 7-million-pounds (24%), while chicken paws increased by 55%, or 12 million pounds. With a nearly 20% decline from last year, chicken wings have made headlines over the last several months. Wings have been experiencing a pretty spectacular price run, which has been squeezing national chains that cater largely to buffalo-style wings.

In the second half of 2020, wholesale wing prices began an upward trend that really took off in 2021, resulting in spectacularly high chicken wing prices. These prices have backed off a bit in the last few weeks, but remain nearly 65% above pre-pandemic levels. These elevated prices are likely more a function of stellar demand placing upward pressure on not only chicken wing prices but red meat and poultry prices in general.

Unfortunately, we cannot just simply adjust the supply of chicken wings to match consumers’ increased appetites; we only get two wings per bird, and we don’t raise the birds just for their wings. This highlights the inherent complexity of livestock and meat markets, and producers’ inability to respond to demand with specific products.

Summary

The latest Cold Storage report shows the animal protein supply chain still struggling with the impacts of COVID-19. At the end of May, total cold storage stocks of meat and poultry (excluding duck) came in at slightly above 2 billion pounds. This is approximately 190 million pounds, or 9%, below a year ago. The story in cold storage so far in 2021 is largely a chicken story, with the overall declines in red meat and poultry mostly being driven by a 130-million-pound reduction in chicken in cold storage.