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Buffalo chicken tenders off the menu at Culver’s, thanks to limited supply nationwide
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Buffalo chicken tenders off the menu at Culver’s, thanks to limited supply nationwide

Culver's Buffalo Chicken Tenders

Culver's Buffalo Chicken Tenders are out of stock right now.

Go to Culver’s right now and you can still get ButterBurgers, crinkle cut fries and all the custard you desire, but you probably can’t get one popular item: Buffalo chicken tenders.

Outside many Culver's, taped to doors and on speakers at the drive-thru menu, are signs that say the popular spicy item probably won't be on the menu again until the fall.

It’s the result of a limited supply of chicken nationwide. The scarcity is caused by more than just a couple factors, some pandemic-related, some not.

For one, there were significant die-offs of chickens in Texas in February during unprecedented, fatal ice storms that pushed temperatures in some places far below freezing and knocked out power grids that powered heating systems.

That reduced supply nationwide, since Texas has the sixth-most chickens of any U.S. state.

Buckets Pub, 2031 Lathrop Ave., Racine

People gather to watch the NCAA men's basketball tournament at Buckets Pub on March 25, 2005.

On top of that, labor shortages — due to too-low wages or too-high unemployment benefits or people choosing not to work due to safety concerns related to COVID-19, depending on whom you ask — have led to some factories producing below expectations.

“Prices are up 55% or 60%,” said Chuck Brandt, owner of Buckets Pub, a restaurant in Racine, Wisconsin, that has won several contests for its chicken wings.

One supplier, Brandt said, told him that an entire shift of workers at a chicken factory walked off, citing COVID-19 concerns, as an example of the wide-ranging supply chain disruptions.

Jake Haman

Jake Haman

Siblings Jake and Alisa Haman, who run the family-owned Culver’s along Highway 20 near Interstate 94 in Yorkville, Wisconsin, and are on course to open their own co-owned Culver’s at 4542 Douglas Ave., Caledonia, Wisconsin, before the year is out, couldn’t point to a clear reason why they’re out of stock of Buffalo chicken.

“That comes from corporate and it happens with a range of different items,” Jake Haman said. “It’s the distributors, whatever they’re going through.”

Industry leaders have been careful to not call the lack of chicken a “shortage.” A spokesman for the National Chicken Council told USA Today last month that there is a “very tight supply but short of a shortage.”

Culver’s is saying the same thing. According to Culver’s corporate office, since all chicken is in short supply right now, the company decided to stop offering Buffalo chicken tenders while still keeping regular chicken tenders on the menu.

“The nation’s supply of chickens is currently tight, but not to the point that it could be labeled a shortage. The tight supply chain includes all chicken, which means wings, tenders and breasts all are affected, which in turn is affecting restaurants and grocery stores alike,” Eric Skrum, director of public relations and communications for Culver’s, said in an email. “There are a variety of factors contributing to the nationwide tightened supply, including increased product demand and heavy winter storms in chicken growing areas like Texas.

Alisa Haman

Alisa Haman

“Culver’s continuously monitors our supply chain to ensure we meet the expectations of our guests in delivering high-quality food made with the best ingredients. As part of our proactive approach to supply chain management, we have shifted our chicken tender supplies to meet the higher guest demand for our Regular Chicken Tenders.”

Like Brandt, Alisa Haman said she could point the limited supply to either issues of labor shortages or distribution difficulties.

“Since the pandemic, we've had this left and right,” Jake Haman said, referring to all the shortages that have occurred in the past 16 months. “Right now … (it’s) the Buffalo tenders,” he continued. But, if “you go to any restaurant right now … it's just a shortage.”

Added Brandt: “It’s a trickle-down effect.”

Chicken Farmers Lawsuit

In this Dec. 2, 2008 file photo, a contract chicken farmer walks amid three-week-old chicks at a farm just outside the city limits of Pittsburg, Texas.

Out of the coop, off of menus

Some restaurants across the U.S. are taking chicken items off the menu altogether while others are raising their prices. The owner of an upstate New York restaurant told Fox Business this week that chicken prices are up almost 100% while the cost of fryer oil is up more than 120%.

There are also a couple minor causes.

Over the past few years, there’s been a widespread spike in demand for fried chicken sandwiches partially blamed on the boom of the Chick-fil-A’s restaurant chain (it went from 500 locations in the U.S. in 1993 to 1,000 in 2001, and now more than 2,600) leading to competitors such as Burger King and McDonald’s offering their own imitator chicken sandwiches.

More recently, the wildly popular social media platform TikTok was used to launch a trend that caused demand for “Nashville Hot Chicken” sauce from KFC and other hot sauces to skyrocket, thus lowering supply of the common chicken accompaniment.

Diana Panuncial contributed to this report.


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