ONCE AGAIN, Bendigo shoppers have been met with barren supermarket aisles as staff shortages and isolation requirements have resulted in a statewide meat and poultry shortage.
Victorians are no stranger to empty shelves, as supermarkets struggled to get supply of essential products due to agricultural worker shortages and panic buying in early 2020.
However, industry leaders say this time local supply chain interruptions are to blame, as more and more workers are required to isolate in line with COVID regulations.
"To give you a sense of the magnitude of the challenge, we are experiencing COVID-driven absences of 20 per cent-plus in our distribution centres and 10 per cent-plus in our stores," Woolworths chief executive Brad Banducci said.
Mr Banducci said the supermarkets have supply, they just ultimately don't have enough staff to process the produce, or to stock the shelves.
The poultry industry is struggling in particular, due to the labour intensive nature of the production process.
In a statement, the Australian Chicken Meat Federation (ACMF) said that highly processed poultry such as cut up, filleted and skinless chicken were the most scarce.
"There are plenty of chickens out on farms, but just not enough people to pick them up, process them and distribute the products to stores, " the association said.
Supply chains for larger supermarkets such as Woolworths, Coles and Aldi have seen nationwide disruptions - with some distribution centres operating with only 30 per cent of their workforce.
National fast food companies are also experiencing major shortages, with KFC releasing a statement on Monday addressing the issues.
"This isn't the way we wanted to start the year," the chain said, "like many businesses across Australia, our supply chain and workforce has been impacted by COVID."
Victorian industry leaders welcomed the isolation exemption changes for critical food supply workers which will see asymptomatic close contacts able to return to food distribution work so long as they return a negative test result and undertake rapid antigen tests for five consecutive days.
However, the Australian Meat Industry Council (AMIC) chief executive Patrick Hutchinson said the pressure on testing must be addressed.
"We need access to free or low-cost RATs, and prioritised PCR testing and turnarounds, so that we can keep on feeding the people," he said.
Locally, multiple KFC's are running limited menus while they await supply, and Bendigo Woolworths and Coles poultry sections are stripped bare.
However, Central Vic Meats owner Mark Kemp said there is a simple solution for shoppers.
"The beauty of local butchers is that our supply chain is small and quick," he said.
"Whereas in a supermarket it has to be cut and deboned in a central room, then packed and distributed, so once one aspect struggles the whole chain is behind.
"But local butchers that are doing their own things and cutting their own meat can catch up pretty quickly."
Mr Kemp said local butchers mostly debone all of their products on site, so aren't as susceptible to supply chain issues.
"It's only when people start panic buying that things go missing," he said, "so don't panic and just support your local butcher - he'll make sure the products are there for you."
National cabinet is set to meet again on Thursday to discuss the ongoing pandemic, including national food shortages and testing supplies.
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