Covid hits takeaway faves McDonalds, KFC, Subway, Red Rooster, Oporto's

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Empty supermarket shelves and renewed buying limits were a worrying – if all too familiar – development this week for a society two years deep into a global pandemic.

But as Australia’s Omicron wave builds towards a crescendo, there seems to be a new canary in the coal mine when it comes to supply chain chaos.

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Where once a scarcity of toilet paper and fresh fruit served as the barometer for the logistics storm, this week the nation’s deep fryers, grill plates, and deli counters were suddenly at the battlefront.

McDonalds, KFC and Subway were among the fast food names to hit the headlines as a frustrating nexus of supply issues smashed a network of comfort and convenience that, so far, had appeared impervious to the pressures of the virus.

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Covid hits takeaway faves McDonalds, KFC, Subway, Red Rooster, Oporto’s

Camera IconWhile many consider fast food a treat – something for a special occasion – for others takeaway grub serves as a bastion of reliability and service in uncertain times. Credit: News Limited, Marie Nirme

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Illness has caused severe staff shortages and delays in sourcing basic ingredients, forcing several takeaway giants to cull their menus, tweak opening hours, and even consider using planes where trucks have failed as a surge in infections throttled the supply chain from farm to fork.

On Wednesday, Inghams – a key supplier of chicken to McDonald’s and KFC – revealed how the rampant level of Omicron cases across Australia had forced a large number of its staff to isolate and severely crimped its output.

As a result, some restaurants were forced to offer a smaller menu, with some completely out of original chicken, zingers, fillets or wings.

McDonalds, meanwhile has also revealed how it has had to alter operating hours at some locations, while chicken barons Red Rooster Oporto, and ASX-listed Pizza slinger Domino’s admitted their supply chains had come under unprecedented stress.

Elsewhere, Chargrill Charlies – which has stores in Melbourne and Sydney – has had to cull some of its menu and move chickens in between stores to ensure some semblance of service.

Covid hits takeaway faves McDonalds, KFC, Subway, Red Rooster, Oporto’s

Camera IconThe army of people needed to grow, process, transport, prepare and deliver food to your door has been decimated by Omicron, meaning there’s no quick fix for a system that sells itself as just that. David Caird Credit: News Corp Australia

In the case of Subway, the sandwich chain said it was considering making the switch from road freight to air to ensure its near 1500 store network would be sufficiently stocked.

“We’re keeping that open as a real option,” Subway acting country director Scott Buckman told The Australian Financial Review.

“It’s not an ideal solution, it’s not something we have jumped to do yet, but it’s a thing we are considering.”

“If we find there is a supply issue in one state and excess supply in another state, a solution would be to get the excess on a plane and fly it over there to address that.”

While many consider fast food a treat – something for a special occasion – for others takeaway grub serves as a bastion of reliability and service in uncertain times: a salve for mind-splitting hangovers, a pit stop on an hours-long family road trip, or a safe and familiar option for dinner in an unfamiliar city.

During a pandemic, fast food has taken on a more central role in society, as has gig economy riders required to power the system of deliveries.

Cheap, calorie-rich comfort foods such as burgers and fried chicken have helped fill the dietary gap during stay-at-home orders, and are often a failsafe for people looking for a quick and easy way to feed the family.

Covid hits takeaway faves McDonalds, KFC, Subway, Red Rooster, Oporto’s

Camera IconWhere once a scarcity of toilet paper and fresh fruit served as the barometer for the logistics storm, this week the nation’s deep fryers, grill plates, and deli counters were suddenly at the battlefront. Credit: News Regional Media

While the situation facing calorie-rich megacorporations is unlikely to linger too long into 2022 – or elicit much sympathy from a downtrodden legion of independent restaurants and cafes – the failure of a seemingly untouchable service has been jarring for a public that has come to rely on fast, cheap food.

Staff shortages have also plagued supermarket giants Coles and Woolies, with both companies warning of a tough couple of weeks ahead as distribution centres work with just 65 per cent of their workforce, causing shelves across the country to be left empty.

Of course, the prospect of tight supply and lengthy shipping delays is nothing new, with most people well acquainted with the failings of the ‘just in time’ model of commerce during the past two years of Covid times.

The difference this time is that the sheer number of people laid low by Omicron infections are not able to be replaced by a quick pivot to online sales or automation.

The army of people needed to grow, process, transport, prepare and deliver food to your door has been decimated by Omicron, meaning there’s no quick fix for a system that sells itself as just that.

Still, national cabinet on Thursday discussed a suite of measures it hopes will speed the process up.

Covid hits takeaway faves McDonalds, KFC, Subway, Red Rooster, Oporto’s

Camera IconSubway said it was considering making the switch from road freight to air to ensure its near 1500 store network would be sufficiently stocked. Supplied Credit: Supplied

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Premiers and health officers had agreed to isolation exemptions for a number of business sectors in an attempt to get people back to work.

Workers deemed a close contact of a positive case will no longer have to isolate, and will be allowed back to work if they have no symptoms and return a negative rapid test result every second day for a week.

Restrictions had already been eased on food industry workers who had come into contact with a positive Covid case, with emergency services, transport, freight and logistics added to the list.

“That also will include those who work at service stations to ensure that they can continue to be staffed and people can get access to those services,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.

Not all have welcomed the developments.

In a statement to news.com.au, Transport Workers’ Union national secretary Michael Kaine slammed national cabinet, saying sickness would not fix, but further cripple supply chains.

“National cabinet has cut the last thread of hope the transport industry had of recovering from chronic worker shortages,” Mr Kaine said in a statement.

“Distribution centres will become virus hotbeds sending more essential workers to their sick beds, infecting their families along the way.”

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