UK meat processing plants have been reducing throughputs since early 2021 due to a labour shortage in the country. The workforce shortage comes on the back of two vital factors - Brexit and the COVID-19 crisis.
The British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) pointed out that the UK meat processing industry relies on overseas or migrant labour. Most of the meat processing plants recruited approximately 80% of their staff from the European Union (EU). However, post-Brexit, the meat processing industry is struggling to recruit staff from the EU due to extra documentation and legal hassles. The meat processors across the UK have attempted to counter this issue by raising worker wages and opting for mechanization and automation; however, are struggling to deal with the change.
Similarly, due to the COVID-19 crisis, the number of workers in the processing plants is declining week-on-week. On average, one in ten workers at UK meat processing plants has been asked to self-isolate. Many firms have reported operating with 10% fewer staff (than needed), forcing some processors into permanent closure.
During this time of the year, processors typically accelerate throughput to meet firm pre-Christmas demand from retailers. However, this year, meat processors have been forced to downsize production volumes, particularly for specific meat cuts, requiring work from a more skilled butcher. The poultry sector reported a 10% y-o-y decline in the number of birds slaughtered in June 2021. All these factors indicate a supply tightness in the UK meat sector for the remainder of H2-2021. The supply shortage sentiment has already started to translate into firm UK meat prices. The Mintec price of UK pork increased 2% m-o-m and 12% q-o-q to reach GBP 1.6/kg on 14th July 2021. Meanwhile, the Mintec beef price in the UK rose 3% m-o-m and 11% y-o-y to reach GBP 4/kg. Similarly, the UK chicken price reached GBP 1.9/kg, up 7% q-o-q during the same period. Mintec expects higher prices of some specialized meat cuts such as lamb and pork chops in the short term.