Report Asks: Where Have All the Chickens Gone?

A Yerushalayim chessed organization prepares chicken for distribution before Yom Kippur. Photo by Hadas Parush/Flash90
A Yerushalayim chessed organization prepares chicken for distribution before Yom Kippur. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Although the statistics have not yet been collated, last Thursday, October 13 – the day after Yom Kippur – is likely to go down in history as the busiest-ever day in Israeli supermarket shopping history, according to anecdotal testimony by managers and heads of the major supermarkets and food distributors. The need to replenish their home pantries after Yom Kippur and in preparation for Shabbos and Sukkos, which began Sunday night, left Israelis with just one shopping day – and hundreds of thousands took advantage of the day, spending hours gathering products at supermarkets and spending more hours on line, waiting to pay for their groceries.

While each chain had its own specials on various products, one factor characterized the shopping experience in nearly every store in the country – a marked lack of fresh chicken. Already in the days before Yom Kippur, chicken – whole or in parts – was becoming difficult to get hold of, but on Thursday, many stores were forced to put up signs at their fresh meat counters that apologized for the lack of fresh chicken. Anyone who wanted chicken would have to make do with the frozen kind.

A report on Channel Two Tuesday night analyzed the situation, with reporters interviewing MKs and suppliers in order to get to the bottom of the mystery – and what emerged is that the large majority of supermarket chains had no chicken to sell. While several MKs quoted in the story tried to claim that the supermarkets were holding back on their chicken in order to create a shortage and thus raise prices, the evidence for that was lacking, as even on the day of the greatest demand, there was no chicken to be found, even at high prices.

Most industry officials attributed the lack of birds to the limited number of days shochtim and processing plants could operate in October. With Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur taking place on weekdays, there were at least two full weeks in which work days were “lost,” especially at a time that demand was rising. Thus, it’s reasonable to assume that the supply was unable to meet demand.

But not everyone was prepared to accept that explanation. “This isn’t the first time we have had holidays in the fall,” said one industry official quoted in the report. “In recent years there has even been a surfeit of chicken before the Yamim Nora’im and Pesach, when demand shoots up as well.” According to this official’s theory, the large supermarket chains actually cut back on their purchases of fresh chicken – in order to force consumers to buy the frozen birds that have been piling up in their freezers. Indeed, in several supermarkets where fresh chicken could not be found, there were plenty of frozen birds available.

The report was unable to come to any conclusions, but two things are clear: One, chicken is likely to be on sale in the coming weeks, as processing plants rush to slaughter chickens that “survived” the chagim period, before they get too old to sell; and second, Israelis looking to save money and ensure a supply of chicken for their own use should take advantage of sales during non-chagim periods, and buy a bit extra to tide them over when shortages do erupt.