“Harder than the heart of lockdown”: KFC’s cabbage burger the tip of the iceberg for hospitality food crisis

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KFC Australia has sensationally announced it will replace lettuce with cabbage on its burgers in a story that’s gone around the world.

But whether it’s a PR masterstroke or a genuine shortage, local hospitality stalwarts say their struggle with food shortages feels much more invisible.

Canberra burger chain Brodburger said the lettuce shortage is the tip of the iceberg on Wednesday morning when explaining why its customers may see a different type of lettuce on burgers too (although the business promised it wouldn’t be cabbage).

 

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Frank Andrews runs Frankie’s Beans Cafe in Darlinghurst, but also works as a coffee roaster, visiting dozens of cafes to deliver their beans — and to commiserate.

Speaking to SmartCompany, he says ongoing labour shortages and food shortages are complicating what is, for many hospitality owners, a tough labour of love even at the best of times.

There has always been something in previous years — floods, droughts — but now they’ve all come at once, he says.

The shortages are affecting everything across the board, it’s not just one or two items.

According to KFC’s statement, recent flooding events in Queensland and New South Wales are to blame for the lettuce shortage affecting customers in NSW, Victoria, Queensland, the ACT and Tasmania.

Earlier this year a poultry shortage from the supply chain crisis saw the fast-food titan also run out of chicken.

But a shortage can be a much more serious thing for the bottom line of a locally-owned small business like a cafe, bar or restaurant, Andrews says.

For instance, imagine you own a cafe and you order breakfast mushrooms for $10-$12 a kilo, but there are no breakfast mushrooms available, so the supplier delivers a different kind of mushroom that costs $30 a kilo.

So, do you take the more expensive mushroom, or do you send it back and make do without mushrooms? he asks.

Customers may be anywhere from surprised, to disappointed and irate, about a menu item not being available for their meal.

But if you return the mushrooms, there’s extra administration; you have to make sure the driver has told the supplier, that the supplier has deducted it from your next invoice,” Andrews says. 

If the mushrooms are in indefinite shortage — like lettuce is at the moment, for instance — you’re faced with another set of questions as a business owner.

Do you rewrite the menu, have it redesigned, reprinted, and re-uploaded on your website and apps like Uber Eats that you use to have food delivered?

In a way, it’s a trick question: Andrews says he’s already working 80-hour weeks because of staff shortages and there’s no time for any of this anyway.

You’re working at this three times harder than you were before, but for a worse outcome, Andrews says.

It’s harder now than when we were in the heart of lockdown.

And Andrews knows it’s not just him.

I’m having these discussions with the cafe owners I supply coffee to and we’re all in the same boat; whether they’re in the city or in the burbs, we’re all experiencing the same level of pain, he says.

As a hospitality owner, he says the best thing to do is try to be as agile as possible and remain hopeful that mass shortages will ease soon.

We’re just rolling with the punches and hoping things will turn around in the not too distant future.

It’s the constant adapting that is one of the hardest bits at the moment.

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