Looting won’t see polony and viennas run out, but you may need to switch brands – and pay more

Business Insider SA
  • Some brands of polony and viennas may not be available in coming months, in an aftereffect of the looting and destruction in KwaZulu-Natal.
  • There is also likely to be a sharp increase in prices for the cheap processed meats – but that is only partially due to the unrest.
  • The pandemic is playing havoc with global shipping, including of mechanically deboned meat from Brazil.
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South Africa is not likely to run short of polony and viennas as such, but in coming weeks and months favourite brands may not be available, and prices could spike.

Only one of those issues is entirely due to the recent unrest in KwaZulu-Natal.

KZN is home to key factories in the processed meat value chain, some of which were destroyed by arson and looting. It is also the site of important cold-storage warehouses – and the port through which mechanically deboned meat, much of it from Brazil, enters South Africa.

See also | 20,000 tons of chicken stuck in Durban harbour, as small KZN towns struggle with food

That cheap mechanically separated meat is much of what makes cheap polony possible, and it is not produced in South Africa at all, so local manufacturers rely entirely on feedstock imports, says the South African Meat Processors Association (SAMPA).

Between fire, power failures, and other damage, a lot of reserve stock was destroyed in KZN. 

"We don't have an exact amount yet, but we're definitely concerned about the next month or two," SAMPA CEO Peter Gordon told Business Insider South Africa. "Individual manufacturers have their own storage, but typically have only a week or so of stock."

Some popular polonies are sold under store labels, and at least one of those is expected to virtually disappear because its primary factory is out of commission, and switch to a different contract manufacturer may simply not be possible. 

Under normal circumstances, meat destined for polony and viennas flows into South Africa continuously, and the ships that carry it were not directly affected by the unrest. But bottlenecks developed at ports – which were still being cleared when IT trouble hit container terminals on Thursday.

The price of polony and its peers is also likely to spike, but not just because of the KZN troubles. Mechanically deboned meat prices have risen by up to 85% in the space of two weeks, said Gordon, in what is now very much a seller's market.

Covid-19 measures have seen pileups at ports in China and elsewhere, exacerbating a global shortage of reefers, or refrigerated containers of the kind needed to transport fresh produce, and meat. That leaves exporters in, say, Brazil, with some choices to make.

"If you can export high value or low value, then you prioritise high value," says Gordon. The cheap meat, which goes into cheap polony, may just have to wait. 

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