Short Supply: Working With Low Or No Product Availability

limited product availability

QUESTION From: Laren in CA

“Is there such a thing as a frozen chicken breast that tastes good enough to be put on a salad?

I have a deli and only have a microwave and toaster to cook things. Right now we are getting a delicious smoked chicken from a BBQ joint for our salads but the pricing is killing me! Any ideas?”


Although intentionally limiting supply and 86ing the entire board might be the goal of small-batch operators who seek to ensure the highest possible quality, increase demand and limit waste ( like the pit-to-plate bbq establishment, Mike’s BBQ in Philly, pictured above); a majority of us perform regular inventories, spend time analyzing P&Ls, review trends to forecast sales and meticulously track and manage waste in order to avoid such occurrences.

But we’ve all been there and experienced short supply. Whether it’s from an independent supplier or one of the big distributors. The availability of product depends on a number of various factors (including cost) and dealing with a product being discontinued or unavailable can pose a real, short term or long term, challenge especially if it impacts a signature item… which is why strong operators and owners encourage their Chefs to constantly develop and test new menu items.

The common recourse is to simply temporarily 86 an item but if you are committed to consistency and quality (as it sounds like you have been) then finding an equal or better product should be your goal. 

Substituting any ingredient, let alone a protein, with an inferior product has the real potential to at best negatively impact guest satisfaction and at worst damage your reputation and dilute your brand equity.

I would seriously consider smoking your own birds to ensure supply. No frozen or prepackaged chicken is really going to come close and if you have a number of guests who are enjoying that dish - you can all but guarantee they’re going to be disappointed.

How many of those salads are you selling in a week? You want to avoid taking something away from a guest if at all possible - especially if it’s one of the more popular items.

If it is, I would recommend you either:

A.) Keep the superior product and increase the menu price of the salad so it doesn’t kill your food cost (or negotiate better pricing).

B.) Smoke your own (and inject the birds to make them extra juicy).

C.) Hire someone to smoke birds for you.

D.) Find another backyard bomber or someone who does catering with a mobile smoker. There are tons of people that do it. My first stop to find one (after Google) would be at local breweries that don’t have kitchens. They should be able to give you the name of someone (or some food truck) with a small operation who would appreciate your business and offer you more competitive pricing.


E.) Find an equally but different high-quality product (try sous viding your own fresh chicken) and create a new seasonal chicken salad “i.e, summer chicken salad” with lighter accompaniments or try something that is trending strong AND consistent with your concept (e.g., a pesto chicken protein bowl with quinoa and summer veg).

Good Luck!