Wendy’s board probes price gouging amid meat shortage, source says


Wendy’s is turning up the heat on its meat suppliers amid concerns about possible price gouging, The Post has learned.

The burger chain’s board on Tuesday agreed to explore whether its beef suppliers are unfairly hiking prices under the guise of a national meat shortage, according to a source with knowledge of the conversations. The board — whose members include executive Kristin Dolan, who’s separated from New York Knicks owner James Dolan — also wants the government to probe the issue, sources said.

Wendy’s board of directors made the decision at a meeting on Tuesday as signs were being posted outside some of its store locations warning that the company’s signature “fresh, never frozen” beef is not available, the source said.

One day later, President Donald Trump, a renowned burger lover, said he would be calling Wendy’s billionaire chairman about the chain’s burger shortage.

“I’m going to call Nelson Peltz,” Trump said when asked about Wendy’s woes, according to a White House transcript of the meeting with Governor Reynolds of Iowa, Agricultural Secretary Sonny Purdue and Vice President Mike Pence.

It’s unclear if the two men have spoken. Peltz is a prominent Trump supporter and the president has been known to turn to him for advice, sources said.

Wendy’s is the latest big company to warn of meat shortages after the coronavirus forced major US processing plants to shut down. Costco recently said it would be limiting customers to three packages of meat apiece, while Kroger alerted shoppers to limited inventory “due to high demand.”

Some Wendy’s stores have told customers they only have “chicken & side items,” while other locations say they are out of sandwiches loaded down with meat, like Wendy’s Baconator Double, which comes with two beef patties and 6 slices of bacon. The shortage has promoted an ironic resurgence of Wendy’s famous 1980s advertising slogan, “Where’s the beef,” on Twitter.

Even before the shortage, which kicked off this week, fresh meat prices were up 8.1 percent in stores, compared to the same period last year, according to Nielsen data for the week ending April 25, Business Insider reported.

Wendy’s ire is aimed at an array of suppliers in Canada and the US, including Tyson Foods of Springdale, Ark, the source said.

Neither Wendy’s nor Tyson returned requests for comment.

Last year, the Justice Department kicked off a probe into chicken suppliers over alleged price fixing, including Tyson Foods and Pilgrim’s Pride, according to reports. The DOJ has also been investigating beef suppliers, including Tyson, JBS, Cargill and National Beef, for possible price fixing since before the pandemic sent prices skyrocketing, a source with knowledge of the probe told The Post.

The suppliers did not immediately return a request for comment, but Tyson and Pilgrim’s Pride have previously denied price-fixing allegations.

Eleven Attorneys General this week also urged the DOJ to investigate meat price gouging.

“The shelf price of beef is exceptionally high, while cattle prices are low and continue to dive,” said South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg in his letter.

“The Attorneys General believe the pricing margins are a sign that meat packers are using their ability to control the market for processed beef and take advantage of the situation in a manner that could violate the federal antitrust law,” Ravnsborg said. “In addition to harming cattle producers, this potentially illegal practice hurts consumers nationwide, many of whom are themselves struggling because of loss of employment and reduced incomes.”

This is not the first time the four meat packers have been suspected of manipulating prices.

A group of feedlot operators in 2019 led by Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund United Stockgrowers of America filed a suit against the four alleging they were artificially depressing cattle prices.

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