Fast-food workers describe melting food and air so hot it ‘felt like the grease from the kitchen was sliding down our throats’ as record heat pummels parts of the US

McDonald's workers protest heat conditions at a Los Angeles store.
McDonald’s workers protest heat conditions at a Los Angeles store.

  • Workers at McDonald’s and Jack In The Box protested working in over 100-degree temperatures.
  • Jack In The Box workers filed an OSHA complaint after their manager told them they were exaggerating.
  • A Hooters location and Voodoo Doughnut shop also held walkouts due to the high temperatures.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Fast food workers are struggling to beat the heat as many areas in the US continue to face record temperatures.

“It was uncomfortable and hard to breathe,” Laura Pozos, a Los Angeles McDonald’s worker, told Insider after her location went several months without an air conditioner or working kitchen ventilator, even hitting in-store temperature around 100 degrees. “It felt like the grease from the kitchen was sliding down our throats.”

The heat wave has prompted several walkouts across the West Coast. On Tuesday, workers at a Sacramento Jack In The Box went on strike when conditions inside the restaurant hit as high as 109 degrees, according to a complaint the workers filed with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Sacramento County Public Health.

In the complaint, the group said that the air conditioning at the store was frequently broken and management had not implemented any strategies to keep workers safe from excessive heat exposure.

Jack In The Box workers protest heat conditions at Sacramento location.
Jack In The Box workers protest heat conditions at Sacramento location.

“She [the manager] said we were exaggerating and hot because of menopause,” one worker noted in the OSHA complaint after she approached her manager regarding the issue.

The location was one of many fast food sites in California that has faced backlash from employees who say they have been forced to work in extreme heat.

On Sunday, a Voodoo Doughnuts store in Portland staged a walkout due to heat conditions. The union Doughnut Workers United said in a Facebook post that temperatures were so high doughnuts were melting and the frosting wouldn’t dry. A Voodoo Doughnut spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment from Insider, but told the Huffington Post that they had kept the store air conditioner running and altered the store schedule to keep workers from laboring under peak temperatures.

Earlier in June, a Hooters in Houston held a walkout after the location went a month without air conditioning. A waitress told local news the store was so hot that the workers would gather in the ice cooler.

Similarly, a McDonald’s off Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles staged a protest on June 17 to demand the company properly repair its air conditioning unit.

Pozos told Insider the heat poses an imminent risk to fast food workers. While the air conditioning and kitchen ventilation system was eventually fixed when her store hired a new manager, she says worker’s health should not be dependent on the generosity of their managers.

Pozos pointed to workers’ support of a bill introduced to the state legislature at the beginning of the year that would create a California Fast-Food Sector Council and give workers a voice in setting industry standards for fast food in California.

“We need a better place to go,” Pozos said. “We need to go directly to the people who would help enforce these issues or we will definitely continue to keep having these issues.”

McDonald’s, Jack In The Box, and Hooters did not respond to a request for comment. Insider reached out to the individual stores, but the managers were not able to provide an official statement without corporate approval.

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Your next meal is getting more expensive. Here’s what’s driving the surge in food prices.

grocery store checkout conveyer belt supermarket cashier grocery shopping
  • Foods is getting more expensive at grocery stores and restaurants.
  • Some companies are raising prices, while others are selling smaller quantities for the same price.
  • Supply-chain shortages and poor weather are helping drive higher commodity costs.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Food prices are surging in grocery stores as well as on restaurant menus.

Last week, Chipotle hiked prices for menu items by about 4%, as the cost of labor and ingredients continues to rise amidst a spike in demand. Red Robin and Cracker Barrel have also increased prices by about 3%, The Wall Street Journal reported. The chains may be forced to further hike prices if commodity costs continue to inflate.

In May, US consumer prices hit their highest level in 13 years, jumping 5% from the previous year, as the cost of meat products and baked goods led the surge in food prices, according to the US Department of Labor.

“We’re in a period of unprecedented commodity inflation,” Unilever CEO Alan Jope told investors on Monday.

As a result of increased product costs, some companies including Unilever have begun selling products at the same cost, but in smaller quantities.

Even companies that cater to more frugal budgets have been forced to hike prices. Dollar Tree CEO Michael Witynski said in May that the company has struggled to keep prices low.

Why are food prices surging?

Food prices are rising in tandem with a broader inflation trend in the US. While vehicle and fuel costs have led the surge in consumer prices, food prices have also risen as increased demand meets supply-chain snags. Key commodities have become increasingly difficult to obtain due to shipping delays, the national labor shortage, and severe droughts in key countries.

A global shipping-container shortage – which has about 5.5% of all freighters waiting weeks outside of ports to unload, including several key ports in southern California – has made it difficult to transport goods. The delays have put transportation costs at a premium, as companies compete for limited space on container ships and delivery trucks. Overseas transportation costs between Asia and the US have surged about 250% higher from this time last year, according to online freight marketplace Freightos.

Home Depot has even begun chartering its own container ships in an attempt to side-step rising coats and bring its products into the US faster.

shipping containers
A container cargo ship in Rotterdam Harbour on April 4, 2021 in the Netherlands. Rotterdam is the largest shipping port outside of Asia.

The US labor shortage is also hampering production and transportation, from a truck-driver shortage to restaurants and grocery stores scrambling to find workers. Many companies, including Chipotle and McDonalds, have hiked worker pay, while other companies have provided additional incentives to lure employees back to work. One Jersey Mike’s in California is offering up to $10,000 in hiring bonuses.

Major droughts in countries like Brazil and Argentina are also driving up prices for corn, coffee, and soybeans. Last month, Reuters reported Brazil was facing its worst drought in 91 years. A “megadrought” in California – the state responsible for over 25% of the nation’s food supply – is also expected to have some impact on food prices in the coming months.

Meat prices surged last week due to a ransomware attack on JBS, a supplier that processes about 20-25% of the nation’s beef, chicken, and pork products.

Consumer prices are at a 13-year-high, but they’re showing no signs of flagging. Executives from General Mills and Campbell Soup Company have warned they may be forced to raise prices further if supply-chain issues continue.

A Campbell spokesperson told Insider the entire food industry was experiencing inflation. “Campbell has a variety of tools to offset the inflationary environment, including pricing actions across most of our portfolio to reflect the broad-based increases in input costs.”

As companies continue to hike prices, experts say prices will only even out when the shipping crisis abates, but no one knows how long the upheaval will last.

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Chipotle has hiked prices across its menu by about 4% as wages and ingredients get more expensive

Image from iOS (1)
West 169th Street Chipotle.

  • Chipotle hiked the prices on its menu by about 4% last week.
  • The company said the price increase will help offset its new $15 average hourly wages.
  • Last month, the company’s CFO warned that Chipotle would have to pass the extra cost onto customers.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Chipotle raised the prices on its menu by about 4% last week.

A spokesperson told Insider the price hike is designed to help offset a wage increase that Chipotle has begun offering its workers. The higher prices mean the average chipotle meal will cost about 30 to 40 cents more.

Last month, the chain said it would raise its hourly wages to an average of $15 per hour by the end of June. At the time, Chipotle CFO Jack Hartung warned the company would have to increase prices to offset the higher pay.

“We think everybody in the restaurant industry is going to have to pass those costs along to the customer,” Hartung said during the company’s quarterly earnings meeting in April. “We think we’re in a much, much better position to do that, than other companies out there.”

The price hike comes at the same time that the cost of many ingredients has risen. The price of several staple imported goods including corn and avocados has steadily risen over the past few months as shipping delays meet rising demand.

For now, Hartung said the company does not plan to further increase prices in the near future.

“Ingredient costs, there’s talk about it. We’ll see where that leads,” Hartung said at the Baird Global Consumer, Technology & Services Conference on Tuesday.

Chipotle is one of many restaurant chains that has increased worker pay. Starbucks and McDonald’s have also been working to combat the labor shortage and draw in new employees with higher wages.

Demand for restaurants is returning to pre-pandemic levels, but employees have been hesitant to return to the industry. Forty percent of restaurants say they’re understaffed, and 80% say that they’re keeping at least one hiring role posted at all times, QSR Magazine reported in April. Last week, the US Chamber of Commerce called the labor shortage a “national emergency,” pointing to data that there are more job vacancies than available workers in South Dakota, Nebraska, and Vermont.

Many companies have launched new incentives to bring workers back. This week, a California Jersey Mike’s offered hiring bonuses up to $10,000. Other chains have implemented similar measures. In April, Insider’s Kate Taylor reported that a McDonald’s in Florida was paying people $50 just to show up for a job interview.

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A Jersey Mike’s shop opening in California is offering a hiring bonus of up to $10,000, as fast food chains struggle to bring back workers

Jersey mikes subs
  • The Santa Cruz Jersey Mike’s is offering a hiring bonus of $10,000 for its assistant manager role.
  • The owner said the sandwich shop is working to adapt and find new ways to draw in workers.
  • It is one of many companies that has implemented new incentives to combat the labor shortage.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

As fast food chains struggle to find workers, one sandwich shop is offering new hires up to $10,000.

A Jersey Mike’s in Santa Cruz, California told Fox Business it will pay a $10,000 incentive for a new assistant manager. The payment will be made in three installments during the manager’s first year at the shop.

The chain told the network that it has already received several qualified applications for the position that will pay $18 to $20 per hour.

The Jersey Mike’s location is set to open soon just 75 miles outside of San Francisco and is working to fill its employee roster by offering several other incentives for multiple roles. The Santa Cruz restaurant is offering $5,000 bonuses for new shift leaders and $500 for incoming full- and part-time employees, Fox Business reported.

Read more: McDonald’s franchisees blame hiring challenges on unemployment benefits and say an ‘inflationary time bomb’ will force them to hike Big Mac prices

“We’re going to have to run a very efficient business to make this work but I think we all need to adapt to this climate for our businesses [to be] successful,” Brett Johanson, the co-owner of the shop, told the network.

The company did not respond to a request for comment from Insider. It is one of many companies that has begun offering new incentives to lure in prospective candidates. In April, Insider’s Kate Taylor reported that a McDonald’s in Florida was paying people $50 just to show up for a job interview.

Major companies, including Amazon, Walmart, and Chipotle, have also recently boosted pay in order to make their jobs more competitive in a labor shortage that has left restaurants and retailers scrambling.

Forty percent of restaurants say they’re understaffed, and 80% say that they’re keeping at least one hiring role posted at all times, QSR Magazine reported in April. Last week, the US Chamber of Commerce called the labor shortage a “national emergency,” pointing to data that there are more job vacancies than available workers in South Dakota, Nebraska, and Vermont.

On Sunday, Insider’s Áine Cain reported that long hours, unruly customers, and low pay have caused minimum wage workers to quit their jobs in droves.

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Beyond Meat rallies 13% after McDonalds and Yum Brands partnerships overshadow weak sales

McDonald's PLT Canada
McDonald’s previously paired with Beyond Meat to offer a plant-based burger in Canada.

  • Shares of Beyond Meat gained as much as 13% Friday after announcing partnerships with McDonald’s and Yum! Brands. 
  • The faux-meat producer also reported fourth-quarter sales that missed expectations.
  • Watch Beyond Meat trade live here.

Shares of Beyond Meat jumped as high as 13% to $162 a share Friday after news of partnerships with two of the largest fast-food chains overshadowed weak fourth-quarter sales. 

The stock fell sharply after the Thursday closing bell when the faux-meat maker announced sales in the fourth-quarter were $101.9 million, compared to the average estimate of $103.6 million. But news that Beyond Meat is partnering with both McDonald’s Corp. and Yum! Brands cause shares to retrace their losses.

Beyond Meat and McDonald’s will enter into a three year agreement that will place the  faux-meat maker as the preferred supplier for the patty in the McPlant burger. McDonald’s and Beyond Meat will also explore co-developing other plant-based menu items like plant-based chicken, pork, and egg substitutes, according to a news release.

This announcement solidifies the relationship between Beyond Meat and McDonald’s that began in 2019 with a Canadian test run of a plant-based burger. It also clarifies Beyond Meat’s role as the supplier for the McPlant patty, which confused investors in November when the McPlant was first announced

Beyond Meat also will co-create plant-based menu items for Yum! Brand’s subsidiaries KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco bell over the next several years. The partnership continues the relationship between Beyond Meat and the fast food giant.

In 2020 Pizza Hut launched two faux-meat pizzas, and in January Taco Bell announced it was working with Beyond Meat to create a plant-based protein.

Beyond Meat’s foodservice sales were down nearly 43% year on year as the COVID-19 pandemic decreased restaurant foot traffic. CEO Evan Brown said this impacted “near-term profitability.”

Shares pared back gains after the opening bell and were trading around $151 as of 9:40 a.m. EST.

Analysts from Bank of America said that Beyond Meat management indicated that the fast-food partnerships will not have a material impact on 2021 results given the timing of the announcement.

“Overall we see sales improving in 2021 as foodservice sequentially improves while retail faces tough comps. We expect margins will see pressure driven by increased investments and lower price points in retail,” BofA said. The firm has an “underperform” rating for the stock and price target of $81. 

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