In 1984, fast-food specialist Wendy's (NASDAQ:WEN) had one question for American shoppers: "Where's the beef?"

Today, the COVID-19 pandemic is making Wendy's classic catchphrase current again. The burger chain has run out of meat in many locations, forcing Baconator fans to settle for chicken sandwiches, fries, and a Frosty.

I mean, where is it?

On Monday, social media feeds showed that many Wendy's locations were limiting burger orders to single-patty sandwiches due to a meat shortage. That apparently wasn't enough to stem the tide: The company removed burgers from the menu on Tuesday.

Spot checks around my Tampa, Florida, home base showed only chicken sandwiches, salads, and the usual side items on Tuesday morning. Burgerless Wendy's outlets have been found around the country, but you might still get lucky and score a Dave's Double in places like Dallas and Oklahoma City.

Gourmet cheeseburger with multiple toppings

Sorry, no burgers today. Image source: Getty Images.

Fresh, never frozen

The chain's promise to keep its meat "fresh, never frozen" has amplified this shortage situation. Coronavirus disruptions at slaughterhouses and meat processing plants are forcing many restaurants and grocery stores to dig into stockpiles of frozen beef, pork, and chicken. Wendy's doesn't have that option.

"Some of our menu items may be in short supply from time to time at some restaurants in this current environment," Wendy's management said in a press statement. "We expect this to be temporary, and we're working diligently to minimize the impact to our customers and restaurants."

At the same time, grocery stores including Costco (NASDAQ:COST) and Kroger (NYSE:KRO) are limiting the amount of meat each customer can buy, and leading meat producer Tysons Food (NYSE:TSN) claims that the "food supply is breaking." The next few weeks will be interesting as the meat processing industry balances consumer demand against worker safety concerns.

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