The world outside those doors is feeling truly dystopian and more so with each passing day. The markets have plummeted and are volatile. The shelves in many groceries are bare. People fighting each other for resources. The government is closing schools, businesses, and entire states with “shelter in place” orders. This bleak happenstance is, in part, borne out of the fear of lack which is caused by excessive consumption of goods. People are stockpiling goods which provide the perception of comfort and stability. Supply chains cannot match the pace of consumption in a panic buying scenario. There is simply no way to anticipate what consumers will flock to. By the time the trend starts the supply chain is already weeks behind. While this is unfortunately true across nearly all markets it is especially true in the food manufacture and distribution markets.
Food is equivalent to comfort for many people at their lowest point. Got dumped? Grab a quart of ice cream, that will certainly soothe the ache of a broken heart, right? We in the United States are connected to food more closely than much of the remainder of the world. According to Max Roser and Hannah Ritchie the U.S. was the second highest ranking nation in available calories per capita per day in 2013. Max is the founder of Our World in Data and is an economist at the University of Oxford. Hannah has been a researcher with Our World in Data since 2017 and “focuses on the long-term development of food supply, agriculture, energy, and environment, and their compatibility with global development. Hannah completed her PhD in GeoSciences at the University of Edinburgh.”
Broadly speaking, we find so much comfort in our food supply that many Americans don’t even take the time to understand the difference between “Best By”, “Sell By”, and “Use By” dates on packaging. We throw away “30-40 percent of the food supply” according to the USDA. They also note that “133 billion pounds—of the 430 billion pounds of the available food supply at the retail and consumer levels in 2010 went uneaten. Retail-level losses represented 10 percent (43 billion pounds) and consumer-level losses 21 percent (90 billion pounds) of the available food supply.” Source. If we as a nation are comfortable throwing away 90 billion pounds of food in a year it would stand to reason that we purchase a significant volume of food for the comfort of knowing that it is available to us rather than for the sole purpose of consuming the food.
Will the food supply chain be able to cope with the increase in demand caused by a run on the grocery stores? It’s complicated. The issue in the short term is logistics. There are stores of finished food goods waiting in warehouses across the country. The challenge at this time is getting that food delivered to a store near you. In the long term the challenge shifts to the production side of the equation. Food manufacturing companies are no doubt planning increased production to match the rate of consumption and to replenish stores of inventory. Food Ingredient companies like us here at St. Charles Trading Inc. are working with our customers to get ingredients in their hands. No matter the circumstances people need to be fed.
Will the weeks and months ahead have a seamless transition back to normal? No. there will be challenges along the way but despite how it may appear in your local grocery there is plenty of food to go around. Be patient and kind with one another. Trust that you will not do without. After all, if you’re inevitably going to throw some of it away then consider this. Is your comfort costing someone a meal? For what it is worth, know this, the food industry is considered a vital industry which means that companies that supply, manufacture, and distribute food have been called upon to continue working. Even in situations such as a “shelter in place” order the food industry will continue working.
These are trying times. Concern is natural in the face of the unknown. Take comfort in knowing that if all else fails there will be food. Be aware of the needs of your community and help them how you can. Wash your hands, cover your cough, maintain proper distance from others. These simple practices will help. While we wait for this to pass try to find ways to serve your communities! Call your friends, grandparents, and parents. Those people will comfort you more than 300 cans of food and 150 rolls of toilet paper ever could. The best thing we can do to find comfort amidst the fear is to unite and connect. We are after all, One nation, under God, indivisible. Stay well.