CONSUMER ALERT: COVID-Caused Food Shortages Due to Broken Supply Chains

One of the less-advertised uncertainties caused by COVID-19 is food availability.  Tempeh, the soy-based meat alternative, is just the latest in food shortages and price increases that have plagued American consumers this year.    Yup, there appears to be a shortage of tempeh.  Who woulda thought?   Currently, the shortage of this meat substitute is being blamed on supply chain issues.   But it’s not just tempeh that is affected.  US fod supply chains will be disrupted for the foreseeable future, according to a reputable independent thinktank.   And the food industry itself has sounded the alarm that “the food supply chain is breaking”.

Tempeh is just the latest food that has disappeared from grocers’ shelves.   Earlier in 2020,  pork and beef products were in short supply due to processing plant closures.  Seafood is also increasingly unavailable because of supply chain challenges, restrictions placed on boat seafarers and the closure of restaurants.   Even the cans and bottles used to store foods are in short supply because of restrictions on Chinese imports.

Slightly more than half of Americans say they already have or plan to stockpile food and other essentials, says  a recent poll from Sports and Leisure Research Group, Engagious and ROKK Solutions. The main reason cited: fears of a resurgent pandemic, which could lead to disruptions such as new restrictions on businesses.

Anticipated 2020-2021 Food Shortages

Availability of produce has been impacted by farm worker safety and transportation disruptions.  Among the list of foods that have been in short supply include:

  • Canned tomatoes
  • Canned corn  (due to demand and trucking infrastructure)
  • Soups
  • Canned meats, including Spam and hot dogs
  • Rice
  • Flour, sugar & yeast (too many people having taken up baking!)
  • Eggs
  • Peanut butter
  • Dried beans
  • Meats (pork, beef and chicken)
  • Garlic (because most of this crop is grown in China)
  • Milk  (farmers are dumping because they can’t ship this perishable product)
  • Beer  (due to shortage of aluminum cans)
  • Mason jars and lids (such as those produced by Ball or Kerr) because of increasing canning.

These spot-shortages are likely to continue through the Fall and Winter of 2020-2021.  Food producers have struggled to keep processing plants open.  Grocery stores are also dealing with increasing illnesses among workers, as well as absences by those afraid to go in to work.  Truck drivers, who were already scarce before the pandemic, can’t keep up with demand for food transport.   So, things may get worse before shortages abate.

Food Costs Climb Worldwide.

The USDA recently reported that in the U.S. in 2020 thus far compared to 2019 (reported as “Year-to-date avg. 2019 to avg. 2020”), food-at-home prices have increased 3.3 percent and food-away-from-home prices have increased 2.6 percent. The CPI for all food has increased an average of 3.0 percent. Of all the CPI food categories that USDA’s Economic Research Service tracks.  Also, egg prices are now predicted to increase from 6.0 to 7.0 percent in 2020.  Beef and pork prices remain about 6%-10% higher than in 2019.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations reported global food prices rose for the third straight month in August, hitting their highest levels since February 2020. As the coronavirus crisis unfolds, disruptions in domestic food supply chains, other shocks affecting food production, and loss of incomes and remittances are creating strong tensions and food security risks in many countries,”according to The World Bank .   A recent survey by agri-business Olam found more than half of 2,400 smallholder farmers growing cocoa, coffee, sesame, cotton, and other crops in Africa and Indonesia were experiencing shortages in basic food and nutrition due to movement restrictions, food price increases and insufficient stocks at home.

Other Anticipated Shortages

  • Pharmaceuticals produced in China, such as antibiotics, blood thinners and sedatives, are becoming harder to find.
  • Patio heaters will become more expensive, as COVID-19 drives people outside even during Winter.
  • Exercise equipment – supplies have been tight in 2020, but will become even tighter as people move their exercise routine inside their homes.
  • Protective gloves and other PPE is already in short supply due to the looming “third wave” of COVID.
  • Cleaning sprays & wipes
  • Paper towels

Our advice:  think about canning your favorite fruits and vegetables for the coming winter months.  And perhaps it’s time to buy a second freezer to store some of your food staples that you don’t want to go without.


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