We are entering into phase-3 of the supply-chain distribution shortages within the retail food sector. Phase-1 was immediate impact. Phase-2 was the spread to the warehouse and distribution. Phase-3 impacts are further upstream, processing & suppliers.
The current shelf-stock shortages are not soon to reconcile; however, the shortages are still in the regional phase. Meaning there is a big difference in the availability of products depending on the type of distribution network, and the specific retailers, in your area.
The ‘spider-spread effect’ happens when large metropolitan chains, serving large urban and megalopolis areas (1 million+ residents in 50 mile radius), reach a critical shortage in their supply network; and those residents then drive distances to locate their needs. This is going on now across the country as regional supply chains try to keep up with demand.
Most consumers are not aware food consumption in the U.S. is now a 50/50 proposition. Approximately 50% of all food was consumed “outside the home” (or food away from home), and 50% of all food consumed was food “inside the home” (grocery shoppers).
Food ‘outside the home’ includes: restaurants, fast-food locales, schools, corporate cafeterias, university lunchrooms, manufacturing cafeterias, hotels, food trucks, park and amusement food sellers and many more. Many of those venues are not thought about when people evaluate the overall U.S. food delivery system; however, this network was approximately 50 percent of all food consumption on a daily basis.
The ‘food away from home‘ sector has its own supply chain. Very few restaurants and venues (cited above) purchase food products from retail grocery outlets. As a result of the coronavirus mitigation effort the ‘food away from home’ sector has been reduced by half of daily food delivery operations, possibly more. However, people still need to eat.
That means retail food outlets, grocers, are seeing sales increases of 25 to 50 percent, depending on the area. This, along with some panic shopping, is the reason why supermarkets are overwhelmed and their supply chain is out of stock on many items.
There is enough food capacity in the overall food supply chain, and no-one should worry about the U.S. ever running out of the ability to feed itself. However, the total food supply chain is based on two segments: food at home and food away from home.
The seismic shift toward ‘food at home‘ is what has caused the shortages, and that supply chain is not likely to recover full service of products again until the ‘food away from home’ sector gets back to normal. No need to panic, but there will be long-term shortages.
At the top of the food supply there is ample product and capacity. Its the diversion of customers to the retail grocery sector causing the shortages.
Large chain-stores were impacted first and worst as their proprietary supply chain, and their automated replenishment systems, are more vulnerable to such wide-scale disruption. Their resupply is based on eight week averages. Smaller regional markets, less than 25 stores or mom-and-pops, are/were impacted less due to their use of wholesalers for distribution and a faster response time.
However, in this phase-3 those wholesalers will now enter a period where they are in competition for resupply with the large retail outlets…. so we are entering the phase were smaller stores, and independents, are going to have more trouble getting product.
Residents within 50 miles from a distribution center (retail grocery warehouse) will find their stores with a better in-stock position.
Residents living 50 to 100 miles from distribution will see less products available. People living 100+ miles will likely see the worst in-stock positions for typical staples, perishables and non-perishables unless they are locally procured.
The fresh-meat, poultry and produce sections are the first disrupted (short term) but least disrupted long term. The reason is simple, the raw material isn’t needed in the restaurant supply chain; those products are right now in the process of being shifted to manufacturing, protein processing, and eventually into the retail food supply chain to end up in your local supermarket refrigerated store cases.
With the increased diversion, increased production and increased distribution, inside of two weeks we should see fresh meats, chicken, pork etc. (protein sector) return to normal in your area supermarket.
Produce is both nationally and locally sourced, so that supply chain was never as much at risk of disruption. Additionally, with the restaurant sector demand reduced the produce operations will recover quickly as soon as supply chain diversion and distribution increases. Less than a week and the produce section in your local supermarket should be solid.
However, the frozen foods, frozen pizzas, frozen meals ready to eat (RTE) and specifically processed lunchmeats and cheeses will continue to suffer from supply chain issues. The reasons are not complex. Processed food has a production capacity. Think about Oscar Meyer, Tyson, Hormel, etc. they can only process a maximum amount within their manufacturing facilities. [China owns Smithfield, so China controls that company]
To the extent that extra shoppers means extra consumers wiping out frozen foods, lunch-meats, bacon and cheeses, the manufacturing side of the retail food system will be limited by their capacity. That sector is not going to change and long-term supply chain issues will continue. However, on the good news side, we should be able to buy lunch meats at the in-store deli counters because that bulk delivery processing sector will have more production capacity.
So if you’re looking for bologna (or similar), and the it’s not available pre-packaged in the traditional case, try looking for it in the deli section. It will be more expensive, but such is life with coronavirus.
In addition to the shortages in frozen foods, processed lunch-meat and dairy items, the non-perishable goods will also have wide-spread outages. Again, this is a store issue (phase-1), distribution capacity issue (phase-2), and will now become an upstream production capacity issue in phase-3.
Bread, canned goods, rice, cereals, pasta, flour, sugar, bottled water, etc. are selling beyond the capacity of the traditional supply chain to keep up with demand.
Traditional emergency food recovery and distribution models (think hurricanes) are designed for short-term disruptions to the restaurant sector that provides 50% of food outside the home; and, as a result, short-term increases to at home food needs. Those emergency and recovery models have contingency plans for short-term regional bursts of specific non perishable products into specific areas. This ain’t that.
The current supply chain disruption is a severe reduction in the availability of ‘food outside the home‘ for a sustained period. Losing the entire sector is very unusual, unprecedented, unforeseen in scale; and there is no national contingency plan for a nationwide demand on all retail supermarket food products simultaneously.
Once these warehouse fulfillment centers run out, every retail outlet in the country is pulling from the same upstream supplier network. Again, there’s no need to panic, the total food supply is not short, we all just need to adjust our shopping habits and get a little creative.
If you love seafood there should be plenty of it. 75% of all U.S. seafood was consumed at restaurants. The seafood sector will, by necessity of its perishable nature, rapidly move into the retail supply-chain. That should mean low prices and plenty of seafood in your neighborhood store.
On the paper-goods production side… there is no model for needing paper towels, kleenex and toilet tissue at the extreme level currently identified. Production of cleaning products has been increased by every manufacturer and paper-goods suppliers like Georgia Pacific are operating 24/7… but the demand is gobsmacking.
Why the heck has everyone been buying so much toilet tissue? Weird.