As we closed out the year of unprecedented grocery shortages caused by the pandemic, the question of whether 2021 will bring similarly empty shelves becomes even more pressing. If some shortages are still to be expected, which products are at particular risk of going out of stock?
The answers may lie in what food manufacturers and retailers have learned from the tumultuous year, and whether issues causing the shortages can now be better anticipated.
On some fronts, we’re much better off than we were at the start of the pandemic. For one, food companies are better-versed in products that are likely to be in demand in cash-and-carry retail channels. For another, they have now shifted focus from manufacturing for the food service industry to an emphasis on manufacturing for retail, and have ramped up those capabilities significantly.
Another significant improvement over last year is the way some companies have been able to increase protection for their workers, preventing labor shortages and further delays in production like the ones we’ve witnessed across the meat industry.
“Manufacturers have engaged in creative solutions,” says Rick Williams, business partner at JPG Resources, a food and beverage consulting business based in Battle Creek, Mich. From putting distance between workers, to formations of pods where people only interact with their team, and staggering shifts, some companies were able to break up the shoulder-to-shoulder work environments on their production floors, he explains.
But some supply chain factors are still difficult to control and remain unpredictable. Being able to forecast the right amount of stock of certain products or whether shortages of certain raw materials, like aluminum, will persist is a tall order, even for biggest companies.
Because of that, both food brands and grocers are playing it as safe as possible, betting on their best-sellers and retiring some of the less popular items. So 2021 may not be the year of empty shelves, but it’ll be a year of less variety.
While experts predict we won’t necessarily face the extent of shortages we’ve seen last year, where some brands and whole item categories went missing from shelves for weeks, there still may be spotty availability of groceries throughout this year.
You may have noticed that the variety on grocery shelves has been dwindling since the start of the pandemic. On the one hand, companies are being more strategic about which products they prioritize at a time when their production capacities are too limited for an exploding demand.
On the other hand, the pandemic has forced brands like Coca-Cola to discontinue products at a faster rate than they normally would. And experts agree food and beverage…