Earlier today I prepped some chicken thighs for dinner. They’re the last of a 10-pound bag which was part of a 40-pound box we bought at the start of the pandemic. It was more of an opportunistic buy than panic buying. Many of the food distributors were getting rid of the boxes they would ordinarily sell to the restaurants which had been forced to close. We have a freezer and who doesn’t love a great deal? No, I’m not cooking 10-pounds of thighs this evening but I’ll admit that it’s been thigh week (bacon-wrapped thighs, chicken and black bean soup, and chicken enchiladas if you are curious as to where the other 8 pounds went) here.
Why do I bring that up this Foodie Friday? Because my opportunity buying was the result of a disruption in the supply chain. At the same time as I was getting chicken thighs, other folks were buying boxes of burgers and pork chops. What was unusual was that the same items we were getting dirt cheap were often unavailable in the supermarkets. That pesky supply chain again.
You’re probably aware of the toilet paper shortages. With people staying home, the paper made for institutions and offices was in lesser demand while people panic-bought the home version. The same thing happened with food and, in fact, is still happening if my trip to the market yesterday was any indication. There was nary a canned vegetable to be found other than the really large cans that might have otherwise gone to a commercial kitchen.
As consumers cook more at home, driving up grocery store sales, they’re steering clear of restaurants, which has big implications for how suppliers package and sell their meats and produce — and for demand. Restaurant portions are bigger, and meat, cheese, and butter, in particular, are consumed in higher quantities at restaurants, but so are vegetables. Before the pandemic, Americans spent more than half their food budgets on dining out. Over the next 12 months, 70% of consumers plan to significantly decrease spending on restaurants, according to a Bank of America survey.
How does this apply to your business? It’s a reminder that every business needs to think hard about and prepare for disruption. It means doing things differently. As an example, I would never have considered a 40-pound box of thighs, even at the wholesale food price prior to the pandemic. The great price coupled with the uncertainty of the food supply chain at the time changed my mind.
The funny thing is that the food supply is quite plentiful. The issue is that the distribution system between the producer and demand is out of whack, which is causing massive headaches for every person involved: farmers, packagers, distributors, retailers, and end-users. While it’s the rare business that can bypass that broken system altogether, every business needs to make alternative plans just in case. Backups for your backups, I guess. Make sense?