The Importance of Supply Chains and Your Groceries

If you’ve been paying attention lately, it seems that everywhere you turn, you see signs posted that are saying the same thing:

Due to supply chain shortages, we are running low on some items and stock. We apologize for any inconvenience.

You may not have stopped to consider how most of your groceries and other products make it from their original manufacturer or farm to store shelves. While the full explanation would take more than a short blog, the reality is that the nation – and the globe at large – operates on a finely-tuned supply chain.

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted nearly every aspect of life as we know it. From store and business closures to interstate long-haul trucking shortages, the pandemic has impacted the supply chain in ways we could never have imagined.

While some industries have been able to find alternative means of transporting goods, many are still flying by the seat of their pants. The grocery and restaurant industry has been especially hard hit as long-distance supply chains have been disrupted.

At Fields & Table, we are committed to continuing to provide the highest-quality food to our customers – even when faced with difficult supply line problems. Let’s take a closer look at how the pandemic has impacted supply lines and how we can begin to chart a path forward as the pandemic begins to subside.

How Supply Chains Work In The Grocery Industry

There are a few key points to remember about how the grocery supply chain works. These include:

  • Food processing, packaging, and distribution are highly centralized. Most food companies have facilities located in just a handful of states or even countries. This makes it very easy for a disease outbreak to travel quickly through the entire country if one facility is affected.
  • Because food is perishable, it cannot be stockpiled. Companies and stores must constantly restock their products. This means that if there are disruptions in production, the shelves will run empty quickly.
  • The majority of grocery store items need to be processed at some point during transportation or storage. If a processing plant closes because an employee falls ill or the facility becomes contaminated, there are many other companies and processing plants to draw from. However, if a company’s trucks do not move for a long time due to road closures, gas shortages, or damage to the vehicle fleet, grocery store shelves will quickly empty as food spoils.
  • Food is typically shipped in large quantities. The majority of food companies sell to grocery stores in bulk to not process or package every item individually. This makes it very easy for the supply chains to be disrupted if a disease outbreak occurs.
  • Most grocery stores and large retail chains will carry only one brand of a given product. As such, there are only a few suppliers in the country. If one of these suppliers has a problem, there will be very little inventory for other stores to draw from.

You can see how quickly disruptions and problems along the supply chain could lead to empty grocery store shelves. And when you’re hungry and have no food, it’s not just an inconvenience – it’s a crucial and an immediate matter of life and death.

How the COVID-19 Pandemic Disrupted The Supply Chain

In the grocery industry, we are no stranger to supply chain disruptions. We have learned that there are constant issues in each industry that we work directly with. If you can name it, your favorite store has probably been impacted by it:

  • Road closures
  • Spoiled or inedible produce from suppliers
  • Shutdowns from unsafe working conditions at some facilities
  • Production shortages
  • Inventory shortfalls from food distributors
  • Acts of nature (flooding, forest fires, etc.) and work stoppages

However, the COVID-19 virus outbreak was one of those once-in-a-lifetime events that had the power to shut down entire industries for weeks at a time. We learned during the pandemic that just as we expect grocery stores to be fully stocked and operational, the same goes for their suppliers. Many companies were forced to close due to employee illness or facility contamination, leading to chain reactions that caused further closures as hundreds of other facilities closed down.

Even as the pandemic began to release its grip, we are still feeling the impacts of COVID-19 on supply chains. There are two main aspects that our team at Fields & Table have noticed as of late:

1. A lack of a labor force to keep up with demand
This can include temporary labor shortages and a lack of qualified personnel to fill roles. From workers at farms and processing plants to long-haul truck drivers responsible for delivering food safely and on time, there just aren’t enough people to fill the roles necessary to keep up with demand.

2. A lack of ability to produce at expected levels
This can include the inability or refusal to adopt new technologies due to outside industries deeming them too risky, some processing plants closing due to contamination, and many more.

Closer to home, we have felt the impacts of COVID-19-induced supply chain shortages.

Our chicken distributor has shared with us that they simply don’t have enough people to process the chickens once they are ready to be processed. This shortage of workers causes a shortage of products because there is a timing effect between each step of the supply chain that no longer takes place.

If the chicken is not processed within 24 hours, it can’t be used for consumption due to health risks and quality controls. The demand for chicken remains high, but the supply is too low to keep up.

The Fields & Table Commitment

In this situation, it’s clear that COVID-19 pandemic caused a huge impact on supply chains for food distribution. It has also shown the cracks in our nation’s supply chain process that our country must now identify and fix to avoid these issues happening again.

At Fields & Table, we are committed to providing the highest-quality food and other products despite supply chain issues. Our team has worked tirelessly to be flexible in all situations, and it is because of their commitment, we can make sure all customer needs are met. We will continue to do everything in our power to keep providing the level of quality and service that we’ve provided since our company was founded.

If you ever have questions about products in stock, or special item requests, you can always ask for a manager in the store, or you can email us anytime