Panic buying has shoppers facing empty store shelves

The Public is Perceiving a Food Crisis; The Supply Chain Must Adapt

Karen Batra
Karen Batra
April 2, 2020

The COVID-19 outbreak is continuing its chaotic destruction, from the tragic toll on human health to the economic turmoil of global markets. Amid the crisis, businesses across the world are working to adapt, changing operations to provide desperately needed equipment and supplies.

Within BIO’s membership, we are seeing biofuel and renewable chemical companies pivot to the manufacturing of hand sanitizer to help meet demand; companies with the capability to make biodegradable or recyclable PPE, rubber gloves or other products are ramping up efforts.

Within the food and agriculture arena, we are seeing a focus on efforts to help stabilize the food supply chain and keep stores stocked.

The impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the food supply chain has gained widespread attention with media coverage of empty store shelves, long lines, panic buying and social media memes about much-coveted essentials like wine and toilet paper.

As this CNN report states, “those shortages are caused by bottlenecks in the supply chain, not a lack of food…what happens over the next several months will determine whether those disruptions become more serious.”

BIO, along with more than a hundred organizations representing manufacturers, distributors and the supply chain, sent a letter to the Administration asking for specific actions to ensure the continued supply of critical products:

“It is imperative that the federal, state and local governments come together with uniform definitions of ‘critical infrastructure’ making clear what manufacturers must continue to operate, as well as take seriously the need to transport those products and have the workforce available to keep operations running.”

The bottlenecks in the supply chain that CNN refers to are being felt most in the transportation sector. Agri-Pulse’s Philip Brasher explains further in an interview with Washington Journal and expands on how bottlenecks in the supply chain impact prices.

Truckers, shippers, freight workers and delivery drivers can’t “work from home.” Barriers in our transportation infrastructure must be addressed – including exempting healthy workers from curfews – to ensure shipments of food and supplies aren’t interrupted. At the same time, extra steps must be taken to protect the health and safety of these essential employees.

Many farms will face a labor shortage as seasonal workers deal with travel restrictions and health concerns that come with overcrowded housing and lack of access to health care, the Wall Street Journal reports. These current challenges may impact us long term.

For now, the food supply is perfectly safe and continues to be abundant; as long as we can get things where they need to go.

One positive outcome of the current crisis is a renewed appreciation by American consumers and much-needed recognition by our government for farmers and food producers and the essential role they play.  

Vice President Mike Pence, along with Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, visited the Walmart Distribution Center in Central Virginia on April 1 to tour the facility and highlight the distribution center's supply chain operations. The vice president told a Walmart truck driver that he and all drivers are considered “critical infrastructure” and he thanked all the employees for “keeping food on the table for the American people.”