When Americans go food shopping, they've gotten accustomed to the fact that in a post-COVID-19 world, there will often be shortages of some of their favorite products. Costco recently reinstating purchase limits on water, toilet paper and other products. Some kids have missed their Lunchables as parents have had a hard time finding them on shelves. Even wine and liquor have been more difficult to keep stocked.
As we enter the fall season, should customers be concerned that they won't be able to find their favorite products or purchase all the usual trimmings for holiday meals?
It can difficult to predict. Maria Brous, director of communications for Publix told TODAY Food that it's not always easy to determine which products might be out of stock. "The industry continues to face shortages during the pandemic, and those shortages on product and packaging may vary week to week," said Brous. "In some instances, suppliers have discontinued multiple varieties to concentrate on their best selling items to meet demand."
Canned food may be in short supply
Rodney Holcomb, a food economist at Oklahoma State University, told TODAY in an email that we can expect to see a shortage of canned foods, but that this has to do more with the container than the actual food.
"Aluminum availability is still a concern, so it may be more difficult to find those canned, ready-to-eat items on store shelves," Holcomb said.
What types of foods could be affected? Jayson L. Lusk, a distinguished professor and head of the department of Agricultural Economics at Purdue University, said anything that's packaged in aluminum — not only canned vegetables and soups, but also drinks, like soda, teas and other beverages. Fortunately, there are many glass and plastic alternative packaging for many of these products which some manufacturers can substitute, Lusk explained.
"Aluminum prices have increased considerably over the course of this year, increasing over 40% since January and almost 9% in the past month," Lusk said.
Meat and poultry
Lusk said that while there were some strong price increases in wholesale beef and pork prices, particularly on barbecue fare like hot dogs and ribs, earlier this summer, for the past month, wholesale prices of both these products have been trending downward, indicating less fear of shortages.
Stephanie Ruhle, NBC News senior business correspondent, previously told TODAY that it's important to plan ahead for your Thanksgiving turkey — order your turkey now and freeze it if you can — to save money and get exactly what you want.
"Meat and poultry products will still be tight supplies this fall, not necessarily because of a shortage of livestock or poultry but because COVID has processing plants working at less than full capacity," Holcomb said.
Stew Leonard, Jr., CEO of Stew Leonard's, a supermarket chain in the Northeast, said that although there have been hiccups in getting certain products, his stores' shelves will be fully stocked for the fall and winter.
“It was difficult sourcing product during the pandemic last year, but it is equally as difficult now," Leonard said in an email. He said the chain is fully stocked with grocery items like pasta, kids' snacks, tuna fish and paper products because they ordered ahead.
"But we’re seeing a shortage with fresh product, like turkeys for Thanksgiving, fresh fish and center cut steaks like ribeye and porterhouse," he acknowledged. "We’re having trouble getting New Zealand lamb as there are ships waiting to be unloaded at the dock because there aren’t enough dock workers. Fortunately, my family and I have been working with these suppliers for so many years and we buy direct."
Lusk said that even if there is a chance of shortages, that consumers should not stockpile meats or any other grocery items out of fear.
"I don’t think there is reason for being alarmist here," he said, pointing out that if people do overreact that it could encourage just the sort of hoarding we are hoping doesn’t happen.
As Ruhle said, the key will be to plan ahead for the best selection and prices.