COVID-19

Seeing empty grocery store shelves? Here’s why.

Kristin Schwab Mar 17, 2020
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One agriculture economics professor says we might have to change what we eat if grocery store supply chain disruptions continue. Saeed Khan/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

Seeing empty grocery store shelves? Here’s why.

Kristin Schwab Mar 17, 2020
One agriculture economics professor says we might have to change what we eat if grocery store supply chain disruptions continue. Saeed Khan/AFP via Getty Images
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Grocery store shelves are going bare as people prepare for self-isolation during the COVID-19 outbreak. Shelves are empty mostly because of logistics, getting food from manufacturers to warehouses to stores.

Ananth Iyer directs the Global Supply Chain Management Initiative at Purdue University. He says do not worry about the food supply itself. The grocery industry has up to four months’ supply of staples like beans, rice and canned goods.

“And that is a cushion that keeps this entire system going,” Iyer said.

Fresh foods don’t have that cushion. Grocers can’t stockpile them, and farmers can’t make them grow faster. A chicken takes three to four months from hatch date to dinner plate. So too much demand now may mean that the supply won’t keep up.

“We may change what we eat. We may move from more fancy foods to more basic foods,” said Miguel Gomez, professor of agriculture economics at Cornell University. He adds this could also happen to food we import.

“Global supply chains, because they are longer, they are more likely to be disrupted than domestic supply chains,” Gomez said.

In other words, things like avocados, bananas and coffee could become harder to find if this continues for months. But they’re also things we can live without.

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