coronavirus

Which Foods Could Be Scarce During Pandemic: Experts

Many food manufacturers have been adjusting their production lines for social distancing

AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

Stuck rationing toilet paper because you didn’t stockpile during the coronavirus panic over the last few days? Don’t worry, according to supply chain experts.

“All the grocery stores are going to have pallets of toilet paper sitting in the aisles and nobody is going to buy it because who needs to buy toilet paper when you got a year’s worth sitting in your garage,” Daniel Stanton, a supply chain expert and author of “Supply Chain Management for Dummies,” tells CNBC Make It.

But what about food?

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Even if the COVID-19 pandemic stretches over months (President Donald Trump said it could last until August), there will no big food shortages, especially on staples like milk, eggs, cheese, bread and meat, according to three supply chain experts who spoke to Make It. 

But that doesn’t mean your favorite brand or the exact kind of fruit you want won’t be scarce. 

“The brand that you normally want may not be available. But, hey, there’s be some other kind of pasta or instead of rice, we’re going to have potatoes for dinner,” Stanton says.

“The U.S. produces a huge amount of food. We’re also an exporter of food, so we’re going to be okay,” he adds.

In fact, many food manufacturers have been adjusting their production lines for social distancing and have increased cleaning to ensure workers’ safety in recent weeks, experts say.

With that in mind, here are the few kinds of products that might actually be harder to find. 

Specialty items

Specialty items like imported pastas and wines from Italy, cheeses from France or other niche food products from countries overseas or smaller businesses may be impacted, says Anantha Iyer, senior associate dean in supply chain and operations management at Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management.

These kinds of items may not go out of stock permanently, but it could “get a little tricky,” Iyer tells Make It.

“Some ingredients for nearshore specialty things could get shut off because they can’t come across the border,” Stanton says.

Brandon Hernandez, a supply chain expert and partner at Whole Brain Consulting, who works with specialty brands in U.S. agrees.

“I think the major items of concern are more tied towards raw materials or packaging coming out of China that support the broader food chain,” Hernandez tells Make It, explaining the China is an important exporter to the U.S. and provides things like quinoa and spices. 

Because the pandemic may encourage higher scrutiny of exports, that “could potentially slow down the supply chain,” he says.

As for U.S. specialty products, Hernandez doesn’t foresee a “complete collapse in things like [protein] bars or all the [specialty] chips are going to be gone or anything like that,” but the items may not restock as quickly.

Fruits and vegetables

Iyer says Americans may have to be “a little flexible” on what types of fruits and vegetables they buy in the coming months.

That’s because some kinds of produce are imported from other countries, so there may be delays in shipping if ports begin to close.

Hernandez agrees it is possible that Americans could see gaps in availability.

“I’m not saying that it’s impossible that you won’t see bananas become scarce or strawberries in the back half of the year, because they shift from California production to Mexico production.”

“Maybe it’s possible, but it really depends on what they decide to impose at the borders from the [Food and Drug Administration] and the [United States Department of Agriculture] standpoint,” Hernandez says.

Overall, however, Stanton believes many domestic farmers and ranchers, who have been struggling in recent years, could actually see a boost amid the pandemic, as the U.S. may look to local suppliers for produce instead of international suppliers.

This story first appeared on CNBC.com

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