The 2021 Food Shortage Explained
February 26, 2021
How the COVID Ripple has Created Waves in Pet Food Supply
If you feed canned food to your four-legged companion, it’s likely that you’ve noticed some gaps in the store shelves lately. Some canned pet food items, ranging from grocery brands to premium quality, have been out of stock for weeks or even months. While your pet’s food may not seem like an item to be affected by the pandemic, the COVID ripple has in fact impacted the pet industry tremendously on many levels. Couple this with a large boom in pet adoptions, where the industry has also seen increased demand.
Large retailers such as supermarkets, big box stores and even online retailers seem to have larger out of stock problems than smaller independents. For you, this means that shopping local independent stores could benefit you and the community you live in!
Let’s break down some of the reasons for the current shortages and what you can do to avoid them:
Supply Chain Disruption:
The Covid-19 pandemic has caused interruptions on nearly every level of the supply chain. Some of them you likely have never considered as a factor, and some have taken a number of weeks or months to trickle down to store shelves. It’s clear that the COVID ripple is responsible for the slower production rates of canned pet food, and here are the reasons why:
- Labor shortages ranging from the livestock farms all the way to the canning facilities and delivery drivers have slowed production. Some processing facilities have been forced to close temporarily or operate with less staffing due to social distancing measures, lower facility capacities, and self-quarantines due to infection or exposure to the virus. When this happens multiple times, production lead times can easily jump from 1-2 weeks to 2-4 months. Some canned pet food manufacturers are so far behind that they are not accepting purchase orders at all. This unfortunately means that there are some brands or entire lines of canned food that may never be in production again.
- Supply shortages and delays are also to blame. Facilities at the beginning of the supply chain, such as livestock farms and slaughterhouses, have struggled to find workers to process the ingredients needed for pet food. This ultimately slows supply or in some cases creates temporary shortages. For common proteins like beef and chicken, other suppliers are often able to fill gaps. However, in the case of more exotic options like venison, there are often more long-term shortages.
- Imported ingredients have also seen delays for multiple reasons. For example, many pet food companies source some vitamin additives from China, where production facilities have faced the same hurdles as mentioned above. Other countries like Canada and some European countries have much more strict COVID-19 measures in place which require manufacturing facilities to close for extended lengths of time for quarantine and cleaning measures when an employee is diagnosed with COVID-19. We also have staffing shortages and safety measures in place with the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol which also extends the amount of time imported product may sit at at port.
- This year’s heavy winter precipitation has also delayed transportation along the supply chain. Delays due to unsafe travel conditions and power outages from winter storms have been widespread from suppliers to production facilities to retailers. While this may not be a major cause for empty shelves, it is a contributing factor of slower replenishment when we consider that the southern states – that aren’t used to this weather – are blanketed in snow and ice.
Increased Adoption Rates
Chances are that you know someone who recently introduced a new furry family member into their home. With less school activities and social outings due to shelter-in-place orders, many families have chosen to take advantage of the extra time and welcome a new pet into their home. A September 2020 survey revealed that an estimated 11 million households adopted a new pet since the COVID pandemic began. And all those new pets inevitably brought a surge in demand for pet food. Wet and canned food in particular saw a dramatic increase in sales.
The below charts show a significant dollar amount increase for both dry and wet pet food formats. Dry food experienced a greater dollar growth; however it was actually a smaller percentage of growth in comparison to wet foods (data as of August, 2020). This means that there likely was more of a strain put on wet food producers, further adding to shortages.
Have some formulas changed?
In an effort to overcome some of the hurdles facing the supply chain, some pet food manufacturers have chosen to discontinue or reformulate their recipes to bypass scarce ingredients. If your pet hesitates to eat his dinner, there may have been an ingredient swap that occurred. Be sure to check your pet food label to find possible ingredient substitutes.
What can you do?
If your pet food is out of stock, you probably have a lot of questions. Why is my pet food out of stock? When (if at all) will it get restocked? What other options do I have (especially for a pet that’s finicky or with specific dietary needs)? Who can help me find something comparable?
But Big Box store employees are not likely to have the answers. This is because large retailers do not work directly with distributors, and therefore have limited information (if any) about out-of-stock items. In contrast, small independent pet retailers can order and receive products from multiple distributors, which comes in handy when one supplier runs out of an item. In addition, indie retailers have direct contact with distributors and close relationships with brand representatives.
This communication allows an indie store to provide accurate and up-to-date information straight from the source. Furthermore, indie pet staff will help you find appropriate replacements if your pet food is unavailable or discontinued. You can trust that these recommendations will be based on the needs of your pet and not on a sales goal!
About the Author:
Nicci is the founder & owner of award winning NorthPoint Pets & Company, in Connecticut. She is also the Founder & CEO of Undogmatic Inc. Her undergraduate and graduate education includes biology, chemistry, business and nutrition. She has worked in the pharmaceutical industry on multiple R&D projects and has had the privilege to learn from leading international figures in the human and pet health industry. She regularly lectures at national conferences, including federal, state, and municipal K9 events. Her current research involves identifying pathogenic risk factors and transmission among raw fed pets through a comprehensive worldwide survey.
Jenna enthusiastically joined our team in early 2021 bringing nearly a decade of pet industry knowledge and experience along with her. She is a proud mom to cats Aerie and Spook who are both credited with her interest in pet nutrition. Quickly Jenna realized that there was a lot to be desired for honest, unbiased and accurate information within the industry and she knew she wanted to help change that. Much like the team at NPP, she believes in the value individualized diet, fresh food and tailored advice can provide for overall health, regardless of age. She also is the mom to 4 sugar gliders, Crumb, Crosby, Bindi and Gatsby which helps bring additional small animal knowledge to our robust team. When she’s not helping pet parents at NPP Jenna can be found hiking with her husband Adam, horseback riding and painting pet portraits.