All those things we’re not eating in restaurants — it’s tough diverting the goods to supermarkets.
Tempers are getting short. Supplies of ground beef even shorter. People are looking into each other’s shopping carts. Is that guy really going to use all four cans of chickpeas? That’s a lot of emergency hummus. But maybe a little supermarket paranoia is warranted after all. A month ago, as the economy began to shut down and Americans started hoarding canned goods and other foods out of fear of shortages, industry giants offered assurance there was plenty of food and no reason for worry. Yet availability remains spotty around the country, some shelves stocked and others empty, with Americans having particular difficulty locating all-purpose flour, yeast and beef. And even as the industry rushes to get distribution problems smoothed out, other red flags are emerging. JBS SA, the world’s top meat company, shuttered its beef facility in Greeley, Colo., this week because of a coronavirus outbreak. In South Dakota, more than 300 workers at a Smithfield Foods pork processing plant tested positive for the virus, shutting the plant down. The closure of the latter plant, which accounts for 5 percent of the nation’s pork production, is “pushing our country perilously close to the edge in terms of our meat supply,” said Kenneth Sullivan, president and chief executive of Smithfield. Experts agree there is no aggregate shortage of food or other retail items offered at the supermarket. But many factors are causing product deficits in particular regions and in particular stores. The biggest is that while about half of American expenditures for food used to be at restaurants and other such establishments, now almost all meals are being made in the home kitchen, so a distribution system that was built to supply restaurants with bulk items is struggling to adapt to far smaller packaging for home use.