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Grocery supply chain adjusting to new consumer demands

While Kansans are seeing some bare shelves at the grocery store, the supply of food in the U.S. remains adequate to meet demand. With restaurants closing or limiting service in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, more Kansans are cooking and eating at home. This has strained some parts of the supply chain, but producers and food processors are working quickly to make logistical changes.

One reason for the recent tightening of supplies in grocery stores is the sudden change in how Americans are eating. Over the past three decades, eating habits in the United States have shifted toward more meals consumed outside the home. With social distancing keeping many people at home, suppliers are racing to retool production lines to package food originally slated to go to restaurants to grocery store shelves.

Here are what Kansas producers, trade groups and others are doing to keep Americans fed during the pandemic.

American Farm Bureau Federation

U.S. agriculture is working diligently to maintain the stability of our food supply as concerns over COVID-19 lead to increased consumer purchases of groceries and other items.

“Farmers and ranchers remain committed to doing the work in the fields, orchards and barns across the country to ensure Americans have access to healthy, affordable food.” AFBF President Zippy Duvall says. “Particularly now, during these challenging times, an assured food supply allows families to focus on the safety and well-being of their loved ones. We commend the good work being done to protect families and our population and appreciate all the workers focused on ensuring food gets from our farms to grocery stores, and of course we are grateful for the health care workers ensuring we can treat those who are ill and contain the pandemic.”

Read more from Zippy here.

Cargill

During this unprecedented time, we are working around the clock with farmers and our customers – the world’s food retailers and service providers – to continue feeding the world safely, responsibly and sustainably. We remain confident in the dependability of our global food system.

Disruptions in Cargill’s food supply chains have been limited, as our hard-working employees continue to operate safely in our facilities. We are prioritizing our employees’ health and well-being, as they are essential in delivering the food we all need to stay healthy and nourished. This includes additional precautions to support staff at our production facilities, including temperature testing, cleaning and sanitizing procedures, prohibiting visitors from entering our facilities, prohibiting international travel, limiting domestic travel, adopting social distancing practices and offering shift flexibility to keep our major production facilities open.

We are working differently, but the values that have enabled Cargill to meet previous global challenges remain unchanged. Our commitment to doing the right thing, putting people first and reaching higher will continue to guide every decision we make.

Dairy Farmers of America

Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) has been closely monitoring the COVID-19 situation to ensure the safety of our farm families and employees as well as the continued availability of dairy products across the United States.

First and foremost, we’re working to ensure our entire supply chain — farmers, plant employees and haulers — have up-to-date information about COVID-19, including the latest guidelines and recommendations for prevention from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and other government and regulatory agencies. 

We also have business continuity plans in place to handle a variety of scenarios such as supply chain interruption and workplace shortages to name a few.

At this time, we are not experiencing any interruptions to the supply chain. Circumstances are changing quickly with consumer demand at retailers and we’re working to ensure a consistent and secure supply of dairy for the health and benefit of consumers.

Kansas Agricultural Alliance

The 15 Alliance members have submitted a letter to Gov. Laura Kelly highlighting the importance of the agricultural supply chain to keep supermarkets and distribution centers fully stocked.

The letter asks Gov. Kelly to designate the agriculture commodity community as an essential service if she issues a “shelter in place” or “quarantine” order.

In the letter, the Alliance lists workers and facilities that should be considered essential to ensure a safe and abundant food supply:

“This infrastructure includes those taking care of livestock, poultry and equine, those producing and processing feed for livestock, poultry, equine, meat, eggs and dairy processing plants, agricultural supply infrastructure (including seed, crop protectants, fertilizer, etc.), planting and harvesting of crops, fruits and vegetables; and transport between all these critical supply points.  

Additionally, agricultural and food processors as well as agricultural equipment manufacturers have existing facilities that can be converted to producing potentially lifesaving materials such as sanitizers and emergency medical equipment. It is imperative that these facilities not be subject to burdensome excess taxes or unrelated regulatory barriers that could prevent them from assisting during this pandemic.”

Kansas Beef Council

Spokesman Scott Stebner says there is “a safe, strong and capable beef supply chain that is working together to keep a steady flow of high-quality protein for consumers to enjoy.”

The Kansas Beef Council also offered tips and ideas for batch cooking and making the most of leftovers to ensure meal planning is stress-free and packs a nutritious punch. 

Tyson Foods

The country’s second largest processor of chicken, beef and pork has several locations in Kansas and is committed to ensuring the availability of its products to consumers. In a blog on the company’s website, Dean Banks details what Tyson is doing.

“Clearly stated, the food supply in the U.S. is more than sufficient and we’re taking a variety of measures to meet the shifting increase in demand now, and to ensure a steady supply moving forward. There is plenty of food available. We are working closely with our retailer partners to ensure our products are on their shelves, so that you have what you need to feed your family.

With more than 100 food production plants in the U.S., our unique scale allows us to quickly adjust and meet the current demand at grocery and other retail stores. We’re working collaboratively with our customers to fill and ship orders as rapidly as possible. In some cases, our capability to shift processes in individual plants is allowing us to quickly pivot to producing retail items. For example, changing packaging from a foodservice product to a retail product can occur quickly because of the built-in flexibility of our operations.

While we’ve made moves like this before, this is the most significant shift we’ve ever initiated.”