It is no secret that a serious economic repercussion of the COVID-19 pandemic is the disruption of the global supply chain. Interruptions began with lockdowns resulting in the suspension of labor, which spurred production delays. After production rebooted, COVID-19 safety measures slowed production at some factories; then power outages stopped progress altogether in China (Bradsher, 2021). Cargo containers packed to capacity with products were loaded onto vessels now built larger than before the pandemic (Baertlein, 2021). While this accommodated larger containers, an increased amount of cargo caused longer times to offload, creating a shortage of dock workers, port crane operators, and truck drivers to deliver products (Vakil, 2021).
Another supply chain casualty is warehouse space, difficult to locate at US ports due to more and larger containers arriving in the record number of ships lined up at ports awaiting their turn to unload (Kay, 2021). The Los Angeles/Long Beach, California, port complex is the largest in the country, processing 40 percent of US containers with goods (Powers, 2021). Sitting containers holding products or waiting for products are costing consumers double or triple (Danzigar, 2021).
Specific Food and Supply Shortages
Foods expected to be in low supply include bacon, beef, coffee, turkey, chicken, and bottled water. The canned goods stockpiled early in the pandemic by anxious consumers and an ensuing aluminum shortage mean some canned foods remain scarce (Sager, 2021).
Of particular interest to camps, because so many restaurants operated under takeout-only restrictions, Heinz has reported that ketchup packets are more difficult to find (USA Today, 2021). Camp food service managers also often order paper products, including toilet paper and paper towels. Bloomberg outlined that these products were once again low in number as of September 2021, but these markets never actually fully recovered from the original run on paper goods at the start of the pandemic (Nicholson & Pollard, 2021). Plastics and foam products, too, remain in short supply as restaurant takeout orders continue at extraordinary rates following the original COVID-driven lockdown on restaurant indoor seating (Vakil, 2021; Kinchla, 2021).
Have a Backup Plan to Manage This Obstacle
Backup plans for your camp kitchen operation should include various new operating strategies and should include development of new business relationships.
- Begin product orders one week prior to usual order times, except perishables.
- Broaden your wholesale distributor options to include:
- At least two or three food supply and delivery vendors
- A separate disposable/chemicals vendor
- Wholesale clubs like Sam’s Club and Costco
- Check with vendors for weekly specials and base your menu off these.
- Stagger your order days. What did not arrive on the truck Tuesday may on Friday.
- Establish relationships with local camps using different vendors so you can trade goods.
- Establish relationships with local farms as suppliers of specific foods, such as strawberries, watermelon, or potatoes.
- Utilize an established camp farm-to-table program as one option for needed produce. Realize that it may not be a good year to begin this program because of supply and labor uncertainties.
- Plan meals with more readily available stock.
- Reduce scarce menu items like chicken to once or twice weekly.
- Eliminate super costly items like bacon from the menu until prices stabilize.
- Serve a vegetable protein-based meal once weekly instead of meat for savings.
- Keep meats and other freezable perishables frozen for longevity.
- Tightly manage serving amounts/sizes, curtailing food waste and saving money.
- Seek/accept grocer gift cards/donations from local service clubs, churches, and retailers.
- If cost effective, increase inventory of frequently used products to freeze pricing.
Greater flexibility will be the key to a successful camp food service for the 2022 camp season.
Food Industry Price Increases
Fuel cost influences product delivery cost, and fuel rose in price over 40 percent in 2021. Extreme weather in 2020 an d 2021 punished crops, leading to poor farming conditions and supply and demand issues, causing economic challenges for farmers, a contributing factor to price increases (Johannson, 2021). As a result, the Producer Price Index, which measures changes in farm and wholesale prices, increased estimates for wholesale beef, farm-level eggs, farm-level wheat, and wholesale wheat flour. And overall prices for the combined category of “meats, poultry, and fish” are also on the rise (US Department of Agriculture, 2021).
Be Prepared to Pay More
Rise in food prices and wages will require meal price hikes. Your camper families know that fuel, foods, and other product prices have significantly inflated, and hopefully they will understand the need for price increases. Refusal to raise rates could jeopardize your camp’s financial health or, at the very least, significantly impact the quality of the food you serve. If you determine to raise pricing, a gentle but transparent explanation letter to parents from camp administration may ease concern (Gravitec, 2019). While informing your clientele of needed increases, do make it clear that you look forward to offering a quality camper dining experience next summer.
Kimberly Whiteside Truitt is former food service manager at Camp Gilmont and Camp Zephyr and has served on Camping Magazine’s Editorial Advisory Committee. Kimberly was a presenter at the 2018 and 2020 North American Food Service and Maintenance Conferences.
Baertlein, L. (2021, September 15). Record 60 cargo ships wait to unload at busiest US port complex. Reuters. reuters.com/world/us/record-60-cargo-ships-wait-unload-busiest-us-port-complex-2021-09-15/
Bradsher, K. (2021, September 27). Power outages hit China, threatening the economy and Christmas. New York Times. nytimes.com/2021/09/27/business/economy/china-electricity.html
Danzigar, P. N. (2021, August 21). Rising prices, product shortages, Delta Variant have consumers and retailers on edge for holiday 2021. Forbes. forbes.com/sites/pamdanziger/2021/08/12/rising-prices-product-shortages-delta-variant-have-consumers-and-retailers-on-edge-for-holiday-2021/?sh=6817c7612332
Gravitec. (2019, September 17). 9 ways to announce price increase to your customers. gravitec.net/blog/9-ways-to-announce-price-increase-to-your-customers/
Johansson, R. (2021, July 29). America’s farmers: resilient throughout the covid pandemic. USDA. usda.gov/media/blog/2020/09/24/americas-farmers-resilient-throughout-covid-pandemic
Kay, G. (2021, October 6). Nearly half a million shipping containers are stuck off the coast of southern California as ports operate below capacity. Insider. businessinsider.com/shipping-containers-stuck-california-ports-combat-shortages-2021-9
Kinchla, M. (2021, September 22). Foam shortage impacts restaurants nationwide. abc7amarillo.com/news/local/styrofoam-shortage-impacts-restaurants-nationwide
Ludlow, N. (2021, October 15). Grocery store shelves bare? These products may be hard to find amid supply chain disruptions. USA Today. usatoday.com/story/money/2021/10/15/grocery-shortage-toilet-paper-coffee-chicken-hard-find/8455259002/
Nicholson, M. & Pollard, A. (2021, September 24). Paper shortage hits American retailers when they need it most. Bloomberg. bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-09-24/paper-shortage-hits-retailers-printing-catalogs-to-advertise-2021-holiday-gifts
Powers, J. (2021, October 12). I’m a California dock worker facing record cargo ship backlogs. It’ll be catastrophic if things get worse. Insider. businessinsider.com/california-longshoreman-describes-record-port-backlog-los-angeles-long-beach-2021-10
Sager, J. (2021, October 14). Here are the groceries you might be missing on store shelves. parade.com/1277691/jessicasager/food-shortage-2021-list/
US Department of Agriculture. (2021, September 24). Summary findings: Food price outlook, 2021. USDA. ers.usda.gov/data-products/food-price-outlook/summary-findings/
Vakil, B. (2021, March 26). The latest supply chain disruption: plastics. hbr.org/2021/03/the-latest-supply-chain-disruption-plastics