Hyperbolic Headlines Will Not Improve Food Supply Chains

Contrary to the media’s apocalyptic assessment, the COVID-19 crisis has not broken America’s food supply chain and the product shortages experienced by consumers are temporary blips. As is often the case, looking behind the headlines will reveal the real situation — and problems that genuinely need to be addressed.

Yossi Sheffi
Jun 3, 2020 · 5 min read
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Waves of fearmongering during a pandemic

As I explain in my blog post Their Finest Hour Supply Chain Professionals Bring It, media outlets know that “fear sells” and are portraying a false picture of a food supply chain that is in a state of collapse. In reality, the nation’s food supply is robust and despite the momentous changes in demand caused by the pandemic, food is reaching supermarkets and online distributors. Some retailers have introduced rationing — but to prevent hoarding and excess buying and not because they fear that supplies will dry up. Moreover, doomsday articles such as Bloomberg’s recent piece about food rationing actually encourage the hoarding that retailers are trying to curtail.

The real picture of supply chain shortages

Some headlines — such as those that refer to farmers plowing under-ripe crops, dumping milk, and euthanizing animals — are heart-achingly justified.

Other issues raised by the pandemic

In supply chain circles the ability to adapt quickly to new demands is often referred to as agility. What can we learn from the pandemic that could increase the agility of national food supply chains?

Focus on fixing real logistics problems

It bears repeating that America’s food supply chains are not broken. Indeed, they have shown a remarkable capacity to roll with adversity and maintain supply lines in the midst of a global pandemic. Still, the coronavirus has highlighted weak links in food supply chains that we can reinforce — providing we don’t get distracted by alarmist headlines.

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Yossi Sheffi

Written by

Dr. Yossi Sheffi is a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he serves as Director of the Center for Transportation & Logistics.

MITSupplyChain

MIT Supply Chain is a world leader in supply chain management education, research, and thought leadership.

Yossi Sheffi

Written by

Dr. Yossi Sheffi is a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he serves as Director of the Center for Transportation & Logistics.

MITSupplyChain

MIT Supply Chain is a world leader in supply chain management education, research, and thought leadership.

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