Grocery stores are part of a larger system called the supply chain. The supply chain consists of several steps different products go through before they’re consumer-ready. Given recent outages and panic buying due to the spread of novel Coronavirus, many people want to better understand how stores get their products. Understanding the process promises to address the fear people have of going without certain products, toilet paper being one prominent example. To set your mind at ease about the American supply chain, read how grocery stores get their products.
Manufacturing & Processing
Naturally, the process starts with manufacturing and processing. There are several ways food manufacturers work to increase efficiency to get product out the door more quickly, including automated film stretchers and other forms of automation. The goal of food processing is to keep food from spoiling and involves waxing fruits and vegetables and using airtight containers.
Producing toilet paper is a more complex process. Essentially, workers mix tree bark with chemicals to create a liquified slurry, dry it into a pulp, then bleach the color from the pulp. After mixing the pulp with water and drying it again to make it paper-like, they crepe the paper (make it soft), perforate it into separate sheets, and then roll it. Currently, because toilet paper is hard for manufacturers to store in preparation for high demand, they are ramping up production to meet demand.
After manufacturing, products typically proceed through a distributor. A distributor sends manufacturers’ products to stores for sale. These entities coordinate with storage facilities and local farmers to obtain food at their peak freshness and other products as needed. For example, if in season, stores will buy local produce rather than shipping in national produce. Meanwhile, some businesses, including those selling baked goods, choose to send their goods direct-to-store.
As stores run out of toilet paper, distributors try to obtain more product but also face a threat of not being able to transport it quickly enough.
Grocery stores get their products in one of several ways. Distributors and independent businesses send goods by cargo ship, train, or, commonly, trucks and vans. This could mean a cross-country trip or a local shipment. Shipping perishable foods requires extra shipment measures. For small businesses and small shipments, one of several types of refrigerated vans is necessary depending on the products’ temperature needs. Meanwhile, larger shipments necessitate a refrigerated truck.
To combat outages due to COVID-19 panic buying, stores focus now on transporting more toilet paper and other products as quickly as possible.