I’d like to address the potential for food shortages. The producers of the YouTube channel “Six Acres” filmed some shelves at a Williston, North Dakota Walmart. The Six Acres footage was posted on December 12, 2019. The Six Acres YouTube video was on my suggested list so I took a look at it.
There has been much discussion about food shortages on various prepper blogs and other forums. I have watched and listened to some but obviously not all. But when watching the Six Acres video and comparing and contrasting with my trips to my own local Walmart here in Pennsylvania I have a theory.
Having worked in retail in my younger days, we were directed twice each shift to “front and face” which was a term to go into our area of responsibility and move product from the back of the shelf to the front of the shelf where product had been removed as customers picked it up. We also turned around product that had gotten moved so that the front of the product label was able to be seen by shoppers. What I saw in the video was the lack of this normal retail practice in several pictures. There was product but it was towards the back of the shelf. Many of the products were turned on their side or otherwise not placed orderly on the shelf. Has Walmart cut back on employees and/or have not made fronting and facing a priority? With North Dakota having an unemployment rate of 2.5%, Walmart may not be able to compete for workers against others who are paying higher wages.
The other thing I know about Walmart is that they use a system called vendor managed stocks. Many times, the products are inventoried and ordered and many times even placed on the shelves by non-Walmart employee who work for the food company themselves. With that said, not all products are managed this way, the best example being the Walmart store brand, Great Value which would be stocked and managed by Walmart employees. Interesting enough the video shows that both Walmart Great Value brands and national brands both not being front and faced.
The video showed various cuts of fresh meat and the prices as well. For sure those prices seem higher than the prices I have seen here locally. But it is available.
Visibly Smaller Inventory
The Six Acres video showed an aisle of detergent that was also suffering from lack of fronting and facing and also lack of product. Are we having a nationwide laundry detergent shortage? I think the shortage of products, not just food, point to something different than a food shortage.
The grocery business operates on some of the thinnest profit margins in retail. So, the bigger stores are always looking for ways to be more profitable, just like any business. A can of Great Value corn cost the same in Williston, North Dakota as it does in Erie, Pennsylvania. The question is which can of corn is more profitable for Walmart? Walmart has been known for their innovative business and inventory management practices. I suspect that Walmart is looking at adjusting their methods by reducing the number of deliveries to less profitable (i.e. stores in less populated areas).
Here, in my area, we have not seen any shortages. Things look “normal”. Think about the just in time (JIT) delivery system for Walmart to a rural area. Sending a truck each day to a rural store where maybe a few plates are off loaded before the truck goes onto the next rural Walmart probably costs them a lot of dollars. If Walmart could reduce their number of deliveries per week at hundreds of rural stores imagine what that would do to their bottom line. Also, if Walmart isn’t requiring their vendors to send in their employees to these stores as frequently that would also reduce the costs that the vendors are charging Walmart.
Just In Time Spices?
One of the other areas in the video that caught my attention was the spice aisle. Do we really believe that there is a shortage of spices? Or going back to my theory have these stores just not been stocked after being hit hard by shoppers who picked up spices for their Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays?
The United States would be one of the last nations to see shortages of food for a few reasons. One, much of the food is grown/raised and processed here. If food was in a short supply, shipments outside the US would be cut as the cost of shipping the product overseas would be less profitable. Two, as the second largest economy in the world, we can afford food. As a nation we have more disposable income that can be shifted to pay for higher priced food. We would see food riots in poorer nations as food became more expensive and then less available. If you really want to know what caused the Arab spring to pop up in Egypt, look at the time line when the Egyptian Government cut bread subsidies to the masses of poor. If there was food shortages in the US, we would also be hearing from our local food banks and pantries who help feed those in need.
As preppers, this theory that the perceived food shortages being caused by new business strategies and low unemployment should not give us warm and fuzzies. What this will mean is that rural areas will be even more susceptible to the just in time deliveries. If Walmart is in fact playing with trying to come up with a new inventory and shipping algorithm other retailers adopting the same business practice will not be far behind. Besides not being able to get a can of corn when you shop at a grocery store perhaps next it will be the lack of an electrical fuse, a pipe fitting or a replacement well pump at your local hardware store. I don’t see this at “mom and pop” shops but I can envision corporate run stores doing this in rural areas. Lack of local inventory means making sure you not only have a good stock on hand for day-to-day use as well as for when the Schumer Hits The Fan (SHTF).
I am not saying that we don’t have shortages of certain foods or that we won’t have shortages in the future, but when we can buy a can of corn for 50 cents, I don’t think that points to a shortage. What do you think a can of corn would sell for in Venezuela?
Something else to consider is huge corporations like Walmart use psychology in marketing and identifying societal trends. If I only go into town once a month to shop at the Walmart and I know that items might be lacking do you think Walmart (and others) might know that people will buy extra? Think about the whole .22 rimfire ammunition shortage, just a few years ago. People could not get it so when they could they bought as much as they could. It is just an assumption on my part but I would be willing to bet that if you did a study more rural people are apt to be prepared with extra on hand supplies than their suburban or urban counterparts. I’m not saying that they are all “preppers” but they are probably more inclined to have extra on hand supplies so they aren’t running to the hardware store or grocery store for basic supplies.
As our great nation struggles with remaining true to the Constitutional principles that made this the greatest nation state in the history of mankind, preppers need to beware of societal and business trends that can impact our survival. Having less inventory of products in our rural areas could greatly impact our ability to survive a societal upheaval such as a second civil war. The British went after our supplies of shot and powder in Concord, but we all know an army marches on its stomachs. Food is the ultimate weapon.
JWR Adds: Partly for drama, I picked a photo for this article that shows an even more severe shortage. Shortages like that occur nearly every time a hurricane approaches landfall.
It is noteworthy that Walmart store that was photographed in the Six Acres YouTube video is in Williston, North Dakota. So it may not be typical of other Walmart stores in the western United States. You see, Williston is in the Bakken oil and natural gas producing region, which straddles the North Dakota/Montana state line. The Bakken is famous for going through “boom-bust” cycles. During boom times, there are virtually no minimum wage employees. Nay, the starting wages are around $12 per hour, just to slop hogs or push a broom. The cost of living in the Bakken is notoriously high. I suspect that as each “bust” is rumored, housewives in the Bakken region instinctively stock up on staple supplies.
I’d be curious to hear if SurvivalBlog readers living elsewhere in the west are seeing similar under-stocking, stock depletion, or deliberate inventory downsizing at their local Walmart stores. Please chime in, down in the comments. Thanks.