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Food companies are cutting products in response to COVID-19

Illustration for article titled Food companies are cutting products in response to COVID-19
Photo: Tom Werner (Getty Images)

We’ve written a few times now about how, thanks to the Covid-19 outbreak, stores are finding it nearly impossible to keep an array of shelf-stable items in stock, and more recently we learned that’s thanks in part to manufacturers struggling to meet increased demand. Now, The New York Times reports, companies like Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and Kraft Heinz are trying to mitigate these shortages by eliminating less popular products and instead focusing on producing their biggest sellers.

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While supermarkets carrying fewer brands may not seem like a big deal (and the Times story doesn’t delve into this this particular area of analysis), having fewer brands on the shelves represents a huge change for the retail ecosystem that exists within grocery stores. There is what is essentially an entire sub-industry built around where exactly items appear on grocery store shelvesthe endcap is particularly important—and it’s been proven that where items are displayed on shelves truly does drive how people purchase food. Having fewer products on the shelves not only interrupts an intricately balanced financial system, it can also impact what people eat.

This is probably a good time to ask ourselves, do we actually need such a kaleidoscopic variety of foods? The United States is famous around the world for the cornucopia-like abundance within its markets, which, depending on your personal philosophy, can signify either desirable success or gross excess. Plus, per the Times, two of the items which have been discontinued are “lightly salted Lay’s barbecue potato chips and reduced-fat Jif peanut butter,” neither of which seem like deeply important core products. Then again, both of these foods are designed for people looking to reduce their salt/fat intake, which is not an insignificant number. Are such specifically dialed in products unnecessary, or do they allow people to enjoy something which would otherwise be out of their reach?

Jacob Dean is a food and travel writer and psychologist based in New York. He likes beer, less traveled airports, and is allergic to grasshoppers (the insect, not the mixed drink.)

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DISCUSSION

bartfargomst3k
Bart Fargo

A couple of weeks ago, while I was standing in my grocery store’s potato chip aisle and I realized that I lived in a country that could have an entire aisle devoted to chips but which can’t make enough paper masks.