Tyson’s Chairman Said ‘The Food Supply Chain Is Breaking.’ Here’s Why He’s Wrong.
Source: Jim Vinoski, Contributor, Forbes
Jim will participate in the 4th Internet of Manufacturing & Supply Chain Midwest events, September 28 – 30, 2020 .
You’d have to have been living under a rock to have missed this week’s news that John Tyson, Chairman of the Board at meat processing giant Tyson Foods, declared in a letter published last Sunday as a full-page ad in The New York Times, The Washington Post and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that America’s “food supply chain is breaking.” But he’s wrong. The food supply chain, and all our supply chains, are adapting, slowly and with understandable fits and starts sometimes, to shifts in demand of a magnitude only those old enough to remember WWII have seen before in their lifetimes.
Was Tyson not aware that his words risked kicking off an unnecessary national anxiety attack , and yet another spate of grocery panic-buying and hoarding? When he speaks, people listen, and with good reason. Tyson (NYSE: TSN) is the second-largest food company in the U.S., with 2018 sales of over $40 billion spread across such well-known brands as Hillshire Farm, Jimmy Dean, Ball Park and Sara Lee. They employ over 100,000 people. They’re a big part of our food supply chain.
But big is relative. For overall U.S. packaged food sales, Tyson constitutes less than five percent of the total. Add the big three meat processors together (including JBS USA and Smithfield Foods, Inc., in the mix), and they combine to total about ten percent of the country’s packaged food sales.
That’s important, because problems within the meat industry, while substantial, won’t necessarily be crippling. It’s critical to understand the particular challenges in meat plants : they’re heavy on manual labor, and much of the work is done in cold, wet environments, with workers literally shoulder to shoulder. It’s a uniquely difficult industry when it comes to the potential for spread of coronavirus, and the challenges of keeping workers safe. So there will be temporary disruptions, with possible tighter supplies for meat, along with higher prices – and dramatic culling of herds at the same time. Agriculturist Damian Mason , author of Food Fear: How Fear is Ruining Your Dinner & Why You Should Celebrate Eating, explains why: with even temporary and short-term plant shutdowns, “…that puts a crimp on the food supply chain.” But with respect to the animals being culled, “Right behind them is another young pig… another young chicken… another young steer or calf that’s coming into the supply. That’s why we have such abundant food here in the United States of America and Canada.”
Other types of food production are a far cry from that difficult meat plant reality. Most packaged food plants are heavily automated, meaning workers are naturally separated as they tend large pieces of processing and packaging machinery. Walk through a soda bottling facility or a cereal...