Mustard, oils or cookies: why so much scarcity on the shelves?

Mustard, oils or cookies: why so much scarcity on the shelves?

The end of abundance?

The images become familiar: empty supermarket shelves, missing products, even disputes over the last packet of flour or the last bottle of oil. In the newspaper Le Parisien, a representative of Système U recently assured that “it had never experienced interruptions in supply at such a high level”. There is sunflower oil, since the invasion of Ukraine, an important producer of this plant, by Russia. Or toilet paper at the beginning of the Covid-19 epidemic in 2020.

Since the start of the conflict in Ukraine, from the beginning of March to mid-August, mustard, salad dressings, non-alcoholic beverages, potato chips, oils and even poultry have been affected, according to a barometer established by NielsenIQ panelist. The truth is that 96.4% of the references were still available on the shelves in August, according to this same source. But the rate of ruptures, which last an average of 4 days, is abnormally high in a country accustomed to not missing anything.

How are these breaks explained?

Until the Covid-19 epidemic, store sourcing was a well-oiled machine. Before placing an order, the merchants were based on the sales of the same period of previous years, taking into account specific events such as the end of the year holidays or the arrival of good weather. But since 2020, between lockdowns, telecommuting and the impact of the war in Ukraine, the forecasts are much less precise.

All players agree that it is above all the so-called “precautionary” purchases that empty the shelves: customers, hearing that the mustard crops have been poor, or seeing that the shelves are already quite empty, will be tempted to buy more. these products than usual, to keep them at home. “In June we had no more mustard because we had reached our figure for the year,” Michel-Édouard Leclerc, president of the strategic committee of the E.Leclerc stores, explained recently on RMC/BFMTV. The Frenchman bought in six months what the leader of the big distribution thought to sell in a year.

“If I mention a brand” that could soon be out of stock, “everyone will rush” to buy it, Michel-Édouard Leclerc also said. This desire escapes the forecasting models of companies, which will want to place an order at the same time, obstructing the supply chain. Also, suppliers may be tempted to charge more, as available stock is hotly contested.

Are professionals interested?

If sunflower oil has returned to stores, it is often at higher prices, suggesting that supermarkets are profiting from the crisis. Professionals respond that these inputs cost them, as well as packaging and transportation. But since demand is high, some may have been tempted by higher prices. In any case, retailers do not like to leave shelves empty, which they see as lost profits, estimated by NielsenIQ at 2.7 billion euros since the beginning of the year. A figure to qualify, however, because it does not take into account the “oversales” made when the product is available on the shelves.

Are some terminations voluntary?

However, certain advances are chosen by professionals, whether they are agribusinesses or distributors. Fans of Mikado, Petit Écolier, Pépito or Pim’s have recently noticed that some of their products are missing from the shelves. This is the consequence of the decision of the group that owns these brands, Mondelez, to “deeply clean” a production center, after a salmonella alert in a Belgian factory of one of its chocolate suppliers, and after ensuring that no offered no products for sale. Contains contaminated chocolate.

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