Mustard, oil, biscuits, toilet paper: can we get used to shortages?

Toilet paper, chocolate cake, sunflower oil, mustard, not a month without shortages on the supermarket shelves. Shortages concern consumers who do not trade for merchants.

Lack! This word has become common for consumers who have seen products disappear from the shelves. Every month, a new one is added to the list with different reasons (pandemic, war in Ukraine, drought, transport …) to see the shortages of stock and the prices of the alarming increase.

Nothing is spared: from toilet paper to biscuits to mustard, cheese, butter, potatoes and of course energy such as electricity, gas and even wood pellets. Even some medicines are affected by this phenomenon.

Some explanations of these scary events that confuse consumers and do not do business in supermarkets.

• The end of abundance?

The images become familiar: empty supermarket shelves, products that cannot be found, even disputes about the last package of flour or the last bottle of oil. In the daily Le Parisien, a Système U representative recently assured that he had “never experienced supply interruptions of such a high level”.

There is sunflower oil, since the invasion of Ukraine, a major producer of this crop, by Russia. Or toilet paper at the start of the Covid-19 epidemic in 2020. Since the start of the conflict in Ukraine, from the beginning of March to mid-August, it’s mustard, salad dressing, soft drinks, crisps, oil or chicken. affected, according to a barometer established by panelist NielsenIQ.

The fact remains that 96.4% of references remained available on the shelves in August, according to the same source. But the rate of ruptures, which lasts an average of 4 days, is abnormally high in a country that is used to not losing anything.

• How are these breaks explained?

Until the Covid-19 epidemic, supply stores were a well-oiled machine. Before placing an order, traders base themselves on sales during the same period of previous years, taking into account specific events such as year-end celebrations or the arrival of the sunny days.

But as of 2020, amid lockdowns, teleworking and the impact of the war in Ukraine, the predictions are less accurate. All the players agree that above all the so-called “precautionary” purchases empty the shelves: the customers, who heard that the mustard crops are bad, or saw that the shelves no more, tempted to buy more of these products than usual, to keep them at home.

“At least in June, we will no longer have mustard because we have reached our number for the year”, recently explained to RMC / BFMTV Michel-Edouard Leclerc, the president of the strategic committee of E stores. Leclerc. The French bought in six months what the leading retailer thought it would sell for a year.

“If I quote a brand” that may be sold out soon, “everyone will rush” to buy it, also said Michel-Edouard Leclerc.

This excitement escapes the forecasting models of businesses, which want to place an order at the same time, which clogs the supply chain. In addition, suppliers may be tempted to charge more because available stocks are hotly contested.

• Do entrepreneurs have an interest in it?

When sunflower oil returned to stores, it was always at a higher price, suggesting that supermarkets were cashing in on the crisis. Professionals responded that these supplies cost them, as did packaging and transportation. But since demand is high, some may be tempted by the higher price.

In any case, traders do not want to leave the shelves empty, which they see as a loss of profit, estimated by NielsenIQ at 2.7 billion euros since the beginning of the year. A number that is qualified, however, because it does not take into account the “oversales” that are made when the product is available on the shelves.

• Voluntary termination?

However, some successes are chosen by professionals, either agro-industrialists or distributors. Fans of Mikado, Petit Ecolier, Pépito or Pim’s have recently noticed that some of their products have disappeared from the shelves. This is the result of the decision of the group that owns these brands, Mondelez, to “deep clean” a production site, following a salmonella alert in a Belgian factory of one of its chocolate suppliers, and after to ensure that no product is offered for sale. contains contaminated chocolate.

Another scenario: the water of the Danone group, including Evian, Badoit, Volvic. In many Intermarché stores, it is no longer sold. There is no stoppage of production, but a disagreement between the manufacturer and the merchant on the cost of purchase.

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