Tsunami Warning

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the “normal” waters of a new school year, another set of unprecedented challenges is emerging.

By Barry Sackin, SNS

School nutrition heroes have weathered a massive storm. With many states nearing “herd immunity” for COVID-19 and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) supporting schools reopening, it looks like most children will be back in their classrooms this fall. With some minor accommodations, school cafeterias will be back serving kids in the cafeteria (and, in some cases, the classroom) again. Operators may even start seeing increases in participation, thanks to the USDA waivers that will allow all children to eat free for SY2021-22. Phew! It’s been a long, tough haul, but better times are on the horizon. Right? Right? Actually, you may want to brace yourself.

The pandemic has had significant impacts across the economy, some of which are going to be a major headache for school nutrition programs this fall, manifesting themselves in ways we rarely think about, long taking for granted the relative ease that we in this country enjoy in getting the things we want, when we want them. But in this not-quite-post-pandemic world, the supply chain is severely stressed at virtually all points. It’s not just about the struggles of supplying school districts or even supplying the foodservice community—the impacts are being felt in back-to-school clothes, fuel, printer ink, lumber, pet food, stainless steel and much more.

There are numerous factors affecting the supply chain this year, and it’s difficult to look at them separately or even sequentially. Perhaps the biggest driver of supply chain challenges is labor. But there are also certain economic realities that were accelerated by the pandemic. And intertwined with these are straightforward shortages of supplies. This article will explore what those in industry are seeing and offer some suggestions for what you can do to mitigate the strain on your school meal program...

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