Pandemic Disrupts Global Supply Chains

Chicken tenders, ketchup, and lemon-lime Gatorade are a few dining hall favorites that have become increasingly difficult to acquire. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically affected the global commodity supply chain in recent months. With labor shortages, rising inflation, and scarcity of raw materials, industries have faced difficulties recover to their pre-pandemic operating levels. The disruption of the global supply chain has greatly impacted the school’s dining services and construction projects. 

The food service industry currently faces challenges including shortage of labor to pick and package produce in fields. At the school, the dining service, Tory Hill, LLC, has experienced a  labor shortage that has resulted in five to eight less dining hall staff working six to seven days a week.

Half of the school’s food is imported from around the world, which is complicated by the transportation industry’s challenges–high gas prices, a shortage of truck drivers, and a large percentage of inexperienced truck drivers with the wrong equipment. Long-time vendors of the school have reduced delivery frequencies and some have even cancelled contracts. Mr. Mike Webster, director of dining services, said, “Though it is frustrating on the back end, I think we’ve buffered the overall impact pretty well by using substitutes, such as Rice Krispies Treats instead of cookies, to maintain widespread variety.”

In addition, to relieve the impacts of global supply chain disruptions, the dining service has relied on Fairfield Farm and other local farms to guarantee availability and variety. Mr. Webster said, “[Our relationships with local farmers] is the only reason we’re continually feeding [the community]. We always have access to meat, vegetables, dairy, and grains that are [produced in] New England. Our direct relationships with farmers and long standing agreements have reinforced our ability to ride out the storm.”

While dining services may benefit from the school’s proximity to and relationships with local farms, school construction projects face more complex problems. At the start of the pandemic, plexiglass, plywood, sanitizers, and cleaning materials were in short supply. The reconstruction of outdoor tennis courts, renovations of Walker Auditorium, Memorial Hall, Wieler Hall, and repairs of campus boilers have been delayed due to shipping times tripling. The school has needed to purchase materials from multiple manufacturers in case materials arrive later than expected. Mr. John Bryant, director of facilities, said, “We are trying to be prepared by signing contractors early [for the renovation of Memorial Hall] so they can order materials with plenty of time. While the situation is improving, it’s still a problem.”

Mr. Webster and Mr. Bryant both expect the supply chain disruptions to continue, and dining services to be impacted for another 12-18 months. Mr. Webster said, “We are working with producers to produce deeper into the winter season as supply chains continue to tighten and availability is less local and more dependent on imports.”