The year is 2020 and the stores of the United States have become a battleground; people going to war for the last roll of toilet paper. “The Clorox and Toilet Paper Wars,” some recall with a tremble in their voice. It was a dark time, and many bidets were bought to deal with the deprivation of the toilet paper shortage of 2020.
When the year turned over and 2021 arrived, people hoped that the great days of dreaming of toilet paper only to wake up to discover your cupboard bare were over; but 2021 had its own trick up its sleeve. This year, it’s not toilet paper and Clorox wipes, it’s gas, ketchup, and worringly – Chick-Fil-A sauce. So what on earth is happening, why are beloved and vital products going missing – and what could be next?
Hackers Cripple the South’s Gas Supply
If you live in the southeast, the gas shortage is probably old news by now. Last Friday, hackers belonging to the group officials believe is DarkSide, a Russian cybercrime gang, launched a ransomware attack on software controlling the major distribution network for Colonial Pipeline. DarkSide claimed responsibility but said they weren’t trying to hurt people or play politics, it was purely a financial play.
However, people were certainly hurt as the main pipeline supplying the Southeast caused shortages and panics. Most of the shortages were in fact caused by people panicking that there would be shortages. Just like the toilet paper craze of 2020, people created their own unmeetable demand. However, as the days stretched on, that panic turned to terror as gas stations across the Southeast began running out of gas. By Wednesday, CNN reports, “As of 4 pm ET Wednesday, 68% of all gas stations in North Carolina, 45% in Georgia, 49% in Virginia and 45% in South Carolina were without gasoline, according to GasBuddy, an app that tracks fuel demand, prices and outages. That’s substantially higher than early Wednesday morning.
Outages were also reported in Tennessee (18%), Florida (14%), Maryland (13%), and Washington DC (12%).”
Anecdotally, one CELEB editor drove across the state of Florida Wednesday and observed approximately half of stations with shuttered pumps, and another nearly 25% with at least half of their pumps shut down. Lines were long in nearly every station along a 200-mile stretch from North Florida to East Central. At one gas station, our editor observed a man whose dog was stolen from his truck amidst the chaos of the rush at the pumps, and people were combative, afraid, and filling a wide variety of receptacles with gas – including inappropriate ones like plastic bags and totes. For all that people are claiming the media has hyped the rush to the pumps, the reality on the ground has been grim.
But there is good news: as of Thursday, the main Colonial Pipeline is up and running again. However, it may take a few days for supply to return and all of the closed gas stations to receive deliveries. Although Floridians may have experience with gas shortages from past brushes with hurricanes, it may become a reality for other states across the country soon. The infrastructure that provides the country’s gas to citizens is outdated, and incredibly vulnerable. Both to cyber attacks and physical ones.
This shortage is on its way to resolution soon, but it’s a wake-up call that our infrastructure needs attention. DarkSide may have ties to the Russian government and crippling gas supply could be the first volley in a cyber war that would leave citizens vulnerable and bereft of vital supplies; it will need serious attention in the coming days. Citizens aren’t the only ones reliant on a steady gas supply: the military could be vulnerable if a protracted shutdown occurs again.
And in Washington D.C., the administration of President Joe Biden is scrambling to mitigate political damage caused by the shortage. Addressing infrastructure vulnerability will certainly be a part of the mea culpa moving forward.
Ketchup and Chick-Fil-A Sauce?!
Gas isn’t the only vital or beloved resource in short supply recently. One of America’s most beloved products – ketchup – has been affected by shortages as well. In April, reports shared that single-serve ketchup packets were becoming hard to come by. This is likely due to the pivot for restaurants from dine-in to take-out, increasing the industry side of packet demand. With more customers than ever choosing to take out or order, supplying them with single-serve condiment options has left ketchup manufacturers scrambling to keep up with demand.
Kraft Heinz is one of the biggest ketchup manufacturers in the country, and they’re getting creative to combat the shortages. MSN shares per Insider, “Kraft Heinz told Insider that early on in the pandemic the company was forced to add extra production shifts and prioritize more popular products in order to help meet the increase in demand.
The company plans to open multiple manufacturing lines in April, with more to follow. It said this would increase production by around 25% and bring its total yearly production to more than 12 billion packets.
The company has also been working creating innovative ways to spare ketchup packets from going to waste. In November, the company created a no-touch dispenser to maintain COVID-19 standards, while cutting back on the single-use packets.” Although they’re doing their best to problem solve, the shortages could continue for some time.
One of America’s favorite fast food chains is also facing condiment shortages of its own. Chick-Fil-A is so praised for efficiency and customer service that regional managers were brought in to vaccination distribution sites to help manage the flow of traffic. But they’re helpless in the face of the current shortage of dipping sauces. In response, the restaurant is limiting customers to the number of dip packages they can bring home; previously, customers could have as many as they wanted within reason.
Newsweek shares, “‘Due to industry-wide supply chain disruptions, some Chick-fil-A restaurants are experiencing a shortage of select items, like sauces. We are actively working to make adjustments to solve this issue quickly and apologize to our Guests for any inconvenience,’ Chick-Fil-A said in a statement to Newsweek. The company also announced the shortages online.” There is currently no announced timeline for this issue to resolve, but hopefully it will be fixed soon.
What Should Consumers Expect With Shortages in 2021?
While the gas shortage is on the mend and ketchup and Chick-Fil-A sauce shortages are almost chuckle-worthy, it’s all a symptom of a bigger problem. With the pandemic disrupting production in many industries, the United States is now having to grapple with what was a stunted and poorly crafted response to the pandemic over the last year. The administration of former President Donald Trump was hesitant to interfere too much in the livelihoods of business owners, and the result was a weak federal response to the needs of businesses impacted by the pandemic. Now, a lack of workers, drivers, gas, and supplies is causing the country to want for a variety of products we often take for granted.
The Biden administration has a mammoth task ahead: they’ll have to address and support the businesses drowning as they struggle to meet the market as its changed in 2021. They’ll need to find ways to get people safely back to work so production can increase again in vital industries. And mostly importantly, they’ll have to address the weak infrastructure that leaves our country vulnerable to hostile entities. Because private businesses have so much control over how they run their software and how they protect their assets, there has been no real Federal initiative to make sure the country is invulnerable to outside attacks.
This gas shortage may be the wake up call the government has needed and hopefully there will be more coordination between businesses and the government to prevent this sort of thing in the future, or at least a plan for when it happens again. And as far as dipping sauces go – we can only hope the shortages stop there and don’t spread to other products. The country is weary and tired of compromising, going without, and waiting for normalcy.