Takeout Packaging Is Harder to Source

Costs for items like to-go coffee cups and straws also have increased due to supply chain issues and labor shortages.

November 09, 2021

Coffee Cup

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Supply chain snarls have started affecting the availability of takeout items such as plastic straws, coffee cups and to-go containers, reports CNBC. Off-premise restaurant orders were up 20% in September compared with the same time two years ago, according to the NPD Group, and the increased demand for takeout has put pressure of the foodservice supply chain.

Costs have also increased for packaging companies that manufacture takeout containers, straws and to-go cups, as shipping container costs increase. International Paper said that it took on an additional $50 million in supply chain costs for its export operations in its latest quarter.

David Pokorny, a food packaging expert for Imperial Dade, says he spends most of his day sourcing enough products for his customers.

“There’s literally no straws and very, very few clear, iced coffee drink cups,” he said. “There was such a shortage that people said, ‘I don’t care about the price, just send it to me.’”

Penn Station East Coast Subs President Craig Dunaway is encouraging franchisees to stock up on nonperishable goods like branded napkins and cups before supplies run out, as U.S. Foods has limited some of the cases that some Penn Station Subs’ franchisees could order due to labor challenges.

“We have taken aggressive steps to minimize the impact of labor and supplier challenges on our customers. ... To further mitigate potential impacts, we may also work closely with some customers in specific markets to temporarily adjust their orders while we manage through local challenges,” U.S. Foods told CNBC.

The shortage has prompted some companies to think outside the box. Panera Bread was having trouble sourcing packaging for its hot sandwiches so the company switched to an alternative thermal wrap that is more readily available. A bonus is that the wrap is compostable, uses 60% less material, is easier to transport and has a smaller shipping footprint.

While recent efforts to provide sustainable solutions in retail have been derailed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s strong evidence environmental concerns, particularly with regard to plastic packaging, are a top priority once more. Read more in “Back on the Plastic Attack” in the April 2021 issue of NACS Magazine.