Friday Rant: Commodities Gone Wild — When a Pint of Beer Costs Less Than A Tomato

Earlier this week, the Spend Matters/MetalMiner team held our first conference. To celebrate the end to a largely uneventful event -- we all had our moments, but in general, things went off really well, especially given the live video streamlining component -- we headed to our local watering hole, Bridget McNeill's Grill and Pub. Bridget's, as we affectionately call our office pub, is about as convenient as it gets to one's headquarters (you need only walk through a parking garage to get to the entrance, as those Spend Matters guests that have joined us for a pint after work might recall). Their beer selection is a bit lacking for beer snobs like us (i.e., no Bell's or Dogfish Head on draft), but given its convenience, we'll forgive them.

To set the stage for what follows, here's some background: Bridget's is a non-descript pub -- with a better than average kitchen -- on the first floor of a high-rise building in our neighborhood. Their food is of surprisingly good caliber given what you'd expect walking in the door. We also like the fact the floor is sometimes a bit sticky and the smell of popcorn hearkens from that popped a good ten years ago -- adds character in our book. It's also locally owned and operated (always a plus) and the bartenders and chef are some of the nicest people you'll meet. Most important for us, however: the price of Guinness has not surpassed the $6 mark as it has with other pubs in the neighborhood.

When we arrived at Bridget's on Tuesday around 5:00 PM we were greeted at our table with the sign, above, that essentially told us unless we wanted anything besides meat and potatoes (or fish and chips) we were out of luck. If you have a difficult time making out the fine print on the note, it reads: "Due to inclement weather, many produce crops have been decimated. As a result, the market for produce such as tomatoes, bell peppers, lettuce and avocados has skyrocketed. In addition, the available produce has been of extremely poor quality. For both of these reasons, Bridget's will have limited quantities of all produce."

Now most people going to a pub wouldn't think twice about the reasons behind such a limited menu selection (who needs lettuce when you've got beer?!). But we did. And the three of us -- all coming from procurement and/or trading backgrounds -- immediately understood the broader gist of what was going on here. To wit, supply disruptions (and supply risk) had conspired not just to constrain the profits of some nameless company (or make us rich on the short side of a trade), but to limit our menu selection.

It's one thing when supply risk hits your organization. It's another when it manifests in our gut and changes our diet. All I can hope is that this example of supply risk causes some people to think about how fragile our supply chains can be, elevating a topic that I often write about in a level of detail that seems useful for only a few thousand people in the world, at most, up to a level that captures the interest and continued attention of typical consumers and shareholders.

And let's hope we don't all get scurvy in the meantime.

- Jason Busch

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