If You’re Struggling to Find Canning Supplies Right Now, You're Not Alone
Wondering why you can’t find jars and lids anywhere this year? We uncovered some potential causes of the canning supply shortage with industry experts and home canners. Plus, we'll share alternate ways to preserve your food until supplies are back in stock.
Beth Eslinger grew up in a family of dedicated gardeners, “so some of my first memories are my mom canning tomatoes and green beans, starting back when I was in elementary school. Now, I’m teaching my kids how to garden, preserve, and cook because it's important to know where their food comes from and also a bit of their farm heritage.” As an adult, she’s always had a garden (mainly in community gardens) to ensure her kitchen is never without fresh produce to cook with. This year, with extra time to dedicate to hobbies like gardening due to the coronavirus pandemic, Eslinger expanded her community garden in Des Moines and planted eight different varieties of tomatoes and six types of peppers. But as the tomatoes near peak ripeness, she’s having a hard time finding any jars and lids to preserve her garden goodies using her usual canned tomatoes recipe.
“I have loads of pint and quart jars from previous years, so I was really on the hunt for lids. I went to four of my go-to local spots with no luck," says Eslinger. She keeps returning to these stores but shelves are depleted except for some of the pricier options. "I looked on Amazon and two boxes of just lids were going for over $20. During a normal year, these are less than $5."
What Might Be Causing the Canning Supply Shortage?
“Consumers staying home over the last few months due to the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in shifts in demand for food storage containers like Ball-branded glass jars and lids,” explains one Newell Brands spokesperson we spoke to. (Newell owns Ball as well as other food labels like Foodsaver, Calphalon, Rubbermaid, and more.)
During the pandemic, many consumers discovered canning for the first time to preserve produce as part of their gardening habit and to reduce visits to the supermarket amidst the pandemic, the spokesperson said. Having a stash of home-canned foods is also a good backup plan in case of future grocery store shortages.
In the first half of 2020, the food side of Newell Brands earnings were up over 35%, while online global sales tripled between April and June. Compared to 2019, these online sales jumped 230%.
As a result, “Ball has increased glass production, found additional lid manufacturers, and expanded our [shipping] locations to replenish stock as quickly as possible,” the spokesperson said.
Related: Our Top 25 Canning Recipes
Marie Bregg, the owner of the online retailer Mason Jar Merchant reports that sales through her online shop in late August 2020 are up about 600% over any other month in 2020, and 90% of that has been canning lids.
“Customers tell us that they’re not finding lids in stores, and are taking their search online, where they have connected with us. Thankfully, so far, we’ve been able to accommodate the demand,” Bregg says.
“Earlier in the year, many people looked for ways to pass the time in their own backyards, and now we have a bunch of baby tomatoes running around just begging to be turned into salsas and pasta sauces, or strawberries into jams and preserves. It’s the summertime version of spring’s sourdough-baking craze. I call it Sourdough 2.0,” Bregg says, referring to the pandemic-related food trends.
She also believes that some major retailers shifted their usual orders of seasonal products like canning lids to offer them later in the summer. Retailers were initially focused on meeting the high demand for frozen foods, pastas, and everything else that was flying off shelves as Americans were stocking their emergency pantries at the start of the pandemic.
Other Ways to Preserve Food if Jars and Lids Are Unavailable
Marlene Geiger, an AnswerLine specialist with the Iowa State University Extension in Ames, Iowa, says that she’s received numerous comments and complaints from various sources as well as AnswerLine clients nationwide who are having little luck finding lids. As a result, she created a guide to Safe Canning Amid Canning Supply Shortages to address common questions.
So what do you do with all those tomatoes, corn, and other late-summer produce items ready to pick and preserve?
“Freezing and dehydrating are two other options,” says Sarah Francis, a food science and human nutrition specialist at Iowa State University.
New lids are required for proper sealing when you’re pressure canning, but if you’re simply storing something such as quick pickles or cookie mixes, you can also consider reusing your canning lids from previous years as long as they’re clean and rust-free. You can also reuse clean lids for freezing food in jars, Bregg says (here’s how!).
While it’s admittedly a bit time-consuming to can produce (and the process involves an extra challenge with the supply hunt), Eslinger vows that it’s still well worth it.
“True, it’s getting more expensive this year, but it’s a pretty gratifying process. Plus I love opening my kitchen cabinets and seeing neatly-organized jars of bright red goodness that I grew myself. It keeps me connected to my garden work year-round,” Esliger says, “And the flavor can’t be beat!”