If You're Still Struggling to Find Canning Supplies, You're Not Alone

Take note as industry experts and seasoned home canners reveal potential causes of the canning supply shortage and offer stop-gap solutions.

Beth Eslinger grew up in a family of dedicated gardeners, where preserving produce was a routine part of life. "Some of my first memories are my mom canning tomatoes and green beans, starting back when I was in elementary school," she recalls. "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 to ensure her kitchen is never without fresh produce for her favorite recipes. With extra time to dedicate to hobbies during the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Eslinger expanded her community garden in Des Moines, Iowa, planting eight different varieties of tomatoes and six types of peppers. But as the tomatoes neared peak ripeness, she struggled to find jars and lids to preserve her garden goodies.

"I [had] 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," recalls Eslinger. She kept returning to these stores, but repeatedly discovered depleted shelves, 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."

glass jars and metal lids for canning
Jason Donnelly

What Might Be Causing the Canning Supply Shortage?

Manufacturers blame the pandemic-fueled move toward at-home activities. "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," explained one Newell Brands spokesperson we spoke to in the early days of the shortage. (Newell Brands owns Ball, which started making home-canning jars in 1884, and also owns other food-storage labels, like Foodsaver, Calphalon, and Rubbermaid.)

During the pandemic, many consumers discovered canning for the first time, the spokesperson said, both as a hobby to preserve produce from their gardens and as a way to reduce visits to the supermarket. Building up a stash of home-canned foods became a backup plan in case of future grocery store shortages.

That renewed interest in the homegrown hobby meant heightened demand: In the first half of 2020, the food side of Newell Brands' earnings were up more than 35 percent, while online global sales tripled between April and June, leaping 230 percent from 2019. 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.

It wasn't just major retailers who saw a surge. Marie Bregg, owner of the online retailer Mason Jar Merchant, reported that sales through her online shop in late August 2020 shot up about 600 percent over any other month in 2020. Ninety percent of those sales were for 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 told us at the time.

"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," Bregg said. "It's the summertime version of spring's sourdough-baking craze. I call it Sourdough 2.0." She's referring to the early-pandemic sourdough bread craze, one of several COVID-related food trends. While the surge in sourdough-making leveled out, the demand for canning supplies has continued.

During the first phase of the shortage, Bregg suspected some major retailers shifted their usual orders of seasonal products like canning lids to later in the summer, freeing them up to focus on essential high-demand items, like frozen food, pasta, and emergency-pantry items. Yet even as coronavirus no longer dominates headlines, the canning supply issues have persisted.

Why is there a shortage of canning lids in particular? Unlike the glass jars, which can be washed and reused, metal canning lids have to be tossed after one use, which may mean canners require more lids than they do jars.

To address the ongoing supply problems, a Ball spokesperson says the company has increased production (with a focus on their most popular jars and lids), added more shifts at their manufacturing facilities, and expanded "pack-out locations" to replenish shelves as quickly as possible. They've also stopped treating canning supplies as a seasonal item, keeping production at a steady level. "As a result of these efforts to maximize supply, mitigate consumer disruption, and meet continued growing consumer demand, we can confirm that we are continuously working to supply all customers in time for canning season," the spokesperson says.

Alternatives to Canning if You Can't Find Jars and Lids

Marlene Geiger, an AnswerLine specialist with the Iowa State University Extension in Ames, Iowa, reports receiving numerous comments and complaints from clients nationwide who have had trouble finding lids. As a result, she created a guide to Safe Canning Amid Canning Supply Shortages to address common questions.

New lids are required for proper sealing when you're pressure canning, but if you're simply storing something like freezer jams, quick pickles, or cookie mixes, 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, says Bregg.

So what do you do with all those tomatoes, corn, and other produce items ready to pick and preserve? "Freezing and dehydrating are two other options," suggests Sarah Francis, a food science and human nutrition specialist at Iowa State University.

While it's admittedly time-consuming to can produce (especially when you add the extra effort of hunting for supplies), Eslinger vows that it's still well worth it.

"True, it's getting more expensive...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," Eslinger says, "And the flavor can't be beat!"

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