Knock it Off With all the “Normal” Talk

October 18, 2021 | Letters

black and white image of a large crowd of hundreds of people standing wall to wall with little room to move aroundAuthor: Nicole Olynk Widmar, Associate Head and Professor, Purdue University, Department of Agricultural Economics

Are we returning to normal? Is this price response/change normal? Seriously, this is the big return to normal of Fall 2021? If so, I’d like to order something else.

When did we all become so obsessed with normal? Pre-March 2020, I’m not sure that many of us really thought normal was all that great. But now, we’re obsessed. On one hand, I get it. We have rescheduled weddings and developed odd canned goods stockpiling behaviors, and people are plain tired of the COVID-era adjustments. We adapted holidays the past two years, and the prospect of another holiday season with pandemic adaptations is too much for many of us to think about. On the other hand, the pandemic is ongoing, and for some demographics — especially children — it’s worsening. In short, societally, we are absolutely not done, no matter how much we want to be.

Those of us in agricultural industries watched as milk and dairy markets adapted to unprecedented consumption pattern changes in 2020. Now, we continue to watch meat markets adapt as restaurants closed, then reopened, but continue to struggle with supply chain, labor and other issues.

Over the past 18 months, demand for certain food products changed rapidly, sometimes increasing as people retreated to home (i.e., some cheeses and common comfort foods), and sometimes rising as people ventured back out (i.e., beef cuts commonly consumed in restaurants versus at home). In some cases, demand skyrocketed even as prices rose, spurring debates about market movements, continued changes in demand and a variety of supply chain challenges. Chicken wings have experienced a wild ride alongside a variety of other meat products, especially those which have significant ties to eating occasions (i.e., commonly consumed in restaurants or specific settings).

In 2020, we watched carefully as Thanksgiving approached, pontificating about the size of turkeys being sold due to the anticipated smaller gatherings. As December holidays approached, case counts were rising, and by New Year’s Eve, the media was dominated by case counts and overwhelmed hospitals. Then, 2021 brought fresh hope with the availability of incredibly well performing vaccines, which resulted in us being more worried about who was going to take the shot or not rather than vaccine existence or availability by March 2021.

It’s now October 2021, and as much as we wish they were, things aren’t normal. The ‘return to normal’ is either late, or perhaps given how long we have been living abnormally, simply never coming. At some point, are we better off, personally and professionally, to knock it off with the ‘return to normal’ and start planning for the future instead of hoping for a return to the past?

ConsumerCorner.2021.Letter.33