Supply chain disruptions make Dining Services adapt


Alex Raycroft

Knollcrest Dining team members pose around packaged cookies.

This fall, Calvin Dining Services has creatively dealt with the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. One such challenge has been the changes made to the supply chain that moves food from processors and producers to students’ disposable plates.

Calvin Dining Services gets food from a variety of vendors, but its primary supplier is Gordon Food Services. GFS has been a reliable partner since its founding in 1990, but the pandemic unavoidably presents uncertainty in supply.

“There have been significant shortages in our supplies requiring either substitute products selected or removing the selections from the menu,” said Scott Van Deraa, the director of Hospitality Operations for Calvin Dining Services. On average, 5 to 10 items that Dining Services orders cannot be fulfilled.

It has been difficult to predict what might be unavailable, as these changes occur weekly. “We have been shorted on everything from pepperoni to cantaloupe to chicken tenders. We almost couldn’t get espresso beans and cold brew from Peet’s. Thankfully it came in time for the first day of classes,” said Van Deraa.

Most of these shortages occur because of issues originating within the food processing plants. The virus has spread through employees in these plants, causing some shutdowns and shortages. JBS Packing Plainwell is a nearby example. According to MLive, 86 JBS workers tested positive at the plant near the end of April 2020. The rapid spread of the virus within processing plants such as JBS Plainwell have made the process of acquiring food a good deal more difficult than it was in pre-pandemic times.

In addition to food shortages, ordering disposable eating containers and utensils has also been unpredictable. The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in an increased demand for containers which has led to container shortages. For this reason, dining ware shifts from compostable to Styrofoam. In addition, all regional commercial composters have closed—a step required in order for the compostable utensils and meals to fully break down, detracting from the appeal of purchasing compostable products.

Despite these changes, Calvin Dining is still trying to live up to students’ expectations. “We have worked hard to limit the impact that it has on the student. This is the main reason why we haven’t been publishing the menu too far ahead,” said Van Deraa. 

Van Deraa encouraged students to put themselves in the Calvin workers’ shoes: “If you had a recipe planned for your dinner the next day and when you went to the grocery store they didn’t have two of the primary ingredients or the ingredients aren’t your favorite brand.  You still need to make your dinner, so you either go with the other brand or change the menu.”