Don’t L’eggo My Eggo

This is old news, but new news to me: Eggo Waffles Facing Shortage Until Mid-2010.

My brother and his family are in town for the weekend and we were talking last night about their breakfast plans. Eggo waffles were a staple of their sons’ breakfasts until the shortage forced them, like millions of other American households, to look for alternatives. (Apparently, Eggos had 73% of the waffle market.)

What’s interesting to me in all of this is not humanity’s great loss of Eggos, which I think taste like sugar sprinkled, waterlogged cardboard. It’s the cause of the shortage–emblematic of the intersection of globalized, ultra-efficient supply chains with health epidemics and climate change.

First came closure of one of Kellogg Co.’s main plants in Atlanta due to bacteria contamination.

The Atlanta facility was closed during much of September and October to sanitize the plant after inspectors found Listeria monocytogenes –bacteria that can cause serious infection — in a sample of Eggos, according to the Georgia Department of Agriculture…

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers Listeria harmless for most people but it can be particularly dangerous for pregnant women, newborns and people with weakened immune systems.

Next came record-setting floods in the southeast, caused by eight straight days of heavy rains in late September 2009, which flooded the area around that same plant. These rains killed ten people and caused an estimated $500M-$1B worth of damage.

Tragic and worrisome as plant contamination and killer storms may be, you could rightly think there was nothing exceptional here. That’s true. And that’s precisely the point.

We’ve built highly efficient, global supply chains that are almost miraculous in their ability to deliver things like hundreds of millions of frozen waffles to locations throughout the world each year. But they are also incredibly brittle and susceptible to breaks in the chain. Two events impacting a Kellogg plant and no more Eggos for six months. Snap. Just like that. With the shocks of peak oil and other resource limitations, along with climate changes and economic contraction, it’s likely that we’ll be needing to l’eggo of a lot more than just our Eggos in the coming days.

photo credit: AP Photo/The Atlanta Journal & Constitution, Curtis Compton

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