You may have noticed the food supply isn’t completely in full working order.

Remember grocery shopping back in March? That was a wild ride, wasn’t it? Everyone was (rightfully) panicked, and shelves were about as bare as they get during a natural disaster. While things have largely settled down and supply chains have had a chance to bounce back, the food supply isn’t completely in full working order—at least if you judge it by the relative availability of canned corn. 

As with other foods that have been hard to come by this year, the shortage of canned corn you may be acutely aware of is the product of a few converging factors. First and foremost, there’s not a whole lot of that type of corn that gets grown. While USDA data cited by The Wall Street Journal shows that while American farms grew 750 billion pounds of corn in 2019 (not a typo), more than 99% of it was field corn rather than sweet corn. And of the seven billion pounds of sweet corn grown, only two billion pounds were meant for canning. 

Canned sweet corn on a supermarket shelf
Green Giant canned sweet corn
| Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

As with turkeys and other food supply chains, a lot of big decisions about how (and how much) corn gets produced for canning are made well ahead of time. With the first days of the pandemic causing a run on lots of different foods, major canned corn manufacturers like Green Giant and Del Monte wanted farmers to plant more corn, but those who grow the sweet corn they need already had growing plans that couldn’t be adjusted. 

Beyond farmland, other pandemic-related issues exacerbated the problem. Sales of canned vegetables have skyrocketed in 2020, with people buying more than 47% more canned corn than they had a year earlier. In addition to that surging demand, shrinking trucking fleets created supply side issues as well. Add in the fact that you can’t really swap out the corn in canned corn for a different ingredient without completely changing the product, and you’ve got the recipe for a shortage. 

However, there’s hope that this year’s corn harvest will be different. The Journal notes that production is expected to be up 25% from where it was this time last year, so there’s hope that the gap between supply and demand can decrease. Still, with supplies already low, consider yourself lucky if you manage to get your hands on a can. I’d encourage you to stock up if you’re lucky enough to find canned corn, but that kind of hoarding is a big part of how we ended up here in the first place.