Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is calling on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to launch an investigation into the cause of the half-pint carton shortage that is hitting dairies and schools particularly hard.
“The USDA is uniquely positioned to work with the dairy industry, our farmers, and schools to be able to address these shortages we are seeing nationwide and in New York. I strongly urge the USDA to work with dairy farmers and coops in New York, and the [state] Department of Agriculture and Markets, to find packaging alternatives, bring together industry partners to determine what immediate actions can be taken to mitigate the impacts of a shortage and find creative solutions so farmers have a market for their product and milk doesn’t go to waste,” Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement.
A shortage of 8-ounce cartons, the size most commonly served in schools, is preventing dairies from supplying that size of milk. While other beverages also are affected by the shortage of half-pint cartons, as well as 4-ounce cartons, schools are only federally required to provide milk to students per USDA nutrition standards and can substitute whole fruit for juice. In addition, consumers have the option to choose different sizes if half-pints aren’t available at grocery stores.
Because it’s unclear how long the shortage will last, Schumer’s statement said it’s “imperative” that the USDA acts immediately “to minimize the impacts of the shortage ... and ensure milk can continue to be provided to schools across America.” According to Schumer, the problem disrupts schools nationwide and acutely affects New York’s economy because that state is the nation’s fifth-largest dairy producer.
Dairies, such as New Jersey-based Cream-O-Land, have expressed concern that they might have to take drastic actions, such as milk dumping and layoffs, if the situation isn’t resolved soon.
Earlier this month, Cream-O-Land representatives told Packaging Dive that Pactiv Evergreen appears to be behind the shortage. Pactiv Evergreen supplies Cream-O-Land with half-pint cartons, but the dairy stopped receiving its full shipments in September. The carton supplier will not discuss what’s happening or when shipments will return to normal, according to Scott Stoner, vice president of operations at Cream-O-Land. Stoner said this is creating uncertainty and snarling orders for those further down the supply chain.
This week, Stoner said the problem still isn’t resolved and Pactiv Evergreen remains silent. Pactiv Evergreen did not respond to multiple requests for comment during the last two weeks regarding the milk carton supply chain snag or Schumer’s investigation request.
Cream-O-Land representatives previously described how they kept hitting walls while trying to find other carton suppliers to fulfill their needs. Tetra Pak ultimately said it wasn’t able to help because of the surge in demand, although the company stated it’s trying to ramp up production to meet market demand. Sourcing from foreign suppliers presents regulatory challenges.
Stoner said Cream-O-Land continues to look for carton suppliers. The dairy is “very, very short on paper cartons” but is encouraged by certain companies’ willingness to offer assistance, he said. Supply chain issues often aren’t resolved quickly, and “it will take time” to get adequate carton volumes, Stoner said; he hopes for some relief in about a month.
Schumer’s office did not respond by publication time to an inquiry about next steps once the source of the shortage is identified, or what the next steps should be if the USDA does not launch an investigation.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify the nature of discussions with other potential carton suppliers.