The Just-In-Time Inventory Bomb

An empty shopping cart

In the late 1980’s, a new trend in manufacturing began to emerge. Conceived in Japan, the Just-In-Time production strategy began making inroads in to American factories in the early 1990’s. Today, it’s extended beyond its manufacturing origins and can be found in retail environments around the world.

So, what does Just-In-Time really mean?

Just-In-Time Inventory

According to Wikipedia, “In short, the Just-in-Time inventory system focus is having ‘the right material, at the right time, at the right place, and in the exact amount’-Ryan Grabosky, without the safety net of inventory. The JIT system has broad implications for implementers.”

From a business perspective, JIT makes  a lot of sense. Why buy thousands of extra parts and have them sitting around in a warehouse waiting for you to need them. The company’s cash is tied up in inventory and prices for those parts are likely to fall in the future. Plus you have to have a place to store all of those parts and you have to hire people to manage those parts.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have your suppliers deliver what you need and only what you need when you need it instead? You don’t have to have warehouses. You don’t have to hire inventory managers. You don’t have to have your money tied up in inventory. Push the burden to your suppliers.

The Weakness of JIT

When JIT works, it’s efficient. It’s cost effective. It’s a cost savings to businesses.

When it doesn’t work for some reason, it’s costly. For example, General Motors had to shut down production at some of its plants during a 1992 railway strike. 75,000 workers were idle because the plant no supplies with which to build vehicles.

For individual companies affected by a disruption in their supply chain, it can be costly. But what happens when the well-oiled, precisely-timed supply chain breaks down on a much larger scale? What happens when inventory cannot be replenished on demand at a broad swath of manufacturing plants and trucks cannot get to retail stores?

The Bigger Picture

The average American household seems to subscribe to the same just in time inventory practices that permeate the business world. Americans buy enough food for just a few days at a time. Although I couldn’t find a source for this, I remember reading somewhere that the modern American family has less than three days worth of food in the cupboards at any given time.

It’s little wonder why Americans eat out an average of 5 times per week and that 1 in 4 Americans adults each fast food each day.

But what if we cannot buy our next meal at a restaurant or go to the grocery store for the next 3-day supply of pop tarts, frozen pizza, and macaroni and cheese? What if the shelves were bare and there were no resupply trucks en route? What then?

Think it couldn’t happen? Think we are immune from such events? Consider the following.

  • An earthquake along the New Madrid fault could sever the eastern half of the United States from its western neighbors. Supplies from the west would have no avenue to make it to the 59% of the population that lives east of the Mississippi.
  • Our modern world depends greatly on electricity. Any disruption to the power grid would render manufacturing, transportation, and communications essentially nonexistent. There are so few products in the pipeline now, a short disruption would deplete those in short order. EMPsgeomagnetic storms, and even hackers could bring down the electrical grid for years.
  • Terrorist attacks could interrupt cargo shipments and directly or indirectly prevent precious food and supplies from reaching their final destinations. Knee-jerk governmental reactions could compound the issue, further delaying the restoration of goods.

What To Do?

So, how can you help insulate yourself from this? How can you buy food insurance?

You already know the answer. It’s simple. Begin buying extra food as you can. I know budgets are tight and there is more month left at the end of the money. Yet, with some planning and penny pinching, most everyone can afford to buy a little extra each month. Be frugal. Shop at bulk food stores. Use coupons and buy when items are on sale, even if you already have some in the pantry.

At worst, you’re saving money by buying food at today’s prices, before the prices go up in the coming months. At best, you’re better prepared for dire times.

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7 Comments on “The Just-In-Time Inventory Bomb”

  1. northernhomesteader Says:

    Get some chickens and/or rabbits…start a garden, even a small one on the balcony or window sill…. Every step in the direction of self-sufficiency helps!


  2. Anisah Says:

    This happens on the high plains during severe winters. Winter of 96 was one such year. The Stores had bare shelves as food trucks were unable to get into the region due to winter storms & snow drifts that blocked roads. Bakeries couldn’t make bread in regional “hub” factories & the whole system began to break down.

    I was a prepper then too, but I don’t prep for the BIG “SHTF” events, but merely because I grew up with winter storms & long distances to the grocery store. I was raised with an understanding that we may spend weeks or months isolated from the food stores, etc. So we knew we had to stock up for winter. We learned to keep root cellars full, as well as home pantries & freezers.

    I grew up playing in an old ice house, long forgotten skill set for keeping ice for summer use & meat frozen.

    Winter of ’96 I shared with families I knew, the breads & other goods I had stocked. The result was that others, who had never kept stockpiles learned to appreciate what I had done (with others previously snickering at my “hoarding” behavior). They got it, but only with the help of Mother Nature giving them a lesson on just how much we DO NOT control our surroundings completely.

    I’m curious how our Preppers on the east coast, in the path of Sandy & the winter cold, are handling this crisis. Its these “annual” crisis that test our theories of storage. We should learn from their mistakes and their “Eureka” moments. It will help all of us become better preppers & hopefully better community residents, as well share our lessons with neighbors who now “get it” (thanks to Nature’s fury).

    I suspect the hospital that lost power, had it backup generator in a low area (ie basement) and it is due to such oversights by many, who place their generators in the basement (as well as their food storage) that many loose it all at times like Sandy & Katrina. Just something to think about when planning your emergency electricity production & food storage locale.


    • Joe Says:

      Agreed, Anisah. There are a lot of lessons that can be learned from Sandy. I hope we learn them.

      I’ve been reading some articles from other countries about the effects of Sandy. According to them, it’s a lot worse than what is being reported here in the States.



      • Anisah Says:

        I’m sure we’re not getting the whole story. We as a nation never got the full story in Katrina either (trust me, I saw alot that never got mentioned even by the media). I hope also Sandy’s victims remind all Preppers that LOCATION is everything! Living on an island, means you deal with storms like Katrina & Sandy. Living on water-front means water is a risk. Its important to consider what the natural disasters are in each area & finding a place that is less often Severely damaged by nature. Its one aspect I’ve never been able to wrap my brain around. Why on earth do people build their houses on sandy coasts and then cry about loosing everything? Really, did you think mother nature cared that you had a multi-million dollar home on twigs? Preppers need to also consider migration patterns of human beings, when comfort is no longer optional (ie loss of heat, ac, etc). Where will all those people go? I personally figure its our warm southern states that will suffer from being a human migration magnet. For that reason, I personally wouldn’t want to build my place in their path. People never think “heh lets move to a cold, under-populated, treeless prairie state like North Dakota or S. Dakota”. We are the last place people want to come in good times, let alone bad times. Plus I love the fact few cities are north of us, that would be emptying out as their urban populous migrates southward toward warmer weather. Just things to consider when you are planning, in my book.



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