Pandemic canning is so popular, stores are running out of jars and other supplies

Emily Heil

THE WASHINGTON POST – Haley Lancaster, a high school teacher in Vincennes, Indiana, had always been intimidated by the idea of canning. She remembered her grandmother’s shelves lined with gleaming rows of giant jars full of beans and other vegetables, and the pressure cooker she used to fill them.

But with more time at home after the coronavirus shut down her school and all the other activities that kept her busy, Lancaster thought it suddenly seemed doable, maybe, in the way that we’re all trying things we never did before.

Home schooling, DIY haircuts, TikTok dance challenges? Sure, we’re game. She had already tried making sourdough bread, another home-cooking trend that flourished in the early days of the pandemic. And so she went online and learned, grabbed a few recipes – for water-bath canning, which doesn’t require a pressure canner like her grandmom used – and supplies at a local store. She made peach salsa that was a hit with friends and family.

“I felt like such an adult,” she said. That led to a peach barbecue sauce (which was just OK, she admits), then pickled asparagus, dill cucumbers, and a batch of blackberry-sage jam, which earned a thumbs up from even her five-year-old son, who likes it in his peanut butter sandwiches.

“It sounds so cliche, but the pandemic forced me to slow down my life,” she said. “I was always go-go-go with meetings and practices, and suddenly I had nowhere to go.”

Lancaster is just one of legions of canners these days stoking a new boom in the old-timey pursuit. Some are novices.

Others are veterans, perhaps with a bit more time or produce on their hands these days.

Canning websites and Facebook pages are hopping, and retailers around the country are reporting massive surges in sales of supplies.

And now, as late-summer harvests abound, the pandemic-fuelled pastime is making it harder for people to find cans and lids, and there are reports of bare shelves on hardware and retail stores.

Glenda Ervin is the Vice President of marketing for Lehman’s, the hardware company her father started in 1955 to supply the Amish community in Kidron, Ohio.

Now there’s a new market for the kind of products it sells – such as gardening equipment, cast-iron pans, jigsaw puzzles and Mason jars – as people spending more time at home embrace lo-fi activities.

She said sales in the company’s canning category are up 600 per cent over last year.

Plenty of products, including those made by Ball, the country’s largest consumer manufacturer of canning jars and lids, are on back-order. In some cases, she said, they have what would ordinarily be a 10-year supply on order.

“Demand is through the roof,” Ervin said. She has seen spikes caused by traumatic national events before, like in the lead-up to Y2K, when people feared power-grid shutdowns and major disruptions, or after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“But I’ve never seen something this large and this long,” she said.

Canning suppliers and retailers began predicting a surge when they saw the shortages that seed companies were experiencing early in the pandemic.

The crops sown in the spring by newly isolated gardeners are now quite literally bearing fruit.

Still, the volume has taken some by surprise. When orders started flying in in April, Lisa Reinhart, an employee of the Fillmore Container Company in Lancaster, Pa, which sells bulk jars and accessories for canning and candle-making, wondered if it was a fluke.

“At the beginning, we wondered if it was something having to do with a Google algorithm,” she said. After weeks of sustained sales, it became clear that it wasn’t.