Post #G21-053: The 2021 canning lid shortage was never resolved.

Posted on October 9, 2021


I’m getting ready to can some pickled vegetables, so I decided to take one last look at the 2021 canning lid shortage.

Upshot: It’s a problem that was never resolved.  Even now, in most parts of the country, you aren’t going to be able to go to your local store and buy Ball wide-mouth canning lids.

A little history

I first stumbled across the pandemic-driven shortage of home canning supplies last year (Post #G12, July 2020).  At that point, I had to look around a bit to find wide-mouth jars.  I noted the logical progression from that year’s shortage of garden seeds, to last year’s shortage of common garden chemicals, to, inevitably, last year’s shortage of canning supplies.  By August 2020 stories about the canning supply shortage had gone mainstream (Post #G21, August 2020).

In 2020, a shortage didn’t really stand out.  The first pandemic year was rife with shortages of consumer goods.  (Fill in toilet paper joke here.)  A shortage of canning supplies was nothing unusual.  It was just one of many.

And it’s not as if a shortage of canning supplies had never happened before in the U.S.  During the Arab oil embargo of the 1970s, and the resulting U.S. energy crises, Americans faced a shortage of canning lids (documented in Post #G21-003, March 2021).

The roots of that shortage were attributed to the same source as the modern shortage.  Insecure people instinctively turn to growing their own food, and as a result, there’s an increased demand for home canning supplies that can’t be met by the existing supply chain.

But I was more than a bit surprised to hear that there was still a shortage of canning lids in spring of 2021 (Post #G21-003, March 2021).  Seriously, that was then, this is now.  This is America.  We don’t do shortages.  I more-or-less laughed it off, figuring that once manufacturers started shipping product for the 2021 canning season, the shortage would disappear.  That, after pointing out how irrational the price of lids had become.  Vendors were asking more for twelve lids than for twelve jars — the joke being that jars come with lids.

My assumption that the early 2021 canning lid shortage would go away was dead wrong.  Except for a brief period this spring when the new shipments arrived for the 2021 canning season, canning lids have been in-and-out-of-stock ever since. 

It’s an odd sort of shortage, in that you can go on-line and order lids at any time.  So it’s not as if lids are unavailable.  It’s more that name-brand lids cost three times the pre-pandemic price.  So you either pay far more for lids, you make do with imported lids of dubious quality, or you switch to re-usable lids (Post #G21-010) of a sort that are not familiar to most canners.

Or, at a last resort, re-use your canning lids.  While I never had to do that, but I did check out the method of boiling used lids for 20 minutes.  That’s supposed to remove the groove in the silicone from the prior use, making them more nearly fit for re-use.  And my observation is that boiling them does, in fact, relax the old groove in the silicone sealing material, as shown in the contrast of an un-boiled and boiled used lid, below.

One final oddity of the U.S. situation is that we’re dealing with a monopoly supplier, more-or-less.  All of the familiar top-drawer brands of U.S. lids (Ball, Kerr, Golden Harvest) are made by one subsidiary of a corporate conglomerate (documented in Post #G21-009).  The history of the one U.S. lid manufacturer — bought and sold and re-sold — is like a short course in what has gone wrong with U.S. industry.

In the end, my summary is that Ball canning isn’t even rounding error on the bottom line of its current owner, Newell Brands.  They’re the only supplier of trusted domestic single-use canning lids.  And as a result, they may not have to care very much if they meet home canners’ needs or not.

Lid availability at start and end of 2021 U.S. canning season

As of today (10/9/2021), my local Warmart has wide-mouth Ball lids back in stock, at the normal price of about $0.30 per lid.  And while that’s great for me, and while I check my local stores periodically, that doesn’t really indicate what the lid situation looks like nationally.

In the spring, I took 20 randomly-chosen ZIP codes, and used the Walmart website to check local availability of wide-mouth Ball lids (Post #G21-025).  The results are shown below, with only 15% of stores having those lids in stock at that time.


Source:  Analysis of search on the Walmart website, 20 randomly-chosen ZIP codes.

Mid-summer, I tried to repeat that.  But by mid-summer, Walmart had simply pulled the listing for Ball wide-mouth jars off their website entirely.  I couldn’t repeat the analysis because I could no longer search for that product on their website.

But now that item is back on the Walmart website.  And, while the format of the results has changed a bit, the bottom line remains just about the same.  At the end of the 2021 canning season, the vast majority of Walmarts have no Ball wide-mouth lids on the shelf.

Source:  Analysis of search on the Walmart website, 20 randomly-chosen ZIP codes.

One further interesting change is that Walmart won’t ship you three packages of lids, at a reasonable price, as they were sometimes willing to do back in the spring.  If the lids weren’t in stock, in every case, Walmart offered you a single internet vendor who would sell you wide-mouth lids for more than $1 each.

The bottom line is that the 2021 canning lid shortage was never resolved.  Near as I can tell, the situation at the end of the canning season is just about the same as it was this past spring.  In large parts of the country, you probably can’t go into your local stores and buy wide-mouth canning lids.

This has dropped out of national news entirely.  You’ll still see a tiny bit of reporting in areas where home canning is common, as in this August 2021 piece from Minnesota, or this farm-oriented article in June 2021.

I don’t know if there’s a larger lesson in this or not.  I had a reader email me about the monopoly-supplier aspect of this shortage (to which I am now sorry that I never replied).  The idea being that the concentration of market share into fewer and fewer hands, throughout the U.S. and global economies, is giving results that are not in consumers’ best interests.  While I’d certainly believe that monopolies are bad for consumers, I have no way to know whether the persistence of the shortage of this plain-vanilla, low-tech product is in any way related to the near-monopoly position of the Newell Brands conglomerate.

Canada, for example, seems to face the same monopoly supplier situation as the U.S., with the two major brands there (Bernardin, Golden Harvest) owned by Newell Brands (via its Jarden subsidiary).  And yet, despite monopoly supply there as well, there does not seem to have been a Canadian canning lid shortage.

So it remains a puzzle.  Going on two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s still hard to get hold of name-brand canning lids in the U.S.  Of all the shortages you might have expected, that has to be pretty close to the bottom of the list.  And yet, of all the shortages we faced, this seems to be among the most persistent.

If you want to see my list of what you can do if you can’t get Ball/Kerr/Golden Harvest lids, try the end of Post #G21-020.