We're in the Midst of a Mason Jar Shortage and the Culprit Is Shockingly Obvious

If Pinterest weddings aren't to blame, what is?

We've faced a lot of shortages this year. Toilet paper, Clorox wipespepperonibeef, and serotonin are just a few of the things that were depleted in the wake of COVID-19. Now, we're facing a new crisis: Mason jars -- those beautiful, versatile, pudgy little glass containers that we've grown to love so dearly -- are low in supply.

If you don't understand the gravity of this issue, let me catch you up. Mason jars have been around since the 1800s, when John Landis Mason patented the clear, sealable jar to be used for canning purposes. If you know about intellectual property law, you know that patents expire; as people caught on that Mason's jars were really thrifty and super freaking cute, manufacturers stood by ready to pounce on the Mason jar design as soon as it was fair game (hence, why most Mason jars say "Ball" or "Kerr" on them).

Sometime during the 20th century, canning declined in popularity thanks to more modern preservation methods like freezing. But people were smart and realized that Mason jars could be used for, like, everything. Over the last few decades, with the help of craft stores and platforms like Pinterest, Mason jars found new life as candle holders, cocktail glasses, wedding centerpieces, party favors, and every mom's favorite water cup. At some point, we started to forget what Mason jars were originally intended for.

What does this have to do with the current Mason jar shortage? I'm glad you asked! This year, 2020, two decades into the 21st century, we are having trouble finding Mason jars in stores because so many people are using them for, I kid you not, canning.

It's the most obvious explanation, yet somehow the least expected.

canned vegetables in Mason jars
Just as John Landis intended. | shutterstock.com

If you reacted like me, you probably have a lot of questions. Here's what I learned.

What's the point of canning in these modern times?

Canning your own food can be cheaper than buying all of your canned goods at the store in the long run, plus you can decide exactly what you're jarring. This is useful for people with allergies, people who are health-conscious, and anyone who likes to know where their food comes from. And you have to admit it's kind of fun doing things the old-fashioned way.

Why the sudden spike in demand?

As you can imagine, canning requires time and expertise, and not many people have that level of devotion to the craft. COVID-19 changed all that, though. Now, people are home more often, bored more often, and looking for meaning in the randomest places. So, why not can your own veggies? After months of quarantining, people have settled into their new canning routines and manufacturers just weren't prepared for the sudden interest.

Marie Bregg, owner of the online retailer Mason Jar Merchant, told CNN that one week in mid-August saw a 600% spike in sales that has yet to take a dip, to give you an idea of how bored people got.

How bad of a shortage are we talking?

Newell Brands, which manufactures the recognizable Ball and Kerr jars, claims that the entire canning industry has been experiencing demand like never before.

"The demand has resulted in supply constraints, extended lead times and recently limited product availability at stores and online," a company spokesperson said in a statement, according to CNN. Luckily, they have a plan to fix this: "We have increased glass production, found additional lid manufacturers and expanded our pack out locations to replenish stock as quickly as possible."

In the meantime, people have been forced to get creative, sourcing cans from friends, family, and Canada. Honestly, it's a good thing that weddings and Pinterest-inspired parties aren't really happening right now. Let's just say that.

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Kyler Alvord is a news writer at Thrillist. Find him on Twitter and Instagram. Or don't. It's really up to you.