Shoppers find grocery shelves empty due to virus, weather

On Tuesday, Benjamin Whiently went to a Safeway supermarket in Washington DC to buy some items for dinner. But he was disappointed to see crates of barren vegetables and few turkeys, chickens and milk.

“It felt like I missed everything,” says Whiently, 67. “Now I will have to hunt around for things.”

Shortages at grocery stores in the US have been exacerbated in recent weeks as new problems – like fast-spreading omicron variation and extreme weather – have caused supply chain difficulties. response and labor shortages have plagued retailers since the coronavirus pandemic began.

Shortages are widespread, affecting produce and meat as well as packaged goods such as cereals. And they are reported nationwide. U.S. grocery stores typically have 5% to 10% of their items out of stock at any given time; Right now, that unavailability rate is hovering around 15%, according to Geoff Freeman, President and CEO of the Consumer Brands Association.

Part of the scarcity consumers are seeing on store shelves is due to a trend that pandemics never abate – and are exacerbated by omicrons. Americans are eating at home more than ever before, especially as offices and some schools remain closed.

According to FMI, a trade organization for food manufacturers and grocers, the average American household spent $144 per week at the grocery store last year. This is down from the peak of $161 in 2020, but is still much higher than the $113.50 that households spent in 2019.

The truck driver deficit that started building before the pandemic is also still an issue. The American Trucking Association said in October that the US is short of an estimated 80,000 drivers, a historic high.

And shipping remains delayed, affecting everything from imported food to packaging printed abroad.

Retailers and food manufacturers have had to adjust to those realities since early 2020, when panic shopping at the start of the pandemic put the industry in a difficult position. Many retailers are stocking up on more supplies of things like toilet paper, for example, to avoid severe shortages.

“All the players in the supply chain ecosystem have come to a point where they have that book and they can navigate that basic level of challenge. a trade group.

In general, the system works; Dankert notes that bare shelves have been a rare phenomenon over the past 20 months. It’s just that additional complications have piled up above that baseline at the moment, she said.

As with staff in hospitals, schools and offices, the omicron variant has impacted food production lines. Sean Connolly, president and chief executive officer of Conagra Brands, which makes Birds Eye frozen vegetables, Slim Jim meat snacks and other products, told investors last week that supply from The company’s US plants will be restricted for at least the next month due to omicron-related absences.

Workers’ illnesses are also affecting grocery stores. Steve Leonard Jr. is the president and chief executive officer of Stew Leonard’s, a supermarket chain that operates stores in Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey. Last week, 8% of his workers – about 200 people – were sick or in quarantine. Usually, the degree of absenteeism is more than 2%.

One storefront bakery had so many people sick that they abandoned some of their familiar items, like apple pie. Leonard said meat and product suppliers have told him they are also addressing worker shortages related to omicrons.

However, Leonard says he usually gets goods on time and thinks the worst of the pandemic may be over.

Weather-related events, from snowstorms in the Northeast to wildfires in Colorado, have also affected product availability and caused some shoppers to stock up more than usual, exacerbating it. additional supply problems caused by the pandemic.

Lisa DeLima, a spokeswoman for Mom’s Organic Market, an independent grocer with a location in the mid-Atlantic region, said the company’s stores had no stock last weekend because of the weather. Winter weather caused trucks to try to get from Pennsylvania to Washington.

DeLima says that bottleneck has been resolved. In her view, the continued scarcity of some items shoppers see now pales in comparison to more chronic shortages at the start of the pandemic.

“People don’t need to panic buying,” she said. “There are so many products to have. It just takes a little longer to get from point A to point B.

Grocery shopping time can sometimes feel like a scavenger hunt, experts share.

Dankert thinks this is a glitch and the country will soon settle back into a more normal pattern, although supply chain problems and labor shortages continue.

“You won’t see products out of stock for long periods of time, just sporadic, isolated incidents __ the time it takes the supply chain to catch up,” she said.

But others are not so optimistic.

Freeman, of the Consumer Brands Association, said omicron-related disruptions could widen as the variant approaches the Midwest, where many large packaged food companies like Kellogg Co. and General Mills Inc. there is activity.

Freeman thinks the federal government should do a better job of ensuring that essential food workers have access to inspections. He also wants uniform rules for things like quarantine procedures for vaccinated workers; Right now, companies are dealing with a patchwork of local regulations, he said.

“I think, as we’ve seen before, this will lessen with each wave of reductions. But the question is, are we in for a viral hit, or can we make the number of tests we need? ‘ Freeman said.

In the long term, it can take some time for food companies and grocers to figure out purchasing patterns, said Doug Baker, vice president of industry relations at food industry association FMI. of customers is emerging like the ebbs pandemic.

“We went from a system of just-in-time inventory to unprecedented demand on top of unprecedented demand,” he said. “We’re going to be playing with that whole inventory system over the next few years.”

Meanwhile, Whiently, a Safeway customer in Washington, says he’s lucky he’s retired because he can spend the day looking for products if the first stores he tries are out of stock. People who have to work or take care of ailing loved ones don’t have that luxury, he said.

“Some are trying to find food to survive. I was just trying to cook a casserole,” he said. Shoppers find grocery shelves empty due to virus, weather


JACLYN DIAZ is a USTimeToday U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. JACLYN DIAZ joined USTimeToday in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing

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