Grocery stores are struggling to get their empty shelves in stock

Dissatisfied shoppers have unleashed their frustration on social media over the past few days and have posted pictures on Twitter of naked shelves at Trader Joe’s locations, Giant Foods and Publix stores, among many others.

As the highly contagious variant of the Covid-19 virus continues to plague sick workers, it is creating a shortage of staff for critical functions such as transport and logistics, which in turn is affecting product delivery and rebuilding store shelves across the country.

Albertsons’ CEO Vivek Sankaran acknowledged that the products are in tight supply during the company’s earnings interview with analysts on Tuesday.

“I think we as a company have all learned to manage it. We have all learned to ensure that stores are still very presentable, giving consumers as many choices as we can get,” Sankaran said during the call.

Still, he added, Omicron has put “a bit of” on the effort to improve the supply chain. “We would expect more supply challenges over the next four to six weeks,” Sankaran said.

Grocery stores operate with less than their normal workforce, according to the National Grocers Association, and many of its members have less than 50% of their normal workforce.

A display of empty shelves in a local giant supermarket on January 9, 2022 in Alexandria, Virginia.

“While there is plenty of food in the supply chain, we expect consumers to continue to experience sporadic disruptions in certain product categories that we have seen over the last year and a half due to the continuing supply and labor challenges,” said Greg. Ferrara, Group CEO.

In fact, labor shortages continue to push all areas of the country food industry, said Phil Lempert, an industry analyst and editor of SuperMarketGuru.com.

“From farms to food producers to grocery stores, it’s everywhere,” Lempert said. “During the pandemic, these operations have had to implement protocols on social distancing, and they are not really built for it, and it has affected production.”

And while the pandemic continues, many food industry workers are choose not to return to their low-wage jobs at all.

Transport problems

An persistent shortage of hauliers continues to slow down the supply chain and the ability of grocery stores to rebuild their shelves quickly.
Empty shelves at a Trader Joe's on Spring Street in New York City on Saturday, January 8, 2022.

“The truck industry has an aging workforce on top of a shortage,” Lempert said. “It’s really been a problem for the last many years.”

Laid on top of widespread domestic transportation problems are ongoing record high congestion in the country’s ports. “Both of these challenges work together to create shortages,” he said

Weather problems

In Trader Joe’s stores, shoppers over the weekend saw messages attached to empty shelves that owe the weather emergencies for delivery delays.

Much of the Midwest and Northeast has recently struggled hard weather and dangerous commuting conditions. Not only do people stock more groceries, the level of high demand combined with transportation challenges makes it harder to transport goods in bad weather, resulting in more shortages, Lempert said.

Not to mention climate change, which is a persistent serious and long-term threat to food supplies. “Fires and droughts damage crops such as wheat, corn and soybeans in the United States and coffee crops in Brazil,” he said. “We can not ignore it.”

Pandemic changed our eating habits

More and more of us have taken to cooking and eating at home through the pandemic that also contributes to the grocery supply, Lempert said.

“We do not want to keep eating the same thing and trying to vary homemade food. As we do, we are buying even more food,” he said. The shortage has also made buying food still more expensive enters 2022.

Grocery stores are certainly aware of the empty shelves, Lempert said, and they are trying to alleviate panic buying, which only exacerbates the situation.

One strategy: Extraction of products. They do this by sending out both limited varieties and limited quantities of each product in an attempt to prevent hoarding and stretch their supplies out between deliveries.

“Before the pandemic, you may have seen five different varieties of milk across the front row and 10 cartons deep. Now it will be five across and maybe two rows deep,” Lempert said.

– CNN’s Nathaniel Meyersohn and Danielle Wiener-Bronner contributed to this story

– An earlier version of this story incorrectly indicated the year of a Trader Joe’s picture. It’s taken in 2022.

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