Dissatisfied buyers have unleashed their frustration on social media in recent days, posting photos on Twitter of bare 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 affect product delivery and the rebuilding of store shelves across the country.
Albertson’s CEO Vivek Sankaran acknowledged that the products are in tight supply during the company’s earnings interview with analysts on Tuesday.
“I think as a business, we have all learned to manage it. We have all learned to make sure that the stores are still very presentable, giving consumers as much choice as we can get,”[ads1]; Sankaran said during the conversation.
Still, he added, Omicron has put “a bit of” in the effort to improve gaps in the supply chain. “We 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.
“Although there is plenty of food in the supply chain, we anticipate that consumers will continue to experience sporadic disruptions in certain product categories, as we have seen over the past year and a half due to the continuing supply and work challenges,” said Greg Ferrara, the group’s President and CEO.
“From farms to food producers to grocery stores, it’s across the board,” Lempert said. “During the pandemic, these operations have had to implement protocols for social distancing, and they are not really built for that, and it has affected production.”
“The truck industry has an aging workforce on top of a shortage,” Lempert said. “It’s really been a problem in recent years.”
In Trader Joe’s stores this weekend, shoppers saw messages related to empty shelves blaming weather situations for delivery delays.
Not to mention climate change, which is an ongoing serious and long-term threat to the food supply. “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 started cooking and eating at home through the pandemic that also contributes to the food supply, said Lempert.
Grocery stores are definitely aware of the empty shelves, said Lempert, and they are trying to curb panic purchases, which only makes the situation worse.
One strategy: Fan out products. They do this by laying out both limited varieties and limited quantities of each product in an attempt to prevent hoarding and stretch the supplies between deliveries.
“Pre-pandemic, you may have seen five different varieties of milk across the first row and 10 cartons deep. Now there 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 stated the wrong year in the picture of a Trader Joe. It was taken in 2022.