Grocery stores struggle to stock their empty shelves

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.

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

“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.

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

“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.”

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

Transport problems

An ongoing shortage of truck drivers continues to slow down the supply chain and the ability of grocery stores to fill 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 in recent years.”

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

Weather problems

In Trader Joe’s stores this weekend, shoppers saw messages related to empty shelves blaming weather situations for delivery delays.

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

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.

“We do not want to continue to eat the same thing and try to vary home cooking. As we do, we buy even more food products,” he said. The shortage has also made it increasingly expensive to buy food into 2022.

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.

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