Wednesday, January 19, 2022

US Shoppers Believe Some Foods Are In Shortage Due to Virus and Weather

Benjamin Whiteley went to the Safeway supermarket in Washington DC on Tuesday to buy something for dinner. But he was disappointed to see empty vegetable crates and a meager selection of turkey, chicken and milk.

“I think I missed everything,” Whiteley, 67, said. “Now I have to look for things.”

Food shortages in U.S. grocery stores have escalated in recent weeks as new challenges such as the rapidly spreading omicron variant and harsh weather have added to the supply chain and labor shortages that have plagued retailers since the coronavirus pandemic began.

The scarcity is widespread, affecting food and meat, as well as packaged goods such as cereals. And they are reported all over the country. US grocery stores typically have 5% to 10% of items out of stock at any given time; According to the president and CEO of the Consumer Brands Association, Jeff Freeman, this level of inaccessibility is now hovering around 15%.

Some of the shortages that consumers see on store shelves are due to pandemic trends that never abate and are exacerbated by the omicron. Americans eat more at home than before, especially as offices and some schools remain closed.

The average household in the United States spent $ 144 a week on groceries last year, according to the FMI, a grocery and food trade organization. That’s below the peak of $ 161 in 2020, but still well above the $ 113.50 that households spent in 2019.

The shortage of truckers, which began even before the pandemic, remains a problem. The American Trucking Association said in October that the US is short of an estimated 80,000 drivers, an all-time high.

And delivery continues to be delayed, affecting everything from imported products to overseas printed packaging.

Retailers and food manufacturers have been adjusting to these realities since early 2020, when panic buying at the start of the pandemic drove the industry into a tailspin. For example, many retailers keep more stocks of things like toilet paper close at hand to avoid an acute shortage.

“All players in the supply chain ecosystem have reached a point where they have this scenario and can tackle this basic level of challenges,” said Jessica Dankert, vice president of supply chain at the Retail Leaders Association. trade group.

In general, the system works; Dankert notes that empty shelves have been rare over the past 20 months. It’s just that additional complications have accumulated at this basic level at this point, she said.

As with staff in hospitals, schools and offices, the omicron option has wreaked havoc on food production lines. Sean Connolly, president and chief executive officer of Conagra Brands, which makes Birds Eye frozen vegetables, Slim Jim meats and other foods, told investors last week that shipments from the company’s U.S. plants will be limited for at least next month due to omicrons. – associated absences.

Workers’ illness also affects grocery stores. Stew Leonard, Jr. is President and CEO of Stew Leonard’s supermarket chain, which operates stores in Connecticut, New York and New Jersey. Last week, 8% of its workers – about 200 people – were either sick or quarantined. Usually the absenteeism rate is more like 2%.

There were so many sick people in the bakery of one store that she gave up some of her usual foods, such as apple crumbs. Leonard says that meat and food suppliers told him they also face a shortage of manpower associated with omicrons.

However, Leonard says that overall he is getting supplies on time and believes the worst of the pandemic may be over.

Weather-related events, from blizzards in the northeast to wildfires in Colorado, have also impacted food availability and forced some shoppers to stock more than usual, exacerbating supply problems caused by the pandemic.

Lisa Delima, a spokeswoman for Mom’s Organic Market, an independent mid-Atlantic grocery store, said the company had no groceries in stores last weekend because winter weather stopped trucks trying to get from Pennsylvania to Washington.

This bottleneck has since been removed, Delim said. In her opinion, the periodic shortages of some goods that buyers see now are nothing compared to the more chronic shortages at the beginning of the pandemic.

“People don’t need to panic when they buy,” she said. “There is a lot of product to have. It just takes a little longer to get from point A to point B. “

Experts disagree about how long a grocery trip can sometimes feel like a scavenger hunt.

Dankert believes this is a disruption and the country will soon return to a more normal life, although supply chain problems and labor shortages continue.

“You won’t see long-term product disruptions, just sporadic, isolated incidents __ it’s a window where the supply chain takes a minute to catch up,” she said.

But others are not so optimistic.

Freeman of the Consumer Brands Association says disruptions associated with omicrons could increase as the option sweeps across the Midwest, where many large packaged food companies such as Kellogg Co. operate. and General Mills Inc ..

Freeman believes the federal government should do better to ensure food workers have access to testing. He would also like there to be uniform rules for things like quarantine procedures for vaccinated workers; right now, he said, companies are dealing with a patchwork quilt of local regulations.

“I think, as we have seen, it weakens as each wave weakens. But the question is, should we obey the whims of the virus, or can we do the required number of tests? ” – said Freeman.

In the longer term, it may take some time for grocery and food companies to figure out the customer buying patterns that are emerging as the pandemic eases, said Doug Baker, vice president of industry relations at the FMI food industry association.

“We have moved from just-in-time inventory to unprecedented demand in addition to unprecedented demand,” he said. “We’re going to be playing with this whole inventory system for a few years.”

Meanwhile, Whiteley, a Safeway customer in Washington, said he was lucky to be retired because he could spend the day looking for groceries if the first stores he visits are closed. According to him, people who have to work or care for sick loved ones do not have this luxury.

“Some are trying to get food to survive. I’m just trying to make a casserole, ”he said.

Nation World News Desk
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