Delaware Valley consumers are encountering empty shelves and a shortage of products, a situation that is frustrating retailers and customers alike.
“That store is remodeling for Build Back Better,” joked Anita Edgarian of West Chester on Facebook. “When are we going to get our ration books? We’re not even in a war and the shelves are empty.”
She is not alone. A poll of swing-state voters found about 7 in 10 respondents have experienced shortages at grocery stores.
The question is why?
Giant Food Stores LLC, based in Carlisle, Pa. operates 190 stores in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia. On visits to two Eastern Montgomery County Giant locations in recent weeks, some shelves were sparse while others were entirely bare.
Ashley Flower is Giant’s manager of public relations.
“Our supplier and manufacturing partners have advised us of supply, production, and or sourcing challenges they are facing,” she said, “which impacts what is available in our stores (and others) for purchase. Historic demand and a stretched supply chain have contributed to limited product availability in certain cases.
“Many other factors like ongoing labor shortages, limited availability of raw ingredients, freight and packaging constraints, and unpredictable weather events are beyond our control. It’s a fluid situation and one we are monitoring closely. We continue to remain in close contact with our suppliers and are working to bring in alternate products, but it is possible customers may find a particular brand or variety is unavailable due to these challenges,” she said.
The National Grocers Association (NGA) serves more than 1,500 retail and wholesale grocers nationwide.
“Product availability and price inflation are being driven by a perfect storm of factors,” said NGA director of communications Jim Dudlicek, “That includes an ongoing shortage of labor across the entire supply chain, an acute shortage of truck drivers, increased ingredient inputs, and occasional disruptions in product packaging production. Weather emergencies also have been a factor in some parts of the country.”
A sizable percentage of products, including grocery items, are shipped by truck. According to the American Trucking Association, trucks moved 10.23 billion tons of freight in 2020, generating $ 732.3 billion in revenue. That accounts for better than 72 percent of tonnage carried by all modes of domestic freight transportation, including manufactured and retail goods.
But the trucking industry was dealing with its own issues well before the pandemic, specifically, a shortage of drivers. And that shortage was exacerbated by the Biden administration’s mandate that employees of large companies (100 workers or more) be vaccinated or else wear masks and be regularly tested for COVID.
That mandate was recently struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court. However, Dudlicek believes the supply chain issues will remain, at least for the short term.
“While there is plenty of food in the supply chain, we anticipate 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 ongoing supply and labor challenges,” he said.
“The prevalence of the omicron variant in both vaccinated and unvaccinated populations, coupled with the lack of available testing resources, has further contributed to current staffing challenges. While our members continue to encourage employees to get vaccinated, NGA has requested prioritization of testing supplies from both federal and state government, alongside flexibility from onerous mandates so that our ‘Supermarket Superheroes’ can continue to work and communities across the country are not impacted by significant workforce disruptions,” he said.
However, another wrinkle in the trucking situation is vaccine requirements for truckers who cross the border into Canada or drive from Canada into the U.S., which may also generate shortages issues in the near future.