It’s not unusual to see bare shelves in grocery stores these days.
Back when the coronavirus pandemic began, paper products, including toilet paper and paper towels, were the first to go missing.
And now they are often missing again.
In fact, there was big run on all kinds of sanitizing products.
Now other products are missing from shelves.
This reporter has had trouble finding eggs, half-and-half for his coffee and food for his cats.
Some Sun Chronicle editors have experienced the same.
One had the same problem finding eggs.
I did not go to other stores, I just did without. The editor was more persistent and finally found some.
“Last week I tried several different stores to finally find a dozen eggs (with one cracked) at the Target in Plainville,” she said.
Another editor said some kinds of baby formula are hard to find. It appears there’s an issue with specialized formulas like Nutramigen, she said.
I don’t know what that is, but young moms who need it do, and they have to work to find it.
Three years ago The Sun Chronicle published a story about a national shortage of truck drivers, and that has not gone away.
Back then the shortage was 60,000, according to a report published by American Trucking Associations.
A more recent report put the “post pandemic” shortage at 81,000.
The problem was foretold by experts in 2018.
“By next year (2019) (the shortage of drivers) is expected to jump to 78,000 and by 2020, 85,000,” the report said.
The numbers could reach 180,000 by 2026, according to the report’s author, Bob Costello, ATA’s chief economist and senior vice president.
“We are not saying that the shortage will reach that level; instead, this is more of a warning to the industry and the broader supply chain of what could happen if things don’t change,” he said.
“If the trend stays on course, there will likely be severe supply chain disruptions resulting in significant shipping delays, higher inventory carrying costs, and perhaps shortages at stores.”
So here we are.
The shortage is a little shy of the 85,000, but close enough to cause big problems.
Requests for comment from Market Basket and Seabra supermarkets for this story did not get a response.
Stop & Shop offered a two-sentence statement and Shaw’s provided more.
Caroline Medeiros, spokeswoman for Stop & Shop, said the company does have gaps to fill and specifically mentioned baby formula.
“Like other retailers, Stop & Shop is seeing supply challenges with baby formula as suppliers tackle increased demand as a result of pandemic effect buying habits and raw materials sourcing difficulties,” she said in an email. “Stop & Shop remains in contact with our suppliers and is working diligently to keep high-demand products in stock.”
Meanwhile, Heather Garlich, a spokeswoman for Shaw’s and other retail food providers, said shortages vary from region to region, but they are most definitely here and result in bare shelves.
“Since many of the shortages you’re witnessing are regional, I can’t put my finger on specific products or categories that may be absent from a particular store’s shelf,” she said.
However, she blamed the pandemic as the chief mischief maker.
“The pandemic has transformed almost every aspect of the food retail industry — from the way consumers shop for groceries and consume their meals to how food is grown, produced and transported to supermarket shelves, to our ability to staff our stores and serve our communities,” she said in an email. “A combination of several factors — from labor and transportation shortages to recent extreme weather events — continues to impact the movement of food through the supply chain.”
While supply chain problems are very real, it’s hard to know which products will be in short supply and when and where that will happen, Garlich said.
Garlich said shortages don’t usually occur because the products themselves don’t exist.
It’s the inability to get them to market.
“These issues can be difficult for grocery stores to predict, as they’re often regional and inconsistent,” she said. “The good news is that there is a healthy supply of food in the system, and food retailers are working closely with their manufacturing partners to get shelves restocked as quickly as possible so consumers can find the products they love.”
A “fact sheet” provided by FMI echoed that statement.
“In-demand products are often sitting idly in warehouses because there aren’t enough truck drivers to distribute food throughout the country, resulting in empty store shelves — even though no actual product shortage exists,” the sheet said.
There are other problems as well, according to FMI’s annual “Food Retailing Industry SPEAKS” survey.
Eighty percent of responding retailers said their inability to attract and retain quality employees is having a negative impact on their businesses.
And FMI points out that it’s not just the food industry that’s having trouble getting products to market.
It’s across the board.
“These challenges are by no means exclusive to the food retail industry, as we have seen, the impacts of a disrupted supply chain and labor shortages touch every sector of the economy,” Garlich said.