- Parts of the United States are experiencing severe food shortages due to severe weather and Omicron.
- The bad weather has caused supply chain problems and a shortage of workers.
- There’s a crisis due to the shortage of supplies in supermarkets.
The shortage of supplies in the United States supermarkets has worsened in recent weeks due to Omicron. Now severe weather has added to supply chain issues and labor shortages that have affected retailers since the coronavirus pandemic began, the LA Times and the AP reported.
Benjamin Whitely was on his way to a Safeway supermarket in Washington DC on Tuesday to buy some things for dinner. But he was disappointed when he found empty produce shelves and a meager supply of turkey, chicken, and milk. “I didn’t find anything,” said 67-year-old Whitely. “Now I’m going to have to look elsewhere.”
Which foods are most affected by the crisis?
The shortage is widespread, impacting produce and meat as well as packaged items, such as cereal. These situations are being reported nationwide. Food stores in the United States typically have between 5% and 10% of products out of stock, but right now that rate is around 15%, according to Geoff Freeman, president and CEO of Consumer Brands Association.
Part of the shortages consumers are seeing on store shelves are due to pandemic issues that have never abated and have been exacerbated by the Omicron variant. Americans eat more at home than they used to, mostly because offices and some schools remain closed.
How much does a US household spend on groceries?
The average American household spent $144 a week last year at grocery stores, according to the IMF, a food producer and grocery trade organization. That’s below the 2020 high of $161, but it’s still much higher than the $113.50 families spent in 2019.
A truck driver shortage that began before the pandemic remains a problem. In October, the American Trucking Association said the country was missing about 80,000 drivers, which is a record number. Additionally, cargo shipments remain delayed, affecting everything from imported products to packaging materials, which are manufactured abroad. Filed under: Omicron Cold Food Shortage
What are suppliers doing to mitigate the problem?
Food retailers and suppliers have been adjusting to those realities since the early 2020s, when panic buying at the start of the pandemic sent the industry into a tailspin. Many retailers are keeping more inventory of things like toilet paper, for example, to avoid a serious shortage.
“All parties involved in the supply chain ecosystem have reached a point where they have that manual and are able to overcome the basic level of problems,” said Jessica Dankert, vice president of supply chain for the Association of Leaders of the Retail Industry. Generally, the system works. Dankert noted that empty shelves have been an unusual phenomenon in the last 20 months. It’s just that now the additional complications are mounting, she said. Filed under: Omicron Cold Food Shortage
Why has the food industry been affected so much?
As with hospital, school, and office staff, the Omicron variant has wreaked havoc on food production lines. Sean Connolly, the president and CEO of Conagra Brands, which produces Birds Eye frozen vegetables, Slim Jim meat snacks, and other products, told investors last week that supplies from the company’s plants in the United States will be limited for at least the next month due to absences related to Omicron.
The absences of sick workers are also affecting grocery stores. Stew Leonard Jr. is president and CEO of the Stew Leonard’s grocery chain that operates stores in Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey. Last week, 8% of its employees, about 200 people, were sick or in quarantine. Generally, the level of absenteeism is 2%. Filed under: Omicron Cold Food Shortage
Employees contract COVID-19 and affect services
A supermarket bakery had so many sick staff that it stopped making its usual products. Leonard said meat and vegetable suppliers have told him they are also dealing with a worker shortage related to Omicron. However, Leonard said shipments generally arrive on time, and he believes the worst of the pandemic may be over by now.
Meanwhile, weather-related events, from snow storms in the northeastern United States to wildfires in Colorado, have also impacted product availability. This has also caused some customers to buy more than usual, exacerbating supply problems. Filed under: Omicron Cold Food Shortage
Why are trucks carrying food shipments delayed?
Lisa DeLima, a spokeswoman for Mom’s Organic Market, an independent grocery store with branches in the country’s central east coast region, said the company’s stores had no products to display last weekend because winter weather prevented trucks from getting to Washington from Pennsylvania.
That bottleneck has now been resolved, DeLima said. From her point of view, the intermittent shortages of certain items that shoppers see now are nothing compared to the more chronic shortages at the beginning of the pandemic. “People don’t need to get into panic shopping,” he said. “There are many products. It’s just that it’s taking longer to get them from point A to point B,” he added.
What will happen in the coming days?
Experts are divided on how long grocery shopping will feel like a scavenger hunt. Dankert believes this is a setback, and that the country will return to normal soon. Though there may still be supply chain problems and a labor shortage. “There will not be a prolonged product shortage, just sporadic and isolated incidents, that moment when the supply chain takes a minute to catch up,” she said. But others are not so optimistic.
Geoff Freeman of the Consumer Brands Association said that Omicron-related problems could increase as the variant spreads in the north central region of the country, where many large packaged food companies, such as Kellogg Co. and General Mills Inc., operate.
What should the government do to solve the problem?
He noted that he believes the federal government should do a better job of ensuring food industry workers have access to coronavirus testing. He would also like there to be unified rules for things like quarantine procedures for vaccinated employees. Right now, he said, companies are grappling with a mix of local regulations. In the long run, it could take time for grocery stores and companies to figure out customer purchasing patterns that emerge as the pandemic subsides, said Doug Baker, the IMF’s vice president for industrial relations.
“We went from a one-time inventory system to unprecedented demand over unprecedented demand,” he said. “We are going to play with that whole inventory system for several years.” Meanwhile, Whitely, the Safeway customer in Washington, said he’s lucky to be retired because he can spend the day browsing for products if the first few stores he goes to don’t have them anymore. People who work or care for sick loved ones cannot afford that luxury, he noted. “Some are trying to get food to survive. I’m just trying to cook a stew,” he commented.
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