US suffers food shortages in supermarkets due to omicron and weather

Benjamin Whitely was heading to a Safeway supermarket in Washington, the nation’s capital, on Tuesday to buy some things for dinner. But She was disappointed when she found empty vegetable shelves and a meager supply of turkey, chicken, and milk.

“Looks like I didn’t find anything,” said 67-year-old Whitely. “Now I’m going to have to look elsewhere.”

The famine in US supermarkets has worsened in recent weeks after new problems, like himThe omicron variant of the coronavirus and bad weather have added to the problems in the supply chain and the labor shortages that have plagued retailers since the coronavirus pandemic began.

The shortage is widespread, impacting vegetables and meat, as well as packaged items such as cereal. And it is being reported nationally. Food stores in the United States are typically 5-10 percent out of stock, But right now that rate is around 15 percent, according to Geoff Freeman, president and CEO of the Consumer Brands Association.

Part of the shortage that consumers are seeing on store shelves is due to pandemic trends that never diminished and that have been exacerbated by the omicron variant. Americans eat more at home than they used to, mostly because offices and some schools remain closed.

The average American household spent $ 144 (about 2,930 Mexican pesos) a week last year in grocery stores, according to the IMF, a commercial organization of groceries and food producers. That’s below the 2020 high of $ 161. (about 3,380 Mexican pesos), but it is still much higher than the 113.50 (about 2,310 Mexican pesos) dollars that families spent in 2019.

And a truck driver shortage that began before the pandemic remains a problem. In October, the American Land Transportation Association said about 80,000 drivers were missing in the country, a historical figure. What’s more, cargo shipments are still delayed, affecting all, from imported products to packaging that are manufactured abroad.

Food retailers and producers have been adjusting to those realities since early 2020, when panic buying at the start of the pandemic sent the industry into a tailspin. Many retailers are keeping more supplies 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 that basic level of problems“said Jessica Dankert, vice president of supply chain for the Retail Industry Leaders Association.

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, he said.

As with hospital, school and office staff, the omicron variant has wreaked havoc on food production lines.

Sean Connolly, President and CEO of ConAgra Brands that makes ACT II popcorn, Hunt’s sauces, and other products
told investors last week that supplies from the company’s plants in the United States they will be limited for at least the next month due to absences related to the omicron variant.

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. In the past week, 8 percent of its employees, about 200 people, were sick or in quarantine. Generally, the absenteeism level is 2 percent.

A supermarket bakery had so many sick days they stopped making their usual products. Leonard said meat and vegetable suppliers have told him they are also dealing with a worker shortage related to the omicron variant. But nevertheless, He added that shipments generally arrive on time, and he believes the worst of the pandemic may be over.

Meanwhile, weather-related events, from snow storms in the northeastern United States to wildfires in Colorado, They have also impacted on product availability and caused some customers to buy more than usual., exacerbating supply problems caused by the pandemic.

Lisa DeLima, a spokesperson for Mom’s Organic Market, an independent grocery store with locations in the Central East Coast region of the country, said the company’s stores had no products to display last weekend because winter weather stopped trucks trying to get from Pennsylvania to Washington.

That bottleneck has now been resolved, DeLima said. From their point of view, the intermittent shortage of certain items that shoppers now see it is nothing compared to the more chronic shortages at the beginning of the pandemic.

“People don’t need to panic shopping,” he said. “There are a lot of products. It’s just taking longer to get them from point A to point B.”

Experts are divided on how long grocery shopping will feel like a scavenger hunt. Dankert believes that this is a setback, and that the country will soon return to normal, although still with supply chain problems and labor shortages.

“There will be no prolonged product shortage, just sporadic and isolated incidents, that moment when the supply chain takes a minute to catch up,” he said.

But others are not so optimistic. Freeman of the Consumer Brands Association said the omicron-related problems could increase as the variant spreads in the region north center of the country, where many large packaged food companies such as Kellogg’s and General Mills operate.

ToHe noted that he believes the federal government should do a better job of ensuring that workers in the food industry have access to evidence of coronavirus. 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.

Long-term, it could take time for stores and food companies to figure out shopping patterns as the pandemic subsides, said Doug Baker, the IMF vice president for industrial relations.

We went from a one-time inventory system to unprecedented demand on unprecedented demand, “he said.” We’re going to play around 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 said.

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