US grocery shortages intensify as supplies dwindle

West Coast perishable produce growers are paying nearly triple pre-pandemic trucking rates to ship produce like lettuce and berries before they spoil, Reuters reported.

Shay Myers, CEO of Owyhee Produce, which grows onions, watermelons and asparagus along the Idaho and Oregon border, said he has suspended shipping of onions to distributors in retail until transportation costs come down.

Myers said transportation disruptions over the past three weeks, caused by a lack of truck drivers and recent storms blocking highways, have caused transportation costs for fruit and vegetable growers to double, on top of prices. already high pandemics. “We usually ship from the east coast to the west coast – we used to do it for around $7,000,” he said. “Today it’s between $18,000 and $22,000.”

The CEO of frozen vegetable maker Birds Eye Conagra Brands, Sean Connolly, told investors last week that supplies to its US factories could be limited for at least the next month due to Omicron-related absences.

Earlier this week, Albertsons CEO Vivek Sankaran said he expects the supermarket chain to face more supply chain challenges over the next four to six weeks. , as Omicron halted its efforts to close supply chain gaps.

Shoppers on social media have complained about empty pasta and meat aisles at some Walmart stores; a Meijer store in Indianapolis was swept up in chicken; a Publix in Palm Beach, Florida, was out of toilet paper and household hygiene products while Costco reinstated purchase limits for toilet paper at select stores in Washington state.

The situation is not expected to subside for at least a few weeks, said Katie Denis, vice president of communications and research at the Consumer Brands Association, blaming the shortages on labor shortages.

The consumer packaged goods industry is short by about 120,000 workers, with only 1,500 jobs added last month, she said, while the National Grocer’s Association said many of its member grocery stores operated with less than 50% of their labor capacity.

U.S. retailers are now facing about 12% out-of-stock levels on food, beverages, household cleaning products and personal hygiene products, compared to 7-10% in normal times.

The problem is more acute with food products where out-of-stock levels reach 15%, the Consumer Brands Association said.

SpartanNash, a US food retailer, said last week that it had become more difficult to source food from food manufacturers, especially processed products like cereal and soup.

Consumers continued to stock up on groceries as they hunkered down at home to curb the spread of the Omicron variant. Denis said demand over the past five months has been as high or higher than it was in March 2020 at the start of the pandemic.

Similar problems are observed in other parts of the world.

In Australia, the operator of grocery chain Woolworths Group, said last week that more than 20% of its distribution center workers were off work due to COVID-19. In stores, the virus has put at least 10% of staff out of action.

The company on Thursday reinstated a limit of two packs per customer for toilet paper and painkillers nationwide, in-store and online, to address staffing shortages.

In the United States, recent snow and ice storms that blocked traffic for hours along the East Coast also hampered food deliveries to grocery stores and distribution centers. These delays have reverberated across the country, delaying the shipment of fruits and vegetables with limited shelf lives.

While producers of perishables are forced to pay inflated shipping rates to attract limited trucking supplies, producers like Myers are choosing to wait for backlogs to clear.

“The cans, the sodas, the chips – those things stayed, because they weren’t willing to pay double, triple the freight, and their stuff doesn’t go bad in four days,” he said. he declares.