Are you getting increasingly more frustrated when you’re shopping for groceries these days? Now that you are doing it more, are you enjoying it less? That is probably because you are having some trouble finding many of your favorite items when you are out doing this weekly chore. And if you do find them, you are paying more for them, too. As you may have heard, there are grocery store problems: supply chain and labor shortages.
Grocery store chains are grappling with major supply challenges, with some supermarket executives saying they are as bad now as when they saw them occur back in the spring of 2020 when the pandemic first struck the U.S. and some of the staples we use every day left holes on the supermarket shelves!
In short supply these days are bottled water, bread, chicken, and dog food…just to name a few. It’s getting so bad that even non-food items are coming up short. In fact, experts are even advising parents to start shopping now for toys they want to give their kids for Christmas!!!
But the new grocery store problems yield the same old results. I’m sure you remember the vivid image of empty store shelves you saw back in the middle of last year and now industry executives say new problems are arising weekly due to a continued shortage of both labor and raw materials.
Many groceries including frozen foods (like waffles) and even beverages remain scarce as some food companies anticipate the disruptions lasting through 2022! That’s another year of frustration and adaptation for you and the rest of American shoppers.
Get Used to It
“Get used to it” seems to be the new code for shoppers to live by when it comes to filling up their grocery carts with some of their missing favorites. A wide range of products is running low and logistical challenges are increasing day by day.
What Some Corporate Executives Are Saying
The chief executive of Louisiana-based Rouses Markets, Donny Rouse, said last week that his company is struggling to fill shelves. In fact, they are running low on everything from pet foods to basic canned goods.
Rouses is a chain of more than 60 supermarkets and sometimes receives less than 40% of what is being ordered. The company is trying to secure products earlier than ever and ordering way more often.
In comparison, before the pandemic started to affect their business, Rouses had received over 90% of all its orders. The difference is now making it very difficult for customers to get everything they want.
What Is Really Going On?
Grocery store chains from NY to California are all saying the same thing right now. They say that it’s getting harder and harder to predict how full orders will be or even whether the orders will be on time. In fact, their suppliers themselves don’t know the answers to those questions and that makes trying to fill the shelves even more difficult. All this is coming at the same time as demand for groceries is spiking way up!
Retailers are reporting that demand is even higher than was expected with monthly sales up nearly 14% from two years ago and 3% from a year ago (according to data from research firm IRI).
What Can Be Done to Change the Course?
To keep stores stocked, retailers are rethinking when and how they purchase the products they sell. Some stores are ordering fewer flavors or sizes and even selling different brands so that they can get more products to try to keep their shelves stocked. That may give them more inventory, but it isn’t going to help you find the products that you specifically use and want.
Because of this kind of buying change and the buying power of the largest grocery stores, industry executives say that the regional and smaller grocers are struggling more than the bigger chains.
Some companies like Albertsons, the second-largest supermarket chain in North America after Kroger with 2,750 stores, for example, say they too are feeling the impact of labor and commodity challenges, but their supply picture has improved since last year. Some larger companies, the ones that have their own vehicles and drivers, have better controls over their inventory.
The New Shortages Aren’t Quite the Same as Before
After the shortages of toilet paper and paper towels in stores during the beginning days of the pandemic, manufacturers now face new problems. Retailers say there are shortages of resin, aluminum, and other raw materials used for packaging, and many producers are prioritizing the most popular items.
Manufacturers are unable to produce enough items to meet demand as many workers continue staying home because of the coronavirus or perhaps, as some have speculated, because they have received rounds of stimulus checks and even extra unemployment compensation making them able to remain at home. Meanwhile advocates of the stimulus and enhanced unemployment have said such federal coronavirus-relief efforts protect families from sudden income drops and especially help those with low incomes.
Changes to Your Favorite Foods?
Kraft-Heinz Co.’s “Lunchables” have been hard to find and because of that, other companies are now making their own version of it with crackers, cheese, grapes, and meat.
Kraft-Heinz said there is currently record demand for Lunchables with sales growing in double digits for the first time in five years. The company says that it is continuously managing the supply chain and getting more products to the customers, but it just isn’t enough.
Canned tomato goods are also running low. Stores are now looking to more and more private label products to fill the gap because companies like Hunt’s can’t fill its orders. That’s because demand for the product is unprecedented.
But even with the private label substitutes, grocers are offering less of a variety than before.
Your Store May Have These Grocery Store Problems
Can’t find your favorite sports beverages right now? Gatorade this summer has only been found in smaller size packaging for example.
Will you be missing your favorite cheese in the fall? This may be just the tip of the grocery iceberg you are facing. It seems that each week brings new issues for grocery stores.
While the stores are asking some manufacturers to ship products directly from the plants to give them better access and deliveries, they also want to know why competitors are getting some products that they are missing in their stores. The only thing that has been consistent is that these deliveries are inconsistent!
What About the Prices You Are Paying Now?
It’s a simple fact that when demand is high, supplies are tight and prices go up. That’s what we have been seeing and “panflation” is on the rise because of all of the above.
In fact, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for the past 12 months is up over 5% and in just the last quarter up over 6%. That means the things you buy all the time, like food and gas, are zooming up. Meanwhile you may not even have been working. And retailers are stating that consumers are adjusting to this new norm so far without much resistance.
It seems returning to normal is more important than being able to afford to return to normal.
In one instance, the most popular sized portions of chicken and pork were not available and only very large portions were shipped to stores. The alternate sized and more expensive breasts, wings, and thighs were much larger than what was usually sold, but yet of course still sold out even though it may have busted a few budgets along the way.
But one chain (at least) is trying to help you. Quincy, Massachusetts-based Stop & Shop supermarket is reducing substitute prices for short-running items. Consumers are simply buying whatever they can find.
How Long Will This Last?
Several food vendors said they expect the flow of groceries to remain spotty for the foreseeable future. Some companies, like Walmart, have reinstated penalty fees for late and unfinished orders which they halted last spring. But that hasn’t improved supply challenges. The next step is to just intentionally over-order to try to get more goods.
For the immediate short term, don’t look for an improvement in any of this. Plan on the remainder of 2021 and well into 2022 as the timeline you will be dealing with when it comes to these grocery store problems.
Consumers will need to adapt the best they can to these issues, and offset the higher prices with other ways to save money. Try to be flexible with your shopping list, buying substitutes and store brands when possible.
Are you having trouble finding your favorite items at the grocery store? Are you substituting new items for old favorites? Have you noticed all of the changes in prices, sizes, and availability caused by the pandemic when you go shopping? What are you doing to get by and fight off the problems?