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Food is becoming scarce – supply chain problems due to omicron and storms

Omicron and storms cause food shortages in the supermarkets

New York. The vegetable department was empty, and there was only a limited selection of poultry and milk: Benjamin Whitely’s trip to the supermarket on Tuesday was disappointing. The 67-year-old from Washington actually wanted to stock up on groceries for dinner. “Apparently I’m late for everything,” he said. “Now I have to look elsewhere.” Whitely is not alone with this problem: In many supermarkets in the USA, stocks have been running low for a few weeks. The reason is the spread of the highly contagious omicron variant of the corona virus and also storms. Both factors have further exacerbated the situation for retailers, who have been suffering from supply chain delays and labor shortages since the beginning of the pandemic.

15 percent of all products sold out

Now many grocery stores across the country are missing everything from meat to packaged muesli. According to the Consumer Brands Association, an average of five to ten percent of all products are sold out in US supermarkets. Now that rate is about 15 percent. This is all the more noticeable for consumers, as they are increasingly eating at home during the pandemic due to closed offices and schools. Last year, the average household spent $144 (€126) per week on groceries, according to the industry association FMI. While that was less than the 2020 peak ($161), it was still significantly more than 2019 ($113.50).

80,000 truck drivers are missing

A shortage of truck drivers, which was already apparent before the pandemic, also remains problematic. According to the Long-Distance Drivers Association in October, around 80,000 truckers are missing, which is more than in the history of the USA. In addition, transport deliveries are still being delayed, which is noticeable, among other things, in food imports and packaging material from abroad. Retailers and producers have been adapting to these facts since the beginning of 2020. Back then, panic buying at the start of the pandemic had sent the industry into a tailspin. Many retailers now keep larger stocks of products such as toilet paper in order to prevent acute bottlenecks. In general, the system now works, explains Jessica Dankert from the trade association RILA. Empty shelves have been the exception in the past 20 months. Video Highest value worldwide: 1.35 million new corona infections in the USA The effects of the highly contagious virus variant omicron on everyday life are becoming increasingly clear. © Reuters

Many employees fell ill

Still, manufacturers are struggling. Food giant Conagra Brands President Sean Connolly told investors last week that Omicron would restrict shipments until at least February. Conagra produces, among other things, frozen vegetables and meat snacks. The retail trade is also suffering from a high level of sick leave among employees. According to the management, eight percent of the around 200 employees at the supermarket chain Stew Leonard’s were on sick leave or in quarantine last week. Typically, the failure rate is around two percent.

Storms make deliveries difficult

Severe weather such as snowstorms in the Northeast and wildfires in Colorado also affect the availability of goods. As a result, some consumers stocked up more than usual, and some truck deliveries didn’t arrive due to the winter weather. Still, some in the industry are trying to reassure consumers. Lisa DeLima, spokeswoman for independent organic food chain Mom’s Organic Market, said the situation cannot be compared to the chronic shortages of almost two weeks ago. “There’s no need to panic buy,” she said. “There are many products available. It just takes a little longer to get them from A to B.”

disagreement among experts

Experts disagree on the question of how long the perceived scavenger hunt for food will continue. In her own words, association representative Dankert expects things to return to normal soon without long-term shortages. However, Geoff Freeman, President and CEO of the Consumer Brands Association, warns that Omicron-related food manufacturing delays are escalating. Supermarket customer Whitely from Washington, meanwhile, considers himself lucky to be already retired: He can look for his desired products all day long when they are sold out in the first stores, he said. Anyone who has to work or care for a sick relative does not have this luxury. “Some try to get food to survive,” he said. “Just trying to make a casserole.”

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