Why Are Shelves in the U.S. Empty?

Shelves in stores across the country are increasingly becoming noticeably empty, and many stores have been struggling to restock vital household and kitchen necessities like milk, bread, meat, and cleaning products quick enough to keep up with demand.

Many consumers throughout the country have inevitably taken to social media to vent their frustrations and concerns over the growing problem, posting photos on their profiles of empty shelves at big chain grocers throughout the country. Retailers and consumers alike have been battling the impacts of a global pandemic for almost the past two years, and supply chain-related continue to arise from continuous setbacks.

One of the major culprits that many analysts believe is contributing to the supply chain problem is the ongoing shortage of truckers, inhibiting the ability of grocery stores to restock their shelves in a timely manner.

Not only are there widespread domestic transportation issues within trucking due to an aging workforce but there is also the ongoing record-high level of congestion within the nation’s ports. Both of these challenges could be working in tandem to create shortages.

On top of widespread domestic transportation issues, the highly contagious variant of the Covid-19 virus continues to contribute to a devastating workers shortage. Staffing shortages for critical operations like transportation and logistics have gone up significantly, as well as within grocery stores themselves, which in turn is affecting the delivery of products and restocking of store shelves across the United States.

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“While there is plenty of food in the supply chain, we anticipate consumers will continue to experience sporadic disruptions in certain product categories as we have seen over the past year and half due to the continued supply and labor challenges,” said Greg Ferrara, the president and CEO of the National Grocers Association.

Many grocery stores are currently functioning with less than half their normal workforces, according to the National Grocers Association. In fact, labor shortages continue to pressure all areas of the food industry (and indeed the whole economy).

“From farms to food makers to grocery stores, it’s across the board,” an industry analyst and editor of SuperMarketGuru.com told CNN recently. “During the pandemic, these operations have had to implement social distancing protocols and they’re not really built for that, and it has impacted production.”

As the pandemic continues to rage across the world, many food industry workers are opting not to return to their low-wage jobs at all. Grocery stores certainly are aware of the empty shelves, and they are trying to mitigate panic buying, which only worsens the situation.

One potential strategy that some have suggested is fanning out products by putting out both limited varieties and limited quantities of each product to prevent hoarding, panic buying, and to help stretch out their existing supplies between deliveries.

“Pre-pandemic you might have seen five different varieties of milk across the front row and 10 cartons deep. Now it will be five across and maybe two rows deep,” the analyst stated.