American Supermarkets Facing Meat & Egg Shortages Amid Omicron Spike

by Josh Lanier

In 2020 as COVID-19 infections raged, shoppers started to see empty spots on shelves as the virus disrupted production on everything from computer chips to potato chips. We’ve struggled to stabilize the world’s distribution network ever since. Omicron, the newest variant of the virus, threatens to break that fragile stability. And goods with the shortest shelf life, like perishable groceries, are the most at risk of shortages.

Experts say the rise of omicron has impacted every step of food production and distribution, the LA Times reported. For instance, cases of the virus have tripled at grocery distributor SpartanNash Co. in Michigan, causing healthy workers to try and make up the difference. The company said about one percent of its 18,000 employees had the virus. That’s up from a third of a percent just weeks ago.

But the center cannot hold at this rate as epidemiologists say the omicron peak is weeks away. Stores across the globe were already struggling to fight off the effects.

“We’re already seeing bare shelves,” said Bindiya Vakil, CEO of supply-chain consultant Resilinc Corp. “Labor shortages due to omicron are going to exacerbate the issue.”

Food inspectors are also struggling to maintain productivity with the omicron outbreak. “The Delta variant didn’t have a whole lot of impact on the workforce,” said Paula Soldner, chair of the National Joint Council of Food Inspections Local, but “omicron is nailing us.”

Biden Promises Help to Meat, Poultry Industries During Omicron

The virus, though, is only part of the problem. Attacks on the global supply chain are coming from all sides, and there are no simple solutions.

“It’s a confluence of all of the events,” said Bob Luz, president of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association. “There’s a shortage of truckers, a shortage of warehouse workers, a shortage of pickers, a shortage of meat-cutters. It’s just wreaking havoc on the entire retail world.”

Last week, President Joe Biden said he would use $1 billion in American Rescue Plan Act cash to expand capacity in the meat and poultry industries. Biden believes too few companies control too much of the market, which makes these disruptions inevitable.

The administration is also trying to combat the issues at the nation’s ports. Containers from cargo ships aren’t being unloaded fast enough because of staffing shortages. John Porcari, a member of the White House Supply Chain Task Force, said the administration is considering pop-up ports to help alleviate some of the pressure at the major ports on both coasts.

“It’s hard to tell if the supply chain pressures are peak — have peaked,” Porcori said during a press briefing last week. “I think what is clear is the pandemic laid bare what was the underlying reality, which was the supply chain was stressed even before the pandemic. And we clearly have changes to make to build a more durable, resilient supply chain.”