Thanks to another round of COVID-related labor shortages mixed with sky-high freight costs, American supermarket shelves are once again dwindling. And the supply chain issues could last for weeks to come.
According to a report by Reuters, farmers along the West Coast are paying nearly triple what they did for pre-pandemic trucking, which is leading to spoiled produce as growers wait for prices to go down.
Shay Myers, CEO of Owyhee Produce, said that she’s seen the biggest price hike over the past three weeks. The jump was due to the recent snowstorms and a lack of truck drivers.
In particular, the storms caused traffic jams in parts of the East Coast that kept drivers gridlocked for days. That held up shipments of fruit and vegetables, which have limited shelf lives. And because so many growers needed to get their produce on the road immediately, shipping costs more than doubled.
“We typically will ship, East Coast to West Coast – we used to do it for about $7,000,” he said. “Today it’s somewhere between $18,000 and $22,000.”
And while many farmers can’t afford the elevated shipping prices, some are being forced to pay the inflated rates. Otherwise, they’ll lose all of their produce.
However, companies that sell food with longer shelf lives are choosing to wait it out.
“The canned goods, the sodas, the chips – those things sat because they weren’t willing to pay double, triple the freight, and their stuff doesn’t go bad in four days,” Myers said.
The Current Supply Chain Issues Could Last For Weeks to Come
Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like the situation will ease any time soon. Katie Davis, vice president of communications and research at the Consumer Brands Association, predicts that we’ll continue to see empty shelves for at least a few more weeks.
Davis shared that around 120,000 employees have walked away from the consumer-packaged goods industry in recent months. And the National Grocer’s Association claims that many stores are running with less than 50% of their needed employees.
Because of all of that, retailers are seeing around 12% out-of-stock levels on most of their essential products. In regular times, that number is usually around 7-10%.
Reuters noted that shoppers on social media have noticed low supplies of pasta, meat, bath tissue, and personal hygiene products. They also wrote that Washington State Costco’s are once again limiting how many rolls of toilet paper customers can buy.
But food supplies are suffering the most. Those out-of-stock levels are hitting 15%, according to the Consumer Brands Association.
And because consumers are opting to eat in due to the Omicron-variant, demand is rising while supply is falling. Denis said that the current demand for products is higher than it was when the pandemic began in March 2020