Blinds were pulled down to hide empty vegetable racks at Trader Joe’s in Meridian on Monday after the store could not receive a load of goods.
“Due to shortage and shipping issues from the weather along the west coast (Washington, Oregon and California) we are unable to receive what we have ordered for you!” there was an accompanying sign. “This primarily affects products, dairy products and meat, but all parts of the store have been affected.”
Widespread winter snowstorms that kept trucks idling, increased infections from the omicron COVID-19 variant, and supply chain disruptions have made it difficult to keep grocery stores in stock. It causes problems in the Treasure Valley and nationwide.
“We’re already just seeing shelves,” Bindiya Vakil, CEO of supply chain consultant Resilinc Corp., told the Los Angeles Times. “Lack of manpower due to omicron will exacerbate problem.”
At an Albertsons Companies conference on Tuesday, CEO Vivek Sankaran said he also expects the Boise grocery retailer’s supply problems will continue.
“Omicron has put a bit of a dent in it,” Sankaran said. “So there are more supply challenges and we expect more supply challenges over the next four to six weeks.”
Sean Connolly, CEO of food giant Conagra Brands, which makes Hunt’s ketchup, Birds Eye frozen vegetables, Orville Redenbacher’s popcorn, Slim Jim meat snacks and other products, says the challenges of the labor and supply chain continue to affect large food producers and their ability to bring products to the stores, even after two years of the pandemic.
“It’s perfectly reasonable for all of us to predict that the next month or so may remain strained within the supply chain as omicron runs its course,” Connolly told investors during a conference call last week.
However, the national shortage of labor can last much longer. A labor economist told a group of lawmakers and others invited by Idaho Business for Education this week that lower birth rates, reduced immigration, retired Baby Boomers and reduced labor force participation created shortages even before the pandemic exacerbated them.
A Tuesday survey of several grocery stores in the Boise area – Albertsons, Fred Meyer, Walmart, WinCo, Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s – did not reveal any widespread shortage. Toilet paper and cleaning supplies, which became scarce at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in the spring of 2020, were well stocked in each of the stores. Only a few items seemed to be missing.
Last week at an Albertsons in East Boise, the store was almost depleted of eggs. Tuesday there were a lot of eggs at an Albertsons in West Boise, but several exhibits with packed lunches and yogurt were empty. At Whole Foods in Boise, the meat shelves were almost empty.
At Garden City Walmart, the shelves of packed salad mixes were empty. In a Fred Meyer store in Garden City, a cooler was filled with yogurt, but signs apologized to customers that the store had run out earlier.
“Severe weather has caused shipping problems, these items are temporarily sold out,” the signs said.
At Trader Joe’s in downtown Boise, which also ran out of products on Monday, the shelves were filled with clerks after a shipment arrived.
The store manager said he could not comment publicly on the deficiency. He referred a reporter to the company’s headquarters in Monrovia, California. A spokesman did not call back.
A spokesman for Fred Meyer did not respond to a request for comment.
The Food Marketing Institute, a Virginia-based merchant association, said in a fact sheet that at the beginning of the March 2020 pandemic, the demand for groceries jumped by 50% from one day to the next.
“This wave of demand strained the supply chain and caused a shortage of household items across the country,” the institute said. “This demand has not fallen, and consumers continue to eat more meals at home – breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks – than in restaurants.”