September 5, 2021

WEIRD SHORTAGES ABOUND: Why You Can’t Find Everything You Want at Grocery Stores: Labor shortages, raw materials’ scarcity make supermarket supplies unpredictable; some executives say problems are worse than spring 2020’s dearth.

Grocery-store chains are still battling supply challenges that some executives said are as bad as what they saw in spring 2020, when hoarding left holes in stocks of some staples.

Industry executives say new problems are arising weekly, driven by shortages of labor and raw materials. Groceries including frozen waffles and beverages remain scarce as some food companies anticipate disruptions lasting into 2022. A wider range of products is running short and logistical challenges are compounding for many retailers.

Donny Rouse, chief executive of Louisiana-based Rouses Markets, said he is struggling to fill shelves as his company runs low on everything from pet food to canned goods. The chain of more than 60 supermarkets is sometimes receiving as little as 40% of what it orders, prompting Mr. Rouse and his staff to try to secure products earlier and more often. Before the pandemic, Rouses received well over 90% of its orders.

“It is difficult for customers to get everything they want to get,” said Mr. Rouse, grandson of the chain’s founder.

Many grocery chains said that it is hard to predict how complete or on-time their deliveries will be due to limited guidance from suppliers, and executives said there is often little recourse when trucks show up with a fraction of what was ordered. Demand is higher than expected by retailers, with monthly sales up about 14% from two years ago and 3% from a year ago, according to data from research firm IRI.

To keep stores stocked, retailers are rethinking when and how to procure products they sell. Some are carrying fewer flavors or sizes, selling different brands and gathering inventory whenever possible. Regional and smaller grocers are struggling more than the biggest chains, industry executives said.

Albertsons ACI 0.82% Cos. and other big grocers said they are also feeling the impact of labor and commodity challenges but that their supply picture has improved since last year. Some, including Ahold Delhaize USA, said they have greater control of their inventory because they have their own vehicles and drivers.

Interestingly, The Fresh Market, where we often shop, seems to be running normally. Kroger, Publix, and Whole Foods seem to have a lot of inventory trouble.

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