I have written in the past about some of the supply chain issues that we have had since the start of the pandemic. Initially, the situation was largely created by hoarding of products, with not enough in the pipeline to replace them on the shelves. Over the last few months, other issues with the supply chain have emerged, and there are multiple reasons for this.
The main one is a lack of labor. There have been no suppliers exempt from this problem, and in some cases, the only question is the order of magnitude. Our main supplier for natural foods has been experiencing labor shortages that have forced it to cancel deliveries altogether. Last Friday, 41% of the product ordered for center store was out of stock, while 70% of product for the freezer was not on the truck.
Our buyers of course regularly scramble to find alternatives from other suppliers, but the problem goes all the way back up the chain. Some of this product is also not being manufactured, or palletized, or trucked, or unloaded—all due to labor shortages. Shipping containers are held up in port, and refrigerated storage and trucking are particularly challenged. In some cases, the product in question is in short supply due to climate issues of some kind, i.e., flooding impeding the movement of goods, or inclement weather causing shortages of product.
The USDA is channeling funds from the recent federal COVID stimulus package to some of these links in the chain, particularly “cold chain” companies, recognizing the added costs for keeping food cold (and safe). But as with all of the issues that are impacting availability of product, all of the various fixes will take time, and we will need to adjust our habits in the meantime.
We take solace in the strength of our local farms and producers. But there, too, there are ramifications. If your farm is doing big business, and you need to add walk-in refrigerated cooler capacity, you will be waiting months for your equipment. We have been here at the Co-op: we have been waiting for the panels for an additional cooler off of the back room essentially since March. And we had plans to install new refrigerated cases in the store for a few categories that could use more retail space, and we’re still waiting for news about when those cases will ship. We have heard anywhere from 20 to 52 weeks.
I had a conversation with a shopper last week who was looking for a particular type of cream cheese for their daughter. We had been out-of-stocked on that product, and as I explained how little information we had about its potential reappearance, they were amazingly sanguine. “Well, she will have to figure out what else to have instead. We can’t really be that picky right now, right?”
Perhaps that is the answer. We learn to be grateful for what we have, and figure out how to manage without what we don’t. It’s not what we Americans of the 21st century are used to, and yet, here we are. Your Co-op staff will do all we can to keep things rolling along, though. We appreciate your surfing along with us!
I’ll see you in the aisles!
By Sabine Rhyne, General Manager