Omicron Surge Empties Supermarket Shelves: Food Supply Shortages Are Here to Stay

By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.

This week has seen an uptick in mainstream media reports of empty supermarket shelves, as the Omicron wave rolls on.

U.S. shoppers have faced sporadic shortages of fresh food, toilet paper, and cleaning supplies, since lockdowns commenced in March 2000.

Fox compares cthe urrent state of play to those that once prevailed in the Soviet Union in Shoppers ‘astounded’ by thinning grocery store supplies: ‘It’s just empty shelves’:

Empty shelves and thinning groceries and drug supplies are reminiscent of March 2020, Washington, D.C., shoppers told Fox News Digital.

“It’s like a Soviet store during 1981. It’s horrible,” one man said.

“Honestly, it looks like March of 2020, when everybody was stockpiling and the shelves were bare,” another man, Dominic, told Fox News Digital.

This is certainly hyperbole, as those who ever visited the Soviet Union – as I did in December 1983 – well know.

Here in Brooklyn, I’ve yet to see any shortages firsthand, although I’ve not myself been inside any  supermarket recently. Instead, I’ve relied on deliveries from my local supermarket,  Lincoln Market, from which I ordered most recently on Tuesday,. My order included  plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and some dairy.  Just before Christmas, I’d ordered meat from my butcher , some of which remains stockpiled in my freezer, and cheese from Murray’s Cheese.

I occasionally cross the street to good specialty food shop. It also delivers but I usually order on-line and pick up the food myself, enmasked with an N95. I can’t resist their cookies: big, but not too big, and not too sweet. When I’m very busy or unusually lazy or I just fancy a change,  a couple of restaurants also supply reasonably-priced take-away.

I try to eat local food and during the clement months, most of our fruit and vegetables come via the New York City Greenmarket system. I also shop at a nearby greengrocer that offers a better selection, at lower prices, than the supermarket. But a combination of wishing to avoid exposure to the virus and some (minor) health issues have left me relying on grocery deliveries.

I’m lucky in that I’ve not seeing widely-reported supermarket shortages firsthand. CNN reports on the general problem in Here’s why grocery stores are struggling to stock their empty shelves. Omicron’s the immediate proximate cause of these shortages, not only due to the toll it’s taking on grocery store employees, but also as a result of its related impact on transportation and other food logistics. Per CNN:

As the highly contagious variant of the Covid-19 virus continues to sicken workers, it’s creating staffing shortages for critical functions like transportation and logistics, which in turn are affecting delivery of products and restocking of store shelves across the country.

Albertsons’ CEO Vivek Sankaran acknowledged that products are in tight supply during the company’s earnings call with analysts Tuesday.

“I think as a business, we’ve all learned to manage it. We’ve all learned to make sure that the stores are still very presentable, give the consumers as much choice as we can get,” Sankaran said during the call.

Even so, he added, Omicron has put “a bit of a dent” on efforts to improve supply chain gaps. “We would expect more supply challenges over the next four to six weeks,” Sankaran said. [Jerri-Lynn here: my emphasis.]

Supermarket labor issues predated the rise of Omicron and are not likely to ease any time soon. Over to CNN:

Grocery stores are operating with less than their normal workforces, according to the National Grocers Association, and many of its members have less than 50% of their normal workforce.

“While there is plenty of food in the supply chain, we anticipate consumers will continue to experience sporadic disruptions in certain product categories as we have seen over the past year and half due to the continued supply and labor challenges,” said Greg Ferrara, the group’s president and CEO.

In fact, labor shortages continue to pressure all areas of the food industry, said Phil Lempert, an industry analyst and editor of SuperMarketGuru.com.

“From farms to food makers to grocery stores, it’s across the board,” said Lempert. “During the pandemic, these operations have had to implement social distancing protocols and they’re not really built for that and it has impacted production.”

And as the pandemic continues, many food industry workers are opting not to return to their low-wage jobs at all. [Jerri-Lynn here: my emphasis.]

So, no one should expect the supermarket industry’s labor woes to improve anytime assign – especially as it looks like the obvious solution – tiger wages – is not on the cards.

In addition to labor issues, transportation difficulties have also affected food supplies (and some of these, too, are at root labor issues as well). According to CNN:

An ongoing shortage of truckers continues to slow down the supply chain and the ability of grocery stores to replenish their shelves quickly.

“The trucking industry has an aging workforce on top of a shortage,” Lempert said. “It’s really been a problem for the last several years.

Layered atop widespread domestic transportation issues is the ongoing record-high level of congestion at the nation’s ports. “Both of these challenges are working in tandem to create shortages,” he said.

Weather is also a concern, both seasonal and longer-term trends arising  out of climate change. Over to CNN:

Much of the Midwest and Northeast has recently been grappling with severe weather and hazardous commuting conditions. Not only are people stocking up on more groceries, that level of high demand coupled with transportation challenges is making it more difficult to transport goods in inclement weather, thus resulting in more shortages, said Lempert.

Not to mention climate change, which is an ongoing serious and longer term threat to food supply. “Fires and droughts are damaging crops such as wheat, corn and soybean in the US and coffee crops in Brazil,” he said. “We can’t ignore it.”

CNN recognizes that the pandemic has changed personal eating habits, with more people eschewing restaurants in favour of preparing food and eating at home. The extent to which this trend will continue depends on how quickly and to what degree the pandemic is brought under control. According to CNN:

More and more of us have taken to cooking and eating at home through the pandemic that’s contributing to the grocery supply crunch, too, said Lempert.

“We don’t want to keep eating the same thing and are trying to vary home cooking. As we do that, we’re buying even more food products,” he said. The shortages have also made buying food increasingly more expensive going into 2022.

Grocery stores certainly are aware of the empty shelves, Lempert said, and they are trying to mitigate panic buying, which only worsens it the situation.

One strategy: Fanning out products. They’re doing this by putting out both limited varieties and limited quantities of each product in an attempt to prevent hoarding and stretch out their supplies between deliveries.
“Pre-pandemic you might have seen five different varieties of milk across the front row and 10 cartons deep. Now it will be five across and maybe two rows deep,” said Lempert.

In this post, I’ve relied on summarizing CNN’s details. Yet I could easily instead have relied on different sources to elicit similar facts. Major outlets are more or less reporting the same thing, nationwide: Fox (as above); Bloomberg: Can’t Find Pasta or Cat Food? Empty Store Shelves Are Here to Stay; USA Today: Grocery stores still have empty shelves amid supply chain disruptions, omicron and winter storms; or ABC News: Here’s why grocery stores are struggling to stock their empty shelves.

Readers: what are you seeing? Are food supply issues getting better or worse?

What Is to Be Done?

My takeaway? Just as I can’t see my way clear to any end to this pandemic, food security issues are here to stay for the foreseeable future. What that means is that I’ll keep our larder well-stocked with non-perishables, and buy available fresh food. I’ll continue to err on the side of laying in too much rather than too little food and when I miscalculate, I’ll freeze or preserve the surplus.

Today, NYC is seeing some of its coldest temperatures of the year: -2 C (29F). This afternoon, I think I’ll bake some cookies. Probably something simple – perhaps peanut butter?- and also some homemade fig newtons, which are my husband’s favorite. Coffee and fresh-baked cookies will provide a welcome distraction.

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99 comments

  1. Punxsutawney

    There wasn’t a single item of fresh chicken at my local Kroger’s this last Saturday in the Portland area. Completely bare shelfs. Sunday was a bit better. Can’t say if it was due to Omicron or due to road closures as I suspect Kroger sources from the Midwest/Southeast. Plenty of beef though. Safeway yesterday was thin on chicken as well to say the least.

    The local Kroger has had spotty shortages since the pandemic began. Just a way of life now. The employee owned Winco though has done much better. My wife said they had plenty of chicken when she was there earlier in the week.

    Reply
    1. worldblee

      It was the same yesterday at New Season’s in Portland (no chicken). My wife said it wasn’t bad otherwise, but she did note that at least that item was not in stock.

      Reply
  2. Mikel

    Was just reading this piece also pointing at supply as a bigger issue:
    https://www.marketwatch.com/story/raising-interest-rates-would-do-nothing-to-control-inflation-11641936876?mod=home-page/
    “…Stopping inflation means controlling the pandemic and helping the economy adjust to a new normal. To strengthen and shorten our supply chains for the inevitable next wave or next pandemic, we need significant investments in new domestic and global supply capacity, including manufacturing and transportation. Above all, it means luring back millions of potential workers who are put off by lousy, unsafe and low-paying jobs….”

    I won’t speak on any “new normals.”

    Before you read, one thing I noticed about this Marketwatch link – it talks about interest rates and consumer spending as if the vast majority of consumers have access to the bargain basement rates the Fed hands out to its peers. I just had to kind of laugh that he’s surprised borrowing by consumers is not high with the “low” interest rates. LOL!!!

    “Trickle-down” interest rate economics doesn’t fix the inflation problem or a host of others.

    Reply
    1. Code Name D

      Part of the problem has to do with long-term supply contracts which locks in supply chains. When restorant chains slow down, farmers are prohibited from seeking out alternative consumers such as Kroger and other grocery chains or even curbside markets. They are forced to dump excess produce and eat the losses. Even while other consumers are begging for supply. I have heard of missive volumes of fresh milk being dumped into landfills despite on-going milk shortages.

      And it’s a feature, not a bug, generating artificial scarcity that leads to “inflation.” But of course the producers are locked into the contract and never see any gain from that “inflation.”

      Reply
      1. cnchal

        Can a contract be any more criminal? The producer has an obligation to produce XX and the buyer has no obligation to buy XX and only buys X while simultaneously forcing the producer to destroy the remaining X.

        That feature not only prevents the producer from realizing any gain from price increases, but also imposes a loss as the expenses (and energy) to produce the second X is destroyed.

        I hate wasting food. All the inputs and energy needed to get that bite of food into my mouth is appreciated and understood. I also realize that nearly half of all calories produced are thrown in the garbage. That makes a mockery of every tiny individual effort to conserve.

        Here we have low hanging fruit that can’t be touched because a piece of paper stands in the way.

        Reply
        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          If the food is rejected at the stage of still being in the farmers’ hands, perhaps the farmer can turn the rejected food into compost to mix back into the soil. That way at least the payload nutrients within the food delivery vehicle will be back in the soil for another generation of crops to have another chance at intaking them again to turn them into food again.

          Reply
      2. James Simpson

        generating artificial scarcity

        is the very essence of any capitalist system. How else can a profit be made?

        Reply
  3. Louis Fyne

    some of those walmart grocery photos need to be taken with salt….purportedly the story is that those stores were being covid deep-cleaned.

    That said, in my neck of the woods, there are rolling shortages (eg, organic milk) or very noticeable inflation.

    Every time I talk to my mother, she talks about something that’s soaring at the grocer’s….last time it was green onions, 100% inflation year-over-year.

    the scratchboard at the local store is offering $16/hr for new cashier hires versus $12/hr in the Before Times. But even with the 25% boost, no way that is keeping up with inflation and housing.

    Reply
  4. PlutoniumKun

    I’ve not heard any reports of significant problems in Europe, apart from the self inflicted ones in the UK (which seem to be getting significantly worse).

    There are well known strains with a shortage of truck drivers in Europe and omicron is having an impact, but from what I can tell there are full grocery shelves everywhere, allowing for the usual shortage of some fresh veg you always get at this time of year in Europe. The only thing I’ve noticed is a little less variety in winter greens than usual. This might be seasonal or possibly labour shortages are hitting farmers so they decided not to plant over the summer.

    Reply
      1. R

        UK availability of key items seems to be holding up at the high end (Waitrose) outside London and no trouble at farm shops. Meat, dairy, fresh fruit and vegetables all turn up reliably although sometimes not organic (nothing new there) or not from a preferred range (Duchy organic milk rather than Yeo Valley – we care because my wife likes homogenised milk and Duchy is unhomogenised, which I secretly prefer!) or, petty complaint here, in weird sizes. Last week I received French shallots the size of Spanish onions (too big) and this week I received onions the size of small shallots (too small, needs three to normal onion).

        However every week there is a random stock-out or substitution in our delivery, usually in store cupboard items or in non-European items. I suspect the supply chains for these involve more seafreight (non perishables) and airfreight (perishables) than fresh regional produce which is road hauled. This week was no Branflakes (they sent Fruit and Fibre, I sent it back) and limited Guinness in bottles (they sent three plus one London Porter, I kept the three and sent the porter back).

        The most bizarre was before Christmas when they substituted passion fruit with figs. They’re both purple fruit, they’ll never notice!

        Reply
      2. Richard.B

        My weekly Costco bill here in LA is about 30 to 35% higher on average than last January. And I keep rigorous records as I live on a budget. Shortages are being hidden by increasing the shelf space of available products so no empty space but less choices.
        I also noticed when a product is missing for a week, it reappears usually at a higher price.
        Flour is intermittent, you have to go early in the morning to increase your chances. Fruits and vegetables seem to be in good supply but I try not to buy them as prices are obscene.

        Reply
  5. Basil Pesto

    Australian twitter has been full of photos of bare shelves at the two major chain supermarkets this past week – this is due to the workforce being put out of action by Covid rather than a supply issue, apparently, so theoretically this will return to normal once the current wave subsides.

    Reply
    1. Michael Ismoe

      I went to the store the other day. They were out of Pepsi so I bought Coca Cola.

      I’m voting straight Republican in November to punish someone

      Reply
  6. ambrit

    Here in the North American Deep South (NADS) we are seeing definite shortages of items “on the shelf.” Some ‘traditional’ “cheap” foods are being bought out quickly; processed meats (Spam,) dry beans, rice, packaged ramen (!!!,) chicken, and dairy in all it’s manifestations. I have taken to checking the ‘expiration dates’ on milk religiously. I have stupidly bought ‘expired’ milk twice in the last month, from two different vendors. (Those ended up as home made yoghurt.) If that happens again, I might try for some Kumiss.
    See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kumis
    The fruit and vegetable sections of all the local grocery stores are thin in product. Add to that the now obvious price hikes in that section and all is not well for the middle and lower classes. Items that I remember buying last year are no longer available. Most notably, few leafy greens. Now my ‘Bigg Boxx’ store only has collards and romaine lettuce on the shelf; no bibb, no boston, no kale, no spinach even.
    The infamous “empty shelves” pictures from the WalMart look to be from a pet food aisle. We have seen the exact same here. Where formerly there were bags of dry pet food stacked two or three high and three back, we now see one or two bags total per bay. The wet aminal food cans are drying up in the generic brands first. Last week, only name brands were available in that aisle, at twice the ‘generic’ price per unit of weight.
    Stay safe! Stay hydrated. (Hail Hydrate!)
    PS Community gardens would be an excellent ‘community building’ activity for the various Green and Socialist parties in the urban zones.
    Addendum: The local Bigg Boxx stores paid $15 USD per hour last year to attract workers. Now, the same stores are ‘advertising’ $10 USD and $13 USD per hour, depending where in the store you work. All done straight faced.

    Reply
    1. Maya

      “few leafy greens. Now my ‘Bigg Boxx’ store only has collards and romaine lettuce on the shelf; no bibb, no boston, no kale, no spinach even.” Those are easy to grow and self reseed.

      Today is the best day to start a garden. Learn:

      https://verdant.net/food.htm
      Effective ways to grow your family’s organic food in a small area with minimum effort and no cost plus other techniques for economic survival.

      Reply
  7. lance ringquist

    free trade has ravaged americas civil society to the point where it does look bleak in many parts of the country.

    because of nafta billy clintons free trade many dealers in semi trucks, are already out of inventory for the year.

    https://www.yahoo.com/news/not-just-truck-drivers-semi-183306268.html

    Business Insider
    It’s not just truck drivers — the semi-trucks they rely on are also facing a shortage, with some dealers already ‘sold out for the year’
    Grace Kay
    Mon, January 10, 2022, 12:33 PM

    we cannot even make a loaf of bread ourselves under nafta billy clintons free trade.

    and the free trader nafta joe biden cannot fathom why prices are rising.

    he will raise interests rates to blunt inflation, which is being caused by free trade. a direct tax on the poor to subsidize free trade.

    Reply
      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        And every generation thereafter. But not the rich members of his generation or later generations.
        They made a fortune from their country’s misfortune, and still do, just as Free Trade was designed to help them do.

        Reply
  8. George Phillies

    There is an actual shortage of some gauge of sheet steel. Why does this matter? it is what you make cans from.

    Result: There is a national shortage of wet cat food. My supermarket had a sign up in front of those shelves, explaining that there is a national wet cat food shortage. (There have been articles on this in places.)

    Supermarket was elsewise well-stocked, including rarities like canned goat’s milk (have you never had goat’s milk fudge?) and Droste cocoa.

    Other shortage: How do I inflate without changing prices? If I make a profit on each item, I increase sales. How? Poiseuille inflation. Poiseuille? French scientist, once upon a time. Explained rate of flow down a pipe. I saw this in the late 1970s, and I am seeing it again. Here is a container of aftershave lotion, dish soap, or whatever. It has a small hole at the top out of which stuff flows. I make the hole slightly larger. Does this matter? Yes. the flow rate goes as the fourth power of the radius, says Poiseuille. If I make the hole slightly bigger, say 5/4 as large, the flow goes up by 625/256ths, more than twice as fast, and you have to buy again sooner.

    Reply
    1. Louis Fyne

      I’m inferring that there is a shortage of Tetra-Pak too, prob. from shortages of one of its many inputs.

      maybe others can vouch for the rolling shortage of juice boxes, shelf-stable milk boxes

      Reply
    2. juno mas

      …that expected 4th power increase was only for laminar flow. The “pipes” he was concerned with were arteries and veins. Squeeze harder on the dish soap soap bottle and the flow increases.

      Reply
  9. lordkoos

    The word from my niece in Baltimore is that there is very little produce on the shelves in many supermarkets. Here in the Pacific NW I’m not seeing any shortages.

    Reply
  10. MT_Wild

    Central Montana supermarkets have a fair number of bare shelves. Having a hard time deciphering if its a supply or restocking issue. Have not paid enough attention to see if missing items are consistient across retailers.

    Also seeing a huge disconnect between the sale flyer and what the store has on hand. On a trip to Smith’s last week the store was completely out of front page sale items.

    Reply
  11. Eclair

    I would be remiss if I did not mention grocery workers who went on strike this morning at Kroger-owned King Sooper markets in the Denver area. Kroger owns K-S and City Markets in Colorado, as well as Fred Meyer and QFC in Washington, as well as a whole host of others.

    In Seattle, despite the local news flashing photos of empty shelves (they look suspiciously like the same shelving) for the past few days, we have not seen any shortages. We shop at PCC, a local food co-op; well, an upscale co-op whole latest stores resemble the old pre-Bezos Whole Foods. Our store is one of the original ones, very small, well-stocked with fresh produce, union …. and right across the street.

    A 30 minute walk brings us to a ginormous Fred Meyers store, where we can purchase underwear, small trees, rice cookers, fresh avocados and French cheeses. Last time we were there, before the holidays, I got lost in their liquor section. Didn’t notice even lightly stocked shelves at that time.

    However, this is a relatively affluent area, especially compared to towns in the mountain and plains states. And Washington (as well as neighboring British Columbia) is a big fruit and veggie producer, as well as being right up the I-5 from California’s Central Valley.

    But I have been stocking the closet, for the past two years. Mostly canned beans, evaporated milk, tuna, tomatoes, peanut butter, honey, crackers, And large bottles of vodka and contractor-sized plastic garbage bags. Figure that lack of toilet paper is going to be the least of our worries.

    Reply
    1. Copeland

      I sure miss PCC. Moved from south Snohomish County WA to Polk County Oregon in 2019.

      Plenty of thinly stocked shelves at Safeway here in the north Willamette Valley, pretty much everything we buy has been in short supply at one time or another. Interestingly Costco in Salem seemed to be well stocked last week.

      Reply
    2. tongorad

      PCC with a Fred Meyer nearby…sounds like Ballard? I lived there for many years, across from the locks. Miss it dearly…visualize Ballard!
      Top Banana fruit & vegetable market up on 65th used to be one of my faves.

      Reply
        1. tongorad

          I moved away in 2002. The condo wave was just starting. I still remember a sign from the neighborhood: “Condos steal light and air.”

          Reply
    3. drsteve0

      Yep, hoarding TP makes no sense. The wife and I hoard food; shelter and clothing we got. If you ain’t got no food , you ain’t gonna need no toilet paper.

      Reply
      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        But if you do got food, then you will need toilet paper. Or maybe just “need” it. Still, it would be nice to have.

        Reply
    4. drumlin woodchuckles

      @Eclair,

      If you have the land-space to be growing any corn ( and I remember you having mentioned dent corn), you might be interested in Painted Mountain Corn. By now it is just barely enough known to where there is a fog of search engine confusion-sites getting in the way of finding real sites with real info.

      Here is a severely overdramatic site which does, however, offer some info and real links to more real info about painted mountain corn. Another way to find possible links about it is to use the Yahoo search engine (in extreme and total preference to the Google search engine) and type in the phrase . . . painted mountain corn image . . . . and a whole bunch of pictures will come up. Some of the pictures at random come from interesting URLs where real info about this corn may be found.

      Anyway, here is the link to the wildly overdramatic site which does however have some real information about painted mountain corn.
      https://rockymountaincorn.com/blogs/the-rocky-mountain-corn-project/12209753-the-secret-weapon

      Reply
      1. Eclair

        I see that Baker Creek Heirloom seed company has Painted Mountain corn. Seems to be both cold-and drought-tolerant. As well as gorgeous!
        I now have two harvests’ worth of Nothstine Dent corn drying on the cobs. We did use seed from the first season to plant last spring. Also have a hand corn grinder. Can’t seem to find a way to get the corn off the cob, other than brute strength, which I don’t possess. I have faith that somewhere in an old barn, there exists something that will strip the ears.

        Reply
        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          Here are some images for “corn sheller” ( which means “sheller” of kernels from off the cob).
          https://images.search.yahoo.com/search/images;_ylt=A2KIbMeDnd9hbXEAF3JXNyoA;_ylu=Y29sbwNiZjEEcG9zAzEEdnRpZAMEc2VjA3Nj?p=corn+sheller+image&fr=sfp

          Here is a new cast-iron corn sheller available from Lehman’s.

          https://www.lehmans.com/product/lehmans-cast-iron-corn-sheller#

          there may be others available new from other such companies.

          Here is a corn sheller which the Internet claims that Tractor Supply in general may have for sale.
          Maybe at a Tractor Supply near you.
          https://www.tractorsupply.com/tsc/search/corn%20sheller?

          Reply
        2. drumlin woodchuckles

          Here is a you tube video by ” Self-Sufficient Me” which shows how to make your very own totally home-made ” corn-cob de-kerneller”. I watched just enough of it to consider it both plausible and interesting. The first few seconds show how/why hand-thumb shelling off the kernels is so unpleasant, and then how/why his invention is so much better than that.

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cJF1GWHAwX4

          Reply
  12. upstater

    I was in 2 suburban Syracuse area groceries recently, Aldi and Tops, plus BJs Club (large food quantities are the major draw). I did not see empty shelves like April 2020. But since 2020, some items come and go and others are no longer available. No problem with dog food, either.

    I think these CNN type reports are from large metro areas perhaps subject to hoarding after such reports. Stay tuned with your eyeballs stuck to CNN because the crisis might get worse. The market solution, of course, is to raise the price to reduce demand (eat less food!) or maybe generate more profit.

    Reply
  13. Larry

    No noticeable shortages in the ‘burbs of Boston. Regional chain Big Y looks normal as does upscale Whole Foods. Plenty of fresh food available.

    The effects of omicron seem more noticeable in the local big box markets, where employees are definitely out or the stores are seriously understaffed. I’ve learned to avoid Target on the weekends as that’s when shopping is busy and the staff on hand can’t keep up. Lots of boxes in the aisles waiting to be put away.

    Despite the ruling classes wishing this to become an endemic flu type problem, I see no signs of it slowing down these types of disruptions. I don’t know for sure, but it seems some retailers are able to load balance better than others. Perhaps they and their employees take some preventative measures more seriously. As others have noted, a few Walmarts in central MA have closed for “cleaning” or other reasons, that to me smack of massive outbreaks amongst the staff. Big Y hasn’t closed period, and Amazon for all it’s awfulness has trucks rolling all over the place all the time.

    Reply
    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      All its awfulness is key to how it keeps the trucks rolling over the place all the time. Every whip-cracking purchase from Amazon help support the all-its-awfulness sadism.

      Reply
  14. Carolinian

    Around here the shortages are spotty and often are of processed items. Basics like milk and flour are still ridiculously cheap–an after effect of our pre covid grocery price war. Residents aren’t going to starve but may have to learn to cook and get by with substitute proteins.

    Reply
  15. Expat2uruguay

    We are only eight days into our Omicron wave here in Uruguay, so maybe it’s just too early to see the effects…

    but I’m not seeing any shortages here in the supermarket or bakery or butchers or fruit and vegetable vendor. I notice that many of the processed food items that I buy are made here in Uruguay, or in neighboring Argentina.

    We are also smack in the middle of high tourist season, so many of the workers and customers have left the capital city where I live and are currently laying on beaches along the coast. So it’s a really hard time to judge shortages anyway

    Reply
  16. Bugs

    No shortages of anything in my part of France. Slight inflation of imported fruit – limes went up maybe 10%. That’s it. Went to the Carrefour on Monday (it’s only me and the retirees, woo hoo) and the store people were getting ready for the January sale, putting the cool kitchen items and Italian products out. I’m thinking of getting a whip cream dispenser. Life is good. If you don’t mind a scary pandemic, anxiety, etc.

    Reply
  17. Cat Burglar

    In rural eastern California and Central Oregon, grocery supply levels have been good in general, with some items intermittently in short supply, and others rarely seen. About a third of the breakfast cereal shelves were empty on my recent trip to the store. No dental floss in another store. For at least a year, there have been shortages of bulk whole wheat fig bars. Organic broccoli has been only occasionally available.

    Reply
  18. Screwball

    NW Ohio here; We have a Walmart, Kroger and IGA. Frozen potato products have been short, especially frozen hash browns (Ore Ida brand). Kroger has not had them in a month, while IGA got some stock last week.

    Tomato juice (name brand) has been out at Kroger for over a month, but they do have the house brand, which isn’t as good.

    Bacon has been spotty, same with sausage, depending on brand again. Same with crackers, and some cleaning supplies.

    I have noticed there are more self-checkouts open than normal. I don’t know if this is a labor shortage or people out sick. Prices have gone up too as stated my most people.

    More seem to be masking, and I’m seeing more “quality” masks. The lady who works at the IGA store said the delivery driver that brings the food said there would be more shortages and this will drag on for a while.

    Many people seem to think this is nowhere near over, and they are expecting things to get worse – to the point of some really bad stuff happening once enough people are feeling the pain.

    Stay safe.

    Reply
    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      More “quality” masks is a good sign. It means that more mainstream people are ignoring fake standards from the fake CDC.

      Reply
    2. notabanker

      Just east of you.

      I would say stocking of grocery stores are deteriorating compared to 2 years ago, but still not anywhere near “bad’. Having lived overseas on two different continents, grocery stores here are still the envy of most I’ve seen around the world, both in terms of availability and price.

      I tend to view what’s going on now as the end of the artificial suppression of pricing over the last 5-10 years. Stuff that I would look at and say, how in the world can they sell it this cheap, is no longer cheap.

      Reply
      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        Only a Foxanon would think it is “like the Soviet Union of 1981”. And only because of constantly marinating its brain in a bucket of warm Fox News.

        Reply
  19. sd

    The only thing that stands out – and this has been true for quite some time now – in the baking section, the specialty flours frequently run out. My assumption is that since the pandemic started more people have taken up baking at home.

    Reply
  20. Mr Grumpy

    I had been wondering about the wet cat food shortage (George Phillies, above). Sheet steel shortage is interesting, though the brands in plastic containers have also been missing from the shelves the entire pandemic.

    On sheet steel, I sometimes do economic impact studies for large industrial plants, and over the last 3-4 years it’s been mostly rolled steel out of scrap. Huge investments and expansions. So maybe there’s hope for the kitties?

    On low wage supermarket employees: when I was a kid (60s & 70s) those jobs were all union and were seen as good jobs.

    Reply
    1. MT_Wild

      As a senior in high school in 1992, I was making $12.45 an hour in the meat room at A&P after having been in the union for 3 years. I had health and dental, the rest of my family did not.

      Not sure what that translates to in todays economy.

      Reply
  21. David B Harrison

    Here in south central Kentucky I’m having problems finding crackers and sausage(Jimmy Deans especially) regardless of the grocery chain. Seeing a lot of empty shelves.

    Reply
    1. Randy

      Sausage is easy to make and much cheaper than the prepared stuff.

      1 lb ground pork
      ½ teaspoon basil
      1 teaspoon thyme
      1 teaspoon salt
      ½ teaspoon pepper

      Mix, let stand in refrigerator 24 hours.

      Reply
  22. WhoaMolly

    Rural Northern California: we are seeing intermittent shortages and inflation, especially with Jimmy Dean sausage. I am a big fan of JD Sage. A quick Google of Copycat Jimmy Dean Sausage pulls up these ingredients

    16 ounces ground pork
    1 teaspoon salt
    1/4 teaspoon Garlic Salt
    1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
    3/4 teaspoon ground sage
    1/4 teaspoon fresh coarse ground black pepper
    1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
    1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
    1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
    1/4 teaspoon msg (*Optional, but this is what they use)
    1/8 teaspoon Oregano

    Reply
    1. WhoaMolly

      Another reason for shortages in California is a new law that forbids the sale of pork, eggs, chicken that does not meet strict standards for animal living conditions.

      Dropping this law on consumers in the middle of a pandemic, with associated supply chain problems, spiking gas prices, and overall inflation seems really stupid politically. Yesterday I paid $5.19 a gallon at the low-price local gas station. Other stations are charging $5.49.

      Will this cause many people to vote R in 2022? Probably.

      Reply
    2. Copeland

      Jimmy Dean = Sara Lee > Hillshire > Tyson

      Food shortages suck for sure but we “consumers” can at least try to do better, as you of course are proposing with your recipe.

      Reply
    1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

      I didn’t make these cookies after all as I didn’t have any dried figs in my larder. I’ll include some in next week’s grocery order and once I do, I’ll dig out the recipe and post it.

      Reply
  23. chris

    Depends on what store we go to locally, but everyone has had significant shortages over the last two weeks. We shop at Giant, Harris Teeter, Safeway, Trader Joe’s, Sprouts, and Wegmans. We live in Central Maryland. Our typical grocery shopping is with Giant. We get regular produce and diary drops from a local farm. We have a food service so that we get 6 months worth of meat/poultry/fish and frozen veggies twice a year that we store in a large standing deep freezer.

    Which is to say we’re not hurting despite the fact that last week we could not buy anything green or leafy. Or milk. Or eggs. Or lots of meat. Of a bunch of frozen things like hash browns.

    The people at the local Giant told us it went like this: the distributor doesn’t have people to put stuff on the trucks, and the trucks couldn’t get here because of the snow storms, people tried to hoard food because of the snow storms too, and anything stored in the back of the store couldn’t be put on the shelves quickly because there weren’t enough staff in the grocery store to keep the shelves stocked. So up and down the chain we are seeing the effects of JIT and precarious logistics. We do not have spare capacity anywhere. So we lurch from crisis to crisis.

    I am very lucky that this isn’t hurting my family. We offer food to friends and neighbors who are struggling or can’t get to the store when it’s open and stocked. If this continues for a month or two longer the political fallout will be significant. Hungry, frustrated, poor people who used to be well off do not sit idly by and support the status quo.

    Reply
  24. Pat K California

    Here in the NE reaches of the SF Bay Area in Cali I still can’t quite get a grip on the shortages at Raleys grocery stores. They do try to “disguise” them by pulling products to the front of shelves. But it’s hard not to notice when you pull a product off the shelf and see that there’s nothing behind it.

    We have no shortages of fresh fruits and veggies that I’ve noticed. But how do you have bare shelves where cans of shortening used to be … for well over a month now? Bone dry bare. What we used to call “TV dinners” are way down in variety. It seems as if manufacturers pared down to a core set of products at the start of the pandemic … and have yet to recover. Certain flavors of sugarfree jam are rarely seen anymore. 190 count boxes of tissues haven’t been around for a year and a half at least; 144 count is as large as they get these days. Oxi-Clean stain remover disappears for weeks, as does Clean Shower spray. I’m always prepared for something to be short these days …

    Reply
  25. Lina

    And anecdotally, in SE Massachusetts, randomly cereal goes missing (special k this week). Milk, organic, a bit harder to find. And it’s about $5.89/half gallon. I told a german friend this price (nearly $12 for a gallon!) And he said the equivalent there is about 1.80 euros!

    So not too much missing but prices are outrageous.

    Reply
  26. Ken

    Did my weekly shopping this morning in Albuquerque. Spotty shortages on the shelves, pretty much normal for the last year. Fresh produce and meat is well stocked.

    Wet cat food had been about half empty for a long time, surprisingly the last few weeks have been back to fully stocked again.

    Reply
  27. Hepativore

    I do not suppose there is any hope of this forcing a move to increase domestic production of many of these goods to prevent something like this from happening again? I realize that the US is going to be in the death-grip of neoliberalism for the forseeable future; likely until the death of our nation, but I suppose there is always hope.

    To be fair, I think there are a lot of business interests who do not want this pandemic to end because they can use it as an excuse for all sorts of rent-seeking, extraction and increased monopolization schemes. While I am not paranoid enough to think that corporatists are intentionally causing it to drag out, I do think that they recognize that they have a good thing going while it continues and so they want to cash in on it as much as possible.

    Reply
    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      Why would the corporatists need to drag this out when they have the WHO and the CDC and the officeholders to drag this out for them?

      And while the corporatists merely want to see this drag out a while, the WHO and the CDC and the officeholders think bigger. They are working to deliberately on purpose make this the new normal for ever and ever. That is why they take measures designed to spread the Fauci virus on purpose.

      Reply
  28. polar donkey

    Shelves in Memphis aren’t empty but they are thin. I read an article about pig Ebola in Italy. If there is a sizable culling of pork in Europe, pork and other meats will go up. Pork ribs are $4.78 a lbs now. In December 2020, got a year long contract at $2.48. Bbq is getting a whole lot more expensive. Pork shoulder is cheaper because less labor.

    Reply
  29. Juana B. Recipient

    FedEx package scheduled to arrive Monday made its way to the middle of the country, is now DELAYED with no scheduled date available. It has made some hops since it went into the red.

    Reply
  30. Susan the other

    For all I can see the local grocery stores (5) are doing very well. Always stocked with everything. Sometimes a new brand. When the pandemic first hit there was rationed toilet paper and chicken breasts for a month or two. Now, no problem. It’s possible that the local restaurant suppliers are now also supplying the grocery stores. I’ll really begin to worry when the potato/corn chip aisles and the soda pop aisle go bare. That’ll be the day.

    Reply
  31. Maggie

    Coastal SE North Carolina – Purina canned cat food in seafood flavors has been hit or miss for 4+ months. This includes all vendors available in our area – PetSmart, Pet Supplies Plus, along with the major grocery stores. 1/2 & 1/2 milk is spotty but seems to be improving a bit this week. Turkeys ran out much quicker than usual during the holiday season..same with fresh cranberries.. I’ve read about potatoes being in short supply – what I’ve found is the “quality” of the potatoes is inferior this year.. Oh and the weekly “My Specials” seem to have gone up a notch… favorite ground coffee, reg. 11.99 on sale 8.99 when 7.99 was my special “deal” not to long ago…

    Reply
  32. urblintz

    Only obvious shortages of the things I buy at my St. Pete FL Publix: paper products (tissue, TP and PT – all brands), Publix brand cheap eggs (plenty of expensive designer eggs) and Pepcid (no Pepcid in over a month). Lemons went missing over the holidays but they are back, even if of lesser quality – they’re soft and squishy and not in a good way. I don’t buy much frozen food but the frozen breakfast shelves are the emptiest of all, other frozen items well stocked but no biscuit/sausage/cheese heart cloggers from Jimmy Dean or Bill Evans, a pro-health measure we can wish is permanent, however unlikely. Occasional slim pickins in chikkins but edible flesh of land and sea is otherwise plentiful. No problems with produce throughout the pandemic.

    Reply
  33. NB

    Local big box store in Sydney had no chicken pieces (a few whole chooks) and … no toilet paper! Party like it’s March 2020!

    Reply
  34. Mikel

    Workers sick over and over again and it will be at least until the end of this year when there will be more studies about what that means for their bodies and immune systems….with a NOVEL virus of debated origin.

    Reply
  35. Michael Ismoe

    I just came back from the grocery store and was amazed to find them stocking the shelves with rolls of paper towels made in China. How is it possible to be cheaper to manufacture paper towels in Asia when the wood comes from America?

    Reply
    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      Lower wages there as against here. Pro-pollution laws there as against anti-pollution laws here. Zero workmens compensation there as against some workmens compensation here. Zero unions allowed there as against some unions still grudgingly tolerated here. And I suspect wood strip-mining over there as against rotational wood plantationing over here.

      For people who want always the low price, always . . . . that’s how China gets the China-price to be always lower than ours.

      People who believe in a high wage high standards system so much that they are willing to pay a high price for that system’s physical production output, will continue to buy the higher priced paper towels made in Canadamerica ( or at worst EUrope or some high-end third world country). Those who believe in always the lowest price, always . . . will buy the China towels.

      All those of us with principles can do is hope that those people with so zero principles as to buy the China towels, end up working for a China wage somewhere.

      Of course those who are already working for a China wage can not afford anything above the China towels anyway. They are already prisoners of WalmarChina. The only hope for them is to abolish Free Trade and institute Rigid Belligerent Zero-Tolerance Protectionism, and slowly grow back our own paper towel industry behind the Big Beautiful Wall of Teflon-Coated Protection.

      Reply
      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        I have come up with a better name for the iron diangle between China and WalMart. Instead of WalmarChina, I will say WalChinaMart. Or Walchinamart, if all those capital letters are confusing.

        Reply
      2. James Simpson

        If you think that paying higher prices for goods will get you something that must be ethically superior, think again. Usually, the only difference is the higher profit margin. What isn’t made in China these days?

        Reply
        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          ” What isn’t made in China these days”?

          Such a clever rhetorical question, you thought . . .

          Here are a few couple things not made in China these days. A few among several hundred at least to which I cannot possibly include several hundred links.

          http://www.redpigtools.com

          https://hosstools.com/

          https://meadowcreature.com/

          https://www.gardentoolcompany.com/products/compost-crank

          And here you thought you were being oh so clever. Too clever by half? Not even.

          Reply
    2. James Simpson

      Meanwhile, Chinese workers live a relatively normal life, knowing that the pandemic has effectively been ended in their country.

      The response of Chinese authorities to the Omicron cases based on their “zero Covid” strategy is in stark contrast to that of governments around the world, which have allowed and even encouraged Omicron to spread on the unverified and unscientific basis that it is a milder covid strain. The COVID outbreaks in Tianjin and Xi’an are miniscule compared to the daily infections taking place around the world, particularly in Europe and the United States. The total number of infections in China for the pandemic is just over 100,000 in a country of 1.4 billion people. By comparison, the number of infections daily in Australia, with a population of just 25 million, has climbed rapidly in the last month to more than 100,000.

      Since China successfully suppressed the initial COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan, the outbreaks have all been traced to infections brought in from outside the country. While the outbreaks have been contained, their continuation underscores the fact that the elimination of COVID-19 requires a globally-planned, scientifically-based strategy.

      https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2022/01/11/chin-j11.html

      Reply
  36. Not Hungry in DC

    DC-area resident here, I shop almost daily European-style and the empty shelves were just a blip. It wasn’t Omicron it was the one-two snow/ice wallops and the scare factor from all those people stuck on I-95 with no food or water for two days.

    Reply
  37. Hepativore

    Okay guys, you can still find fresh whole roaster chickens at Aldi for around $0.95 a pound, and since they average around 5-7 pounds, it is a pretty good deal. Roasting a chicken is one of the easiest things to make and they do not need to be babysat while it cooks. I usually make two at a time in the same pan.

    Here is Spicy, Honey-Roast chicken…

    1 (6 pound) whole roasting chicken
    ½ cup honey
    1 tablespoon chili powder
    1 ½ teaspoons ground cumin
    ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
    1 teaspoon salt
    1 teaspoon onion powder
    2 tablespoons butter, melted

    Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Rinse and pat dry the chicken; place in roasting pan.

    In a bowl, mix together the honey, chili powder, cumin, cayenne pepper, salt, and onion powder. Using your hands, rub the honey mixture all over the chicken. Baste chicken with the melted butter.

    Roast the chicken in the preheated oven until the skin begins to brown, 30 to 45 minutes. Baste the chicken with juices in the roasting pan.

    Reduce heat to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C), and roast until no longer pink at the bone and the juices run clear, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Baste occasionally during roasting. An instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh, near the bone should read 165 degrees F. Remove the chicken from the oven, cover with a doubled sheet of aluminum foil, and allow to rest in a warm area for 10 minutes before slicing.

    Reply
    1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

      You’ve inspired me and I will roast a chicken later today. First step: defrosting a chicken that’s lurking in my freezer.

      Here’s another roast chicken recipe, taken from Yasmin Khan’s The Saffron Tales, an excellent Persian cookbook.

      Ingredients:

      1 medium chicken
      2 TBSP butter
      2 TBSP olive oil
      1 1/2 TBSP pomegranate molasses (I generally use a bit more.)

      3 TBSP za’atar
      1 garlic bulb
      1/2 lemon
      sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper

      Remove butter from fridge about 30 minutes before you intend to prep your chicken, so that it has time to soften.

      Combine butter, pomegranate molasses, and olive oil and massage mixture into the surface of the chicken. Liberally sprinkle salt and pepper over the surface of the chicken and inside its cavity. Peel off two cloves of garlic and smash them with a knife; place these and the 1/2 lemon inside the chicken cavity. Scatter remaining garlic cloves over bottom of a roasting pan.

      Lift chicken and sprinkle 1 TBSP za’atar over the bottom surface. Place on rack, right side up, in a roasting pan, and sprinkle with the remaining 2 TBSPs of za’atar. (I usually truss my chicken with butcher’s twine.)

      Hepativore’s roasting instructions would work, although Khan recommends roasting at 375 F. The lower temperature might be better here, to prevent the sugary pomegranate molasses from scorching. Hepativore’s timing seems long to me, but perhaps my oven runs hot. Khan recommends roasting for 1 hr ten minutes. Using an instaread thermometer is foolproof and resting the chicken in a warm area for ten minutes after roasting necessary for optimal juiciness and flavour.

      Reply
      1. Hepativore

        I roast turkeys and chickens in an old-style enamelware pan with the lid on to prevent dessication, and if I need to brown the turkey or chicken further, I make sure it is done inside and then pour off the juice to make gravy out of, raise the temperature by ten degrees and finish the birds in the oven with the lid off for ten minutes or just enough to crisp the skin and then pull it out.

        I used to have a digital thermometer, but it broke, so now I just use a dial-type analog meat thermometer since those plastic pop-up timers they shove in the bird when you buy it are notoriously unreliable.

        Reply
        1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

          I also just noticed the weight of the bird in your recipe – 6 lbs. That’s about 50% heavier than the medium chicken I typically roast for the two of us – a broiler chicken rather than a proper roasting fowl. So that explains the difference in our recommended roasting times.

          Often, I impale the chicken on a vertical roaster and roast it in my Big Green Egg rather than in the oven, using a drip pan to catch the juices.

          Reply
  38. The Rev Kev

    So many workers in Oz are going down sick or are having to isolate as being a close contact, that the Federal government and industry leaders have had a brilliant idea for replacing them. Just grab untrained, unemployed people or older people and throw them into the breach as they are both disposable, amiright? Sure, when those warm bodies also get sick and overwhelm the hospitals with their numbers it will be appallingly bad but maybe by then the regular workers will be back to work-

    https://www.businessinsider.com.au/isolating-workers-unemployed-older-australians-workforce

    Reply
    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      Meanwhile . . . . how low-covid is Western Australia still functionally remaining as of this very moment?

      Reply
      1. The Rev Kev

        A day or so ago, Western Australia had about 6 cases, 2 of which were from known contacts. Meanwhile in New South Wales they had over 91,000 cases today and Victoria had over 37,000 cases.

        Reply
  39. LeifLine

    I’m in Northern California. I shop at Trader Joe’s, Target and Safeway mostly. Prices aren’t up a lot. I keep hearing about them but I’m not seeing them. Maybe it’s what I buy. What I notice is that fewer things are on sale as they previously were. There are periodic out of stock items but not much. Gas was up $.25 and now it is only up $.15 from before the supplymageddon. What is not in short supply are anxious news reports.

    Reply
  40. James Simpson

    It seems from some comments and certainly from the writer, Jerri-Lynn Scofield, that money for food is not a problem. Organic, high-end, delivery, takeaway… these are labels for ‘wealthy’. Meanwhile, for the rest of the world, life as a struggle for survival continues.

    Reply
      1. chris

        That’s a fair comment. People who are well off now don’t want to think about what happens if they lose their position. But they also don’t want to understand how much better those above them have it. It’s like the old Chris Rock bit: “Shaq is rich, but the man who writes Shaq’s paychecks? That dude is wealthy!”

        Reply
    1. griffen

      Anecdotally, I am seeing a few snippets here and there lately that read as though comments written and the individuals here are from a comforting home. I tend to think this audience is more broad in scope than that. It is not just a finance-centered blog, and I personally have learned so much over the past 9 to 11 years.

      One comment from a few weeks ago, said it was all “older PMC”. Some of us are indeed older, naturally (me, closer to a half-century than I’d like!). I suggest your research a little more into the writer’s own background. IIRC, she was a classmate of none other than our 44th President of the United States, Mr. Obama.

      Reply
  41. Larry Y

    Shopped at H-Mart in NJ with produce, meat and seafood all well stocked. Pre marinated sliced pork belly was $7-8 a pound. Only shortage I noticed was preferred brand of fresh Asian noodles was out.

    Going to roast fingerling sweet potatoes in oven, then freeze them.

    Regular gas was $3.21

    Reply

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