CHARLOTTE, N.C. - We are now weeks into the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and there is still strain on the grocery store supply chain.
“It's still very difficult to find certain products in certain stores,” said food industry analyst and editor of SupermarketGuru.com, Phil Lempert.
We are now living a new way of life. We can't just simply pick up the “essentials” from the grocery store. But food industry analysts like Lempert say there is supply. You just may not get the variety you're used to.
Patience is key as well.
Many of us have likely now faced this scenario: You're low on milk or bread, or even dishwasher detergent. To stay out of the stores, you log on to your favorite online grocery shopping app. But it's days before a delivery window for the items you need. However, sometimes by refreshing it or stalking those items, a time slot might eventually pop up.
As for finding the groceries you need these days, “It's a little bit difficult. A lot of people want tissue,” said a shopper we spoke with outside of the Fresh Market in Charlotte. That also goes for many other items that don't make the headlines. “There's stuff missing,” another shopper added.
The search for household norms, like laundry detergent, can be like mental gymnastics. “I'm sure a lot of other people are suffering,” one grocery store shopper said.
“The good news is, we will see things get back to normal. We're not quite sure when that's gonna happen,” Lempert said.
But the necessities like milk, bread, and perishable items - why are those parts of some grocery stores empty right now?
Lempert had some answers.
“Initially, a lot of the supply chain problem had to do with people running into the stores and hoarding, and now that's changing a bit,” he said.
Stores started limiting the number of items, like toilet tissue, shoppers could buy. “The delivery services are getting a little bit better at filling the pipeline as well,” Lempert said.
But the supply chain-strain brought on by the COVID-19 crisis is facing new challenges. “Meat prices are gonna go up,” Lempert said. “There is going to be some more meat scarcity.”
Production plants have shut down due to workers catching coronavirus. One meat plant in particular, Lempert says, had 82 cases. “The one facility that was shut down yesterday supplies 4 to 5 percent of pork throughout the entire nation,” Lempert said. “That's a huge number.”
So, he says, in this altered life, it's time to get creative when the pantry is low. This “guru” says that starts with planning ahead more than you used to. “We're not gonna see those two-hour deliveries that we've become accustom to,” he said. “It might take two days, or three days, or four days.”
Think outside your usual “grocery” box, he says. “If there's a co-op, a food co-op, call them. Food co-ops have a different supply chain.” He says, often times, they're better stocked. “But, also, call up food distributors.” He says they would ordinarily be servicing restaurants. “A lot of their channels have been shut down, so it's a good time to really search out new sources.”
Savvy shoppers say it just takes optimism and a little luck. “A lot of items do stay pretty stocked, one said.”
“You just have to get here right when everything comes in,” another added.
One other tip from the “Supermarket Guru" is that shoppers who do go into grocery stores can help by not putting undue strain on the stores and wearing a mask, which some stores are now requiring for entry. Lempert says that not only protects customers but helps keep employees healthy.