At this point, it really does feel like we’ve been living in quarantine for years rather than months. Even those March trips to the grocery store, which felt like a dangerous mission requiring courage and an organized gameplan, seem to have occurred in a past life.
While most of us certainly feel more comfortable running errands than we did in March, the truth is that some items at grocery stores are still just as hard to find as ever, with a Wall Street Journal report finding that roughly 10% of grocery store items (7% of nonedible products and 12% of food items) remain out of stock, up from a usual range of 5% to 7% from pre-pandemic “normal” times. If that 10% figure persisted for a full six months, trade associates predict it could cost the nationwide supermarket industry an estimated $10 billion in missing revenue.
As the Journal notes, these dips in supply have to do with a combination of pandemic-induced demand shifts and logistical challenges no one could have realistically foreseen even nine months ago. A baking boom outside the usual holiday “busy season” meant a run on refrigerated dough, which was only at 88% of full stock for the week ending August 2. Simultaneously, the difficulty associated with maintaining meat processing during the pandemic led to a rise in prices and a scarcity of supply, which might explain why frozen meat, poultry, and seafood was only at 84% of its full capacity. Canned vegetables, another category that’s had a hard time keeping up with early-pandemic supply surges, are only available at 80%.
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At the same time, a certain percentage of more niche products have continually fallen out of stock as big companies focus their production capacity on a depth of top-sellers. PepsiCo and others are paring back the breadth of brands and products they produce to make sure that their most sought-after items can be found. Naturally, a certain percentage of rarer products will be out of stock, but the thinking is that it’s better to ensure your most common offerings are plentiful rather than potentially oversupplying what doesn’t sell.
There’s no telling how long these shortages will last, as the conditions that created them have been dictated by the course of a pandemic that’s not over yet. It’s worth remembering that supplies are in a much better place than they were a few months ago, and companies now at least have a better handle on the situation than they did five months ago. Still, don’t be surprised if it’s a while before you can walk into a grocery store and check absolutely everything off your list.
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