Supply chain shortages impact Southern New England

What's causing grocery store shelves to be left empty-and why you shouldn't stock up.

RHODE ISLAND (WLNE) – Grocery stores across Southern New England are experiencing empty shelves in a trend that one major supplier says isn’t due to a lack of food, but a perfect storm of problems putting retailers in a “unique” situation.

The worst thing you can do? Try to stock up.

“No, you don’t need to rush out and fill up,” says Doug Baker, Vice President of Industry Relations at FMI. “There’s plenty of food in the supply chain, it’s just taking a little longer to get to the right place.”

One Whole Foods employee says she’s noticed certain items such as mint, ginger, teas, and at times toilet paper can be running low – yet shelves seem to rebound fairly quickly as long as shoppers don’t take that as a sign to stock up.

Baker says the root cause of the widespread delays in delivery come from a combination of factors, including an industry-wide labor shortage. “We’ve increased our jobs within the industry, but demand has increased with that and outpaced that. So, when you’re talking about a supply chain that has spent several years building itself as a just-in-time inventory system, and all of a sudden have this spike in demand of 200%, 300%- that just-in-time inventory system couldn’t keep up.”

Also plaguing the shelves is, of course, Coronavirus. Products that require a certain skillset, such as meat & poultry that come from a butcher, are items that take longest to get back to full capacity if a facility experiences an outbreak. This in combination with more shoppers looking to buy those items as they stay home due to illness or opting to cook over outdoor dining in the colder months is putting an extra strain on supply. “The way people eat, the way they shop, the way food is grown and transported – all of that has changed,” says Baker. “The situation itself is unique, let’s put it that way.”

Still, he urges customers not to panic. “Yes, the supply chain is strained. There’s going to be times you’re not going to find something on the shelf you’re used to getting. You might not be able to find that brand that you love, or the flavor that you love, but you’re gonna be able to buy something within that category.”

Categories: News, Regional News, Rhode Island