“We Don't Have a Food Shortage, We Have a Labor Shortage:” Empty Aisles Blamed on Omicron

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“I can see the shelves and they’re looking pretty bare,” said Cara Mulcahy of West Hartford, after a recent shopping trip to the Stop and Shop in Newington. “It’s a little alarming to think that we’re short of so many food items this late into the pandemic.”

She noticed staples like spaghetti sauce in short supply, too.  The chicken and pet food aisles were also mostly bare as was the baby aisle.

“It was a little shocking.  I thought we were over that,” said Philip Anderson, of New Britain.

Empty shelves mean some shoppers are leaving empty handed.  Outside the Big Y in Cheshire, Adrienne Sperruzzi said she had to shop at three different stores to finish her trip.

“A lot of produce items will not be on the shelves. Even some of the basic home and beauty items I was unable to find,” said Speruzzi.  “It’s frustrating because you have to spend time, gas, go out in the cold to make sure you have what you need.”

Katie Denis, the Vice President of Communications and Research for the Consumer Brands Association, a trade association that represents many of the products we’re having trouble finding at the store right now, says the Omicron variant is wiping out the workforce.

“We don’t have a food shortage, we have a labor shortage,” Denis explained. “There are just hiccups across every single link in the chain and that is hard to overcome no matter where you’re located.”

That’s exactly what happened to the Big Y in Cheshire.

“The companies can’t get drivers to drive the supplies or the product to the warehouses to get it to our stores,” said Melissa Zoni, the store’s manager.  “Day by day, hour by hour, we don’t know what we’re going to get from our warehouses,” she explained.

On Wednesday, there were bare shelves in the juice aisle of Big Y.

At Tops Marketplace in Southington, chicken and pet food are hard to come by, according to store manager Janalynne Guis.  She blamed her supply chain issues on Covid-19 related staffing shortages at their distributor’s warehouse.

“….which limits their ability to have enough employees to pull the products and the pallets out of the warehouse, load them on the trucks, and even limited number of truck drivers to be able to then drive those trucks to retailers like Tops Marketplace so that we can get a full delivery and really fill up our shelves,” said Guis. “I’m surprised it’s gotten to this point.  I didn’t anticipate experiencing this many shortages.”

The manager of Tops Marketplace in Southington said it's been a challenge keeping pet food in stock.

However, it’s one Denis says we should all get used to.

“The downstream consequences and the time it takes to recover will probably feel a little bit longer than the peak of Omicron,” said Denis.

She urged shoppers to resist the temptation to stock up.

“Buy what you need and buy only what you need because that’s going to allow what’s available to go around,” said Denis.

At the Stop and Shop in Berlin Wednesday, fresh produce like lettuce was nearly gone, while packaged foods were missing in aisle after aisle.  The pet food aisle was also decimated.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the retail chain told NBC Connecticut, “….we are experiencing some product shortages as our suppliers face continued labor and transportation challenges. The Omicron variant, in tandem with recent weather disruptions, have exacerbated these gaps.”

Back at Big Y, Zoni has asked her customers for patience.

“We are doing the best we can. We don’t want the empty shelves.  We want to be able to help you to be able to feed your family,’’ she said.

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