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Chaos has become commonplace in America’s supply chains. Executives say that almost every day a new disruption emerges, making it harder and harder to find a way out of this crisis. Here in the US, and pretty much everywhere in the world, grocers are having a hard time keeping store shelves full. Given that conditions worsen by the day at ports, where congestion is creating gigantic piles of containers to the point some of them are overflowing into city streets, crushing cars and provoking accidents, billions of dollars worth of goods are stuck and out of reach. Shipping delays mean that some stores are only going to get their products after almost a month of waiting. That situation is aggravating local and nationwide shortages and making consumers extremely worried.
Unfortunately, industry experts argue this is going to be the new normal for the foreseeable future. And there’s only so much store owners can do to cope with shrinking inventories and empty shelves. Many of them are having to come up with creative ways of making the store appealing and seemingly organized for customers. That includes placing products in unlikely places across the store.
Consumers reportedly said on social media that they have witnessed large beer boxes piled into aisles previously reserved for prepackaged meals. Others revealed that they have seen several boxes of chocolate filling placed next to fresh fish and produce. One of them posted a picture of refrigerated displays stocked with shelf-stable products, such as sauces and salad dressings. In essence, grocers are doing all sorts of unexpected things just for consumers to walk in and not see empty shelves.
Some of them are having to take quite desperate measures such as filling up a whole aisle with items that would normally have a small space on one shelf. Others are hiding the gaps with empty product packagings, such as sandwich boxes, or even cardboard “dummies” — a strategy that always existed, but now consumers are not only noticing but also finding it quite problematic because it is happening so frequently.
On Twitter, thousands of users compiled in a recent thread, photos of depleted supermarket shelves and other funny and odd solutions store owners have been finding to cope with the situation. Many have been making fun of shelves displaying photos of food instead of the real thing and calling out retailers for faking it so shamelessly.
The thread began when one used posted pictures of rows of fake asparagus at Tesco. The post called the attention of many other users who started to show what they were seeing at their local stores and their recent shopping experiences. At this point, even big supermarket brands that have their own shipping systems are not escaping from product shortages despite having a wide network of suppliers, capital, and space for extra inventory. The shopping experience continues to be disrupted as the crisis intensifies.
That has led some larger chains to try to secure additional warehouse space to store extra inventory ahead of the holidays. Some will be cutting back on discounts to ease consumer demand. Kroger Co., the largest grocery chain in the U.S., recently announced that it increased its safety stock of items in more than 70 categories, sourced additional warehouse space to house the extra products, and spread out the ports it uses for imports. Walmart also revealed that it has diverted ships to less congested ports, while hiring 20,000 supply chain workers and automated warehouse operations wherever possible.
Sadly, the vast majority of small grocery retailers have way less flexibility and continue to struggle to restock inventories. They’re having to plan what items will show up on shelves on any given day.“I’ve had over a decade of retail experience and this is like nothing I’ve experienced or seen before,” highlighted I’Talia McCarthy, general manager of the Dill Pickle Food Co-op in Chicago., which she said is dealing daily with deliveries arriving incomplete or not at all. “We have made a huge effort in making sure we’re not having these huge gaps.”
Those who have ignored economists’ warnings over the past few months will probably start to regret that decision right now. It’s probably too late to start stockpiling food and other goods given that shortages are becoming more widespread with each passing week. However, what we’re currently experiencing is not the worst of this crisis just yet. Problems are compounding and another ravaging winter threatens to aggravate congestion at ports and lead to further disruptions in food production. We will have some extremely troubled times ahead of us and the coming challenges are going to be much harder than most people think.