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Not the toilet paper shortage of 2020, but supply chain issues hitting grocery stores

A woman walks past an empty store shelf
WeStarMoney from Pexels

The COVID-19 pandemic is still affecting the supply of certain retail items, but it's not toilet paper and water this time around.

A combined shortage of labor, material and transportation has made it difficult for grocery stores like Tops and Wegmans to keep pet food, sports drinks, and other items in stock.

In a statement, Tops Market said, "unfortunately, there are several areas that will be impacted through 2021 and into 2022. While some holiday items might be tight, customer flexibility on brands should allow them to find much of what they need to enjoy their holiday with family and friends."

Steven Carnovale, an assistant professor of Supply Chain Management at RIT, said the current problem is caused by a disruption to the supply chain that started in April of 2020. Carnovale compared the issue to multiple water hoses getting kinks in them at the same time.

"COVID put a huge strain on warehousing capacity, and it put a huge strain on transportation capacity, Carnovale said. "At first, the issue was no one was going to work, no one was going to school, and everyone was at home so they're buying more food at the grocery store. That's not necessarily the problem.”

Carnovale said with increased vaccination rates and natural immunities to COVID-19, he expects more items to be low in stock as people prepare for larger gatherings this holiday season. He said customers should not expect grocery stores to look like they did before the pandemic when items are back in stock.

"You might not have 37 options of the toasted oat honey cereal anymore," said Carnovale.

Wegmans is confident it will continue to provide diverse options for their customers this holiday season.

In a statement, the grocery store chain said, "Over the past year and a half, every part of the global supply chain has been impacted, forcing us to adjust the way we operate. Raw material and labor shortages as well as transportation constraints are impacting what customers are seeing on our shelves, and we expect this to continue through the holiday season. We are working with our suppliers to ensure our customers have options available in each category."

Carnovale said the supply issue would likely balance on its own, as long as people continue to shop as they usually would.