MARYLAND — As shoppers stare at empty shelves in the grocery store, they wonder if another toilet paper shortage could be looming.
Everyone's aware that there are supply chain issues and shipping challenges globally, leading to product shortages everywhere. Bad weather that blanketed the mid-Atlantic and Northeast in January also caused shipping delays and bottlenecks.
Labor shortages due to the omicron variant aren't helping supplie issues either.
A decline in available truck drivers that started before the pandemic struck also plagues the retail scene. The American Trucking Associations Chief Economist Bob Costello said in October that the U.S. was short an estimated 80,000 drivers, a historic high.
"Since we last released an estimate of the shortage, there has been tremendous pressure on the driver pool,” Costello said. “Increased demand for freight, pandemic-related challenges from early retirements, closed driving schools and DMVs, and other pressures are really pushing up demand for drives and subsequently the shortage.”
Costello anticipates the shortage of drivers could surpass 160,000 by 2030.
Out-of-stock levels at grocery stores stand at around 15 percent, up from the pre-pandemic norm of 5 to 10 percent, Consumer Brands Association President and CEO Geoff Freeman told the Associated Press.
What items are you having trouble finding in your local stores? Have you found a really good supply of a product somewhere? Tell us in the comment section below or by email at Maryland@patch.com.
According to a report from the AARP, the top five most sought-after products right now that are hard to find across the country are chicken, consumer electronics, cars, clothing and apparel, and pet food.
Retail Industry Leaders Association President Brian Dodge said, “Leading retailers continue to flex exceptionally adaptable supply chain networks, operated by logistical ninjas who solve problems through collaboration with suppliers and service providers."
“In 2022, retailers will need to navigate inflationary pressures, taking significant measures to manage costs and increase supply chain efficiency. As online retail sales remain strong — Adobe predicts annual US e-commerce sales will surpass $1 trillion for the first time in 2022 — large retailers will continue to optimize their networks to increase speed and flexibility," Dodge said. "Disruption will continue throughout 2022. Production setbacks, challenging labor shortages, soaring costs in all freight modes, constrained capacity, equipment dislocation, port congestion, and the various supply chain challenges that predate the pandemic will not be solved overnight. Consumers can bet on retailers to remain resilient. Circumstances are always shifting, and retailers will keep adapting to deliver for their customers.”
On Jan. 11, a team with WBAL discovered supply issues in the Baltimore area at Food Lion, Safeway and Giant stores, including with paper products, fresh produce, dairy and chicken.
"The shelves are really bare. I couldn't get orange juice, I couldn't get a lot of things, creamer. I couldn't get a lot, and prices, everything's going up. It's sad," Toni Kratochvil, a shopper, told WBAL.
Giant told the 11 News I-Team: "There are several challenges all retailers are facing at the moment that have impacted our ability to execute our business to our normal standards. Most significantly, the prolonged pandemic and last week's weather has caused continued strain on our supply chain, but our Giant teams are working with our manufacturing partners to replenish shelves as quickly as possible."
The Food Industry Association, speaking on behalf of Safeway, told the TV station that labor, transportation shortages and extreme weather are at the root of the problem.
"These issues can be difficult for grocery stores to predict as they're often regional and inconsistent. The good news is that there is a healthy supply of food in the system," Safeway said.
Wegmans responded: "We continue to see supply chain disruptions due to raw material and labor shortages, as well as delays in transportation across the industry."
Even locally owned groceries are struggling to find products, including Di Pasquale’s in Baltimore City, according to WJZ.
“Lots of disruptions, lots of adjusting and alternative ways we have to come up with,” owner Joseph Di Pasquale told WJZ. “The big-box chains are sort of locked in. They’re committed to certain brands and certain manufacturers whereas we’re not locked in.”
A spokesperson with Food Lion told FOX45 News the company is taking steps to help people have what they need, especially before bad weather hits.
"We’re working closely with our supplier partners to do everything we can to make sure our neighbors have what they need to nourish their families," Food Lion spokesperson Matt Harakal said in an email to FOX45 News.
Maryland Retailers Association spokesperson Caily Locklair told WUSA that COVID's "ongoing impact on workforces and a nationwide shortage of truckers is not helping" when coupled with weather delays.
"[There's] a lack of truck drivers, lack of store employees, COVID illness and production [is] slowing because of employee issues continues to impact our shelves," Locklair said in a written statement.