In Denver, public-school children are facing shortages of milk. In Chicago, a local market is running short of canned goods and boxed items.
But there’s plenty of food. There just isn’t always enough processing and transportation capacity to meet rising demand as the economy revs up.
More than a year and a half after the coronavirus pandemic upended daily life, the supply of basic goods at U.S. grocery stores and restaurants is once again falling victim to intermittent shortages and delays.
“I never imagined that we’d be here in October 2021 talking about supply-chain problems, but it’s a reality,” said Vivek Sankaran, chief executive officer of Albertsons Cos., who echoed the laments of other retailers. “Any given day, you’re going to have something missing in our stores, and it’s across categories.”
In Denver, broken parts at the milk supplier’s plant affected shipments of half-pint cartons, on top of disruptions at one time or another in cereal, tortillas and juice.
“We’ve been struggling with supply-chain issues with different items since school started,” said Theresa Hafner, the executive director of food services at Denver Public Schools. “It just continues to pop up. It’s like playing whack-a-mole.”
In Chicago, Dill Pickle Food Co-Op ran out of certain dry goods because its two main distributors haven’t been sending orders in full in recent weeks.
“Early in the pandemic, panic buying was the cause of many of the out-of-stock situations that grocers experienced,” general manager I’Talia McCarthy said in an email to store owners this month. “Although the food industry was able to somewhat rebound, the sustained nature of the pandemic, combined with the slow pace of vaccination globally and the recent surge caused by the delta variant, have resurfaced the problem.”
The shortages aren’t as acute as they were earlier in the pandemic. At supermarkets, on-shelf availability has stabilized since dropping drastically in November last year, according to data from NielsenIQ.