Empty shelves continue to plague both stores and shoppers, as stores find it hard to restock.

Shortages in grocery stores have been a recurring problem in the United States since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020. At first, they were caused by runs on goods like toilet paper and milk. Then by plant closures, such as the Tyson Meats closures at over 30 plants. And now by labor shortages, both on the roads and in the stores. According to the American Trucking Association, a truckers’ union, the U.S. currently needs about 80,000 new drivers to supply current needs.

Add in the foul weather that’s struck most states in the past three weeks, and it’s no wonder shelves are going – and staying – bare.

According to the Consumer Brands Association, a trend reporting group, grocery stores ordinarily have between 2-10 percent of their selection out of stock on any given day. Currently, that rate is hovering around 15 percent instead. Hardest hit seem to be fresh produce, meat, milk, and eggs.

Part of the problem is the way our supply chain has evolved – warehouses are an unwanted expense, so most industries do not produce ahead of need, and stores don’t order in advance. Most stores no longer have a ‘back room’ as they used to – that’s unprofitable space.

Another contributor to the empty shelves is that the average American is eating at home more often, requiring more groceries. In 2019, the average household spend $113 in groceries. That peaks in 2020 at $161, and in 2021, after a boom of inflation, it was at $144.

Some of this problem will resolve itself as spring arrives and the omicron variant abates, but there is certainly another variant on the horizon and the staffing issues are going to take systemic change to fix.

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