CLERMONT COUNTY, Ohio — A year-and-a-half into the pandemic, we are still seeing grocery shortages. It seems that every week a new grocery shelf is empty.
Debbie Randall had to hunt all over town for small Gatorade bottles. "Gatorade Zero. Can't find it," she said.
Marlene Davis struggles to find her favorite brand of ham. "Like the smoked meats," she said. "Can't find them!"
And if it's for a school lunch -- like juice boxes or Lunchables -- get ready for a food fight in aisle four.
Sure, there is plenty of food on the shelves, but when it comes to what you want, it suddenly seems you can't find it.
IGA store owner shares frustrations
Ray Dietrich, owner of Rivertown IGA in New Richmond, agrees and blames it all on the supply chain disruptions we have heard so much about.
"The warehouse is currently shipping about 70% of what we order," Dietrich said.
He says supplies are so tight that one missing ingredient -- like crackers due to a Nabisco strike -- can mean there won't be Lunchables delivered that week.
"They have the meat," he said. "They have the other ingredients. They just don't have the crackers."
And he hears that saltines may be the next item to be in short supply.
Logistics company working around the clock
How can manufacturers and stores fix things?
Not easily, according to Kerry Byrne, the president of Total Quality Logistics in Clermont County, the nation's second largest trucking coordinator.
"Every component of the supply chain is stressed right now," Byrne said.
TQL is working around the clock to get products to grocery shelves, and is currently trying to hire hundreds of additional workers at its Cincinnati headquarters.
Byrne says President Biden's plan for the ports of Los Angeles to work 24 hours a day will help, but won't cure everything.
"If we do get the product on the truck, and then we send it to the distribution facility, and they don't have the labor to unload it, that's a problem," Byrne said.
On top of that, manufacturers are cutting back on less popular items, like root beer and creme soda, to focus on their main product lines, such as Coke and Pepsi.
What you can do
So what can you do to find the grocery items you can't find?
Newsweek and other national reports on the problem suggest that you:
- Open online accounts at stores like Kroger, Meijer, Walmart, Target and Amazon, then order for pickup or delivery.
- Check the manufacturer's website for stores where it is in stock. Some companies list retailers that have their items on shelves.
- Check independent grocery stores, like Rivertown IGA and even dollar stores, where products tend to sit on shelves longer.
"Uncle Ray," as Ray Dietrich is known on Facebook, has racked up thousands of online followers this year by posting honest Facebook videos about product shortages, saying the things that big grocery chains could never say publicly.
The good news: Dietrich says we won't go hungry, but "you just have to get used to the fact that we won't have full-blown variety for a while."
And "a while" could mean into next year, according to TQL.
"There are a lot of good things going on out there, but these shortages and disruptions are going to continue into 2022," Byrne said. "There is just too much backlog of inventory."
As for Lunchables, the holy grail of school lunches, Kraft Heinz blames school being back in session, and said "it is on the case" to get them back on store shelves soon.
As always, don't waste your money.
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