CNN says Americans won't be able to go back to shopping like in the 'Before Times'

With grocery-heavy holidays fast approaching, many shoppers may discover empty shelves where items they buy used to sit, with estimates for when supplies will return to normal extending into next spring.

Hannah Nightingale Washington DC

With grocery-heavy holidays fast approaching, many shoppers may discover empty shelves where items they buy used to sit, with estimates for when supplies will return to normal extending into next spring.

While supply chain issued wreak havoc on the availability of items across the globe, CNN Business wrote, "If you hoped grocery stores this fall and winter would look like they did in the Before Times, with limitless options stretching out before you in the snack, drink, candy and frozen foods aisles, get ready for some disappointing news."

Many grocery stores are facing limited allocations of popular products, like Rice Krispies Treats, Sour Patch Kids, McCormick grommet spices, and some Ben & Jerry’s flavors of ice cream.

According to emails viewed by CNN Business and interviews conducted with grocers, Many of the country’s top food makers are running into supply issues due to labor, commodity, and transportation issues, with some suppliers telling grocers to cancel promotions of these products and more to limit how quickly items fly off the shelves.

While items are not in as scarce of supply as in the beginning of the pandemic, where staple household items flew off the shelves so quickly that empty holes remained for weeks, supplies still have yet to recover to their pre-pandemic amounts.

According to the latest data from IRI, around 18% of beverages, 15% of frozen foods, 16% of snacks, 15% of candy and 18% of bakery items were out of stock at stores during the week ending on October 3.

They noted that before the pandemic, around 7 to 10 percent of items were typically out of stock in stores.

President of IRI's strategic analytics practice Krishnakumar Davey said that if supply is tight, manufacturers often eliminate items less popular in order to ramp up production of top-selling items. Manufacturers also tend to cut items that are more expensive to make.

So while core items, like Ben & Jerry’s popular flavor Phish Food, will still be produced and shipped to stores, less popular items, like their Cold Brew Caramel Latte flavor, will be harder to find.

Some stores, like Costco and Sam's Club, have reinstated item limits for customers on items like paper products and cleaning supplies, like those limits seen at the beginning of the pandemic.

On September 14, Unilever told a distributor in an email that "labor shortages continue to drive a limited ability to meet demand," and that it was focusing production away from products like  Ben & Jerry's Cold Brew Caramel Latte and Ice Cream Sammie flavors, Breyers vanilla fudge twirl ice cream and Firecracker popsicles "until we are able to return to a supply steady-state." The company said it would instead "focus labor hours on our top-selling items."

"Like many sectors, at times there are challenges in getting all our product to stores, for a variety of reasons related to supply and distribution," a Unilever spokesperson told CNN said in an email.

In an October 1 email to a distributor, Mondelez said it is experiencing "limited availability" on items such as Sour Patch Kids and Swedish fish candy, Toblerone chocolate and Halls cough drops "due to supply chain constraints." The email, obtained by CNN, states that the "recovery date" for these items is estimated to be in February or March on next year.

In some instances, packaging is the issue preventing production of certain products.

For McCormick, a lack of glass bottles used by their gourmet line has decreased the amount of products sent out from the company.

In an email on September 20 from a McCormick representative to two distributors, they wrote that "our US bottle supplier shut down due to a Covid related issue and we have not received bottles for several weeks… The lack of bottles has impacted our production and is eroding our safety stock across the entire line."

As a result, the company would be shipping out 70 percent of what was previously forecasted, with the company urging stores to cancel promotions in November and December for the line of spices.

Also affected by packaging shortages is some sizes of Marie Callender’s frozen pot pies, with a September 27 email from Conagra to a distributor stating that allocations have been placed on 10 and 15 opulence pot pies until November 29 because it "encountered packing material challenges from our tray and carton supplier resulting in a production interruption."

CEO of Boxed Chieh Huang said that "allocations are the new norm" from food and packaged goods' makers and are impacting the levels of products in stock at Boxed, according to CNN. Huang did note though that "the industry is better off than we were this time last year."


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