In addition to everyday items, food pantry manager Debra Cole stocks special items such as birthday cake mix, birthday candles and gift bags for a birthday child.

In addition to everyday items, food pantry manager Debra Cole stocks special items such as birthday cake mix, birthday candles and gift bags for a birthday child.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Grocery stores, food pantries feel impact of supply chain crisis

By: Mary Beth Almond | Metro | Published October 22, 2021


METRO DETROIT — We’ve seen it before — empty store shelves, purchase limits and skyrocketing prices — and, unfortunately, experts say these things aren’t going anywhere soon.

In Michigan, the food retail industry is feeling the effects of the supply chain backlog.

Shipping bottlenecks have led to rising freight costs that are being passed on, causing sticker shock for suppliers and consumers alike.

“Meat was at an extreme high about six months ago, and you weren’t making any money because you could only sell things for so much money, or no one would buy it,” said David Antiwan, who owns Hazel Park Food Center. “It doesn’t matter how much business you’re doing; you’re not profiting, because the cost of goods is too high.”

The average price of bacon jumped nearly 28% during the past 12 months, according to data from the Consumer Price Index, prompting some shoppers to consider chopping bacon off their weekly grocery lists.

“We put bacon on our list of food for the food pantry probably about a year ago, and we were paying $5 a pound. Now, it’s up to $9 a pound, so we’re contemplating whether that’s something that’s economically feasible to keep on our food list,” said Kathy Wojcik, the executive director of Samaritan House — which operates a food pantry for northwestern Macomb County families in need.

Debra Cole, who handles all of the orders for the Rochester Area Neighborhood House Food Pantry, has noticed price hikes on “absolutely everything” needed to stock pantry shelves over the past year.

“It’s amazing how fast things are going up in the store,” she said.

With the holiday season looming, a number of retailers say supply chain woes will also restrict the inventory of just about everything — including food.

“Word is that there is going to be a shortage of baking goods — sugar, flour, things of that nature — for Thanksgiving. That’s what I’ve heard,” Antiwan said.

Scarcities of all kinds are rampant nowadays.

“You never know what’s going to be short. The typical tissue, toilet paper and paper towel shortages (are common) but not as extreme as before,” he explained.

In the hopes of avoiding mass shortages, many grocery stores are placing orders for holiday food staples earlier than ever before. Others are imposing purchase limits on certain foods and paper products.

Purchase limits, Wojcik said, are a huge hurdle for local food pantries struggling to keep their shelves stocked for families in need.

“Normally, our shoppers will go in and the store staff will know they are shopping for Samaritan House, so we can pull five cases of ramen noodles,” she explained. “Now, stores are cracking down, and we can only have one case of that. That will only last us a week.”

It’s hard to tell which products will be in stock from week to week, Cole added.

“If I send a shopper to the grocery store and ask for 10 (of anything), I usually get five, if I’m lucky,” she said. “It’s weird things, like canned mixed vegetables, saltine crackers, coffee and certain types of soups” that are missing, she said. “The shelves are bare, and stores don’t know when they are going to be getting those items in, so we’re kind of scrambling to find other places … to fulfill the needs of the items that we can’t get.”

Each year, the Rochester Area Neighborhood House Food Pantry provides a Thanksgiving dinner basket to low-income families.

Coles knows Thanksgiving is still over a month away, but she said grocery stores are already starting to come up short on some shelf-stable items for the Thanksgiving baskets. At press time, the food pantry only had enough supplies — things like cans of stuffing, cranberry, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, green beans, corn and aluminum cooking trays — to fill 40 of its 300 baskets.

“We were a little bit short on gravy this morning, so one of my volunteers called over to Gordon’s Food Service, and they only had two cans,” Cole said. “That basically tells you food is already being purchased for Thanksgiving. People are going out and getting what they can right now, and the stores are just depleted.”

This year, Cole started placing orders for perishable Thanksgiving food in September so she would, hopefully, have all the fixins well before distribution day.

“I ordered my turkeys last month from Gleaners, so, hopefully, we will get them soon,” she said. “We have also already put in an order for 300 pumpkin pies, Cool Whips and rolls from Meijer about three weeks ago, but I haven’t heard anything back from them.”

When delivery trucks finally do make it to grocery stores and food pantries, Antiwan said, their orders are almost always incomplete.

“You get a heads up notice if an item is short, but not to a point where it’s extremely helpful. It’s short notice,” he said. “We just try to get an alternative item.”

For now, he says the supply chain woes are more of an “inconvenience.”

“It’s a big inconvenience — there are no extreme shortages, but there are definitely shortages,” Antiwan added. “Hopefully, it gets better and it doesn’t get worse than that.”

“One doesn’t have to look far to see clear evidence that supply chain issues are having economic costs,” Ryan Sweet, of Moody’s Analytics, said in an Oct. 14 report.

Global supply chain disruptions, he explained, continue “to plague the U.S. economy” — contributing to delivery delays, a shortage of goods and elevated inflation ahead of the holiday shopping season.

Products of all kinds are getting stuck on container ships due to a shortage of workers needed to unload and transport the goods. Add a nationwide truck driver shortage to the already struggling system, and it’s easy to see why stores across the country are experiencing shipping delays and product shortages.