Empty shelves plague consumers


Photo courtesy of Wikimedia

Chaotic supply chain woes and worker shortages have contributed to rows of empty shelves in grocery stores all across the U.S.

James Chaney, Staff Writer

In such a wide country as the United States it’s uncommon for us all to face such a universal issue, but this has been the case recently as we have all felt the tremors of the supply chain issue. This supply chain issue, and its resulting empty shelves, is a complex issue that has actually been plaguing our stores since as far back as 2020 when the pandemic was just coming to the U.S.

There are three main factors, ignoring the overarching nuisance of covid, that have plagued supply chains in the past couple of years.

The first main factor to consider when delving into the shortages is the most simple as it just involves basic human nature, and this is mass hysteria. Currently, the shortages are not directly related to panic buying, but they have been in the past, and most likely will in the near future as people take the shortages as a sign they need to stock up. According to an article from the Washington Post by Andrea Felsted, “Shoppers first switch out of pricier products to cheaper ones.” She continues, “Then comes the buying in bulk and crowdsourcing. With food costs expected to rise further, consumers may choose to load up on products such as pet food while they can.”

The second main factor in the supply chain are the cargo ships off the shore full of supplies, and the reason these ships can’t offload might be a bit less straightforward than what you expect. The reason supplies aren’t being offloaded isn’t only because of a lack of port workers but rather a lack of space for the shipping containers to be offloaded into, and a lack of truckers in foreign countries. The lack of truckers doesn’t need much explaining; foreign countries are simply having trouble finding people willing and capable enough to work through the pandemic, but the lack of space does need some explaining.

Before the pandemic started, there was actually a move towards a cost-cutting strategy called “just-in-time delivery”, which is a strategy that imports goods on a basis of necessity, therefore, reducing needed storage space. When interviewed by CBS, Ponce de Leon, the local union president in and around the Los Angeles area stated that, “They don’t have a place to put it because the container has become the warehouse with just-in-time delivery.” There’s also the additional problem that needed crates end up in the middle of piles, which, according to CBS news, makes it, “Like a giant game of Jenga.” There is good news, though, as California Governor Gavin Newsom has been bringing ships in to take away empty crates, as well as securing space to store containers.

The third problem has been occurring notably in L.A. as thieves have been ruthlessly robbing supplies off of trains at rest in freight depots. The rates at which train thefts are occurring in Los Angeles are, “Unlike others they have seen,” according to Los Angeles Times in reference to Union Pacific, a private police organization based in Omaha, Nebraska that guards train cars against thieves. The rates have jumped a reported 160%, with 90 crates being broken into. These trains are carrying goods ranging from electronics and other assorted commodities, to essential food and drink items, as well as the ever-scarce Covid tests.

The tracks are left littered with leftover debris (mostly from boxes and other packaging), and in an article from the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Police Captain German Hurtado, states that the problem is a tightening budget that has led to restraints on security saying, “Union Pacific from Yuma, Ariz., to L.A. has six people patrolling,” before making the further comparison that, “It is like digging sand at the beach. We set up a task force. We are making an arrest, and then we see a quarter of a mile down the track someone else taking merchandise.” The issue of trains being robbed remains as a continuing testament of failure in the character of the people and the downfall the few will cause for the many.

The problem of empty shelves is a result of failures in the chain of supply, not only from a logistical angle, but a human one as well, and while some of the problems have been, to a degree alleviated, others still remain and continue to keep the chain of supply bogged down and the shelves empty.