A supermarket shelves are almost empty on January 13, 2022 in Bethesda, Maryland.  (Delphine TOUITOU / AFP).

“It’s not as dramatic as last Sunday, but there are still a lot of empty shelves,” says Justin Toone, a regular grocery store customer, in disappointment. The pandemic continues to affect supply chains and many supermarkets in U.S face product shortages.

For several days in a row, there were no fruits or vegetables in this Giant (the one in Bethesda) but not in all the supermarkets in the sector, Trader Joe’s or Safeway ”, Toone account.

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Some products are not found, laments another 64-year-old client who asked to remain anonymous. “A couple of days ago, I was just looking for baking soda to make a cake, impossible to find. Now, the same for the spices to make soup. Last week was worse “she says angrily.

In other stores, honey, eggs, milk or meat are the products that have disappeared from the shelves.

In Washington and neighboring states Maryland and Virginia, snow has exacerbated this recurring shortage problem since the start of the covid-19 pandemic.

“There are not enough truckers and as they are subject to strict regulations regarding hours of work and rest, they say ‘let’s stop’, well, they stop and they don’t supply us”, explains an employee at Bethesda’s Giant supermarket who has been there for eight years and wishes to remain anonymous.

When snow falls, it is even worse.

A supermarket shelves are almost empty on January 13, 2022 in Bethesda, Maryland. (Delphine TOUITOU / AFP).

At the beginning of the pandemic, for fear of shortages, there was an avalanche of demand for some products such as toilet paper, which generated shortages. “This time it is different,” said the employee.

“The omicron variant is so contagious that it has an almost simultaneous impact throughout the United States”, Emphasizes Patrick Penfield, of the University of Syracuse.

Crowds of employees along the food production chain are sick or quarantined, completely disrupting the supply chain.

“We cannot produce as much food as we need. There are not enough people to deliver the food, and even when the food is delivered to the supermarket, there is no one to unload it or place it on the shelves ”, indica Penfield.

The phenomenon is widespread throughout the country, but is most significant in regions that also face severe weather, such as Washington.

Perishable

And in the case of fresh, easily perishable products, it is impossible to store them too far in advance, in anticipation of bad weather.

Hence the completely empty shelves from Sunday, when it had snowed overnight from Thursday to Friday. For the professor, the shortage of food products will probably last until the end of March.

That, “if everything returns to normal and there is no new variant,” he says cautiously.

The National Trade Federation (NGA), which represents independent players in the food retail sector, also notes that the labor shortage continues “at the national level, putting pressure on essential industries such as supermarkets and industrial food in general ”.

In a recent survey of its 1,500 members, several of them “reported operating their stores at less than 50% of their normal working capacity, for short periods, at the height of the wave” of pollution.

In addition, the federation warns consumers that they must still expect “sporadic interruptions” as has happened for a year and a half.

Meanwhile, supermarket workers are trying to find solutions to fill the void.

They fill the first rows. The products that are available crowd the shelves and for the scarce products they only put a few at a time to avoid that the same customer takes the few that there are.

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