Why Are U.S. Grocery Shelves Out of Everything Again?

Here we go again. Walk into a U.S. supermarket, and chances are you’ll see some empty shelves once more.

It’s an unwelcome throwback to earlier stages of the pandemic. Remember in 2020 when panic buying and a sudden frenzy for baking hit grocery aisles hard? And last year, when supply chain snarl-ups led to shortages of everything from cat food to Lunchables? This time around, the poor availability is due to a convergence of both issues.

There are a few reasons to expect this latest crunch to be temporary. Record inflation, for example, will likely take a bite out of consumer demand and thus ease supply constraints. But don’t expect the problems to end there.

To recap: Global trade routes were already stretched before omicron emerged. Factory and port closures in Asia from the earlier delta outbreak led to shipments getting stuck in the Pacific ahead of the 2021 peak selling season. Bed Bath & Beyond Inc. said that in the run-up to the holidays it couldn’t get enough paper to send out its circulars to tempt customers into stores. Add in labor shortages among food-processing plants and truck drivers, and by the holiday season, stocks of seasonal staples were lower than normal.

The latest Covid variant has only made these issues worse.