CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WOWK) — Have you recently gone to the grocery store and found some of the shelves empty? If so, you aren’t alone.
Many people can’t find some of their favorite and essential items since the pandemic started.
“You can’t find cornmeal because I was looking for that. Can’t find any of that,” said customer Sarah Roach.
Store employees say it’s not because they don’t order the products. It’s due to the lack of workers to get items from the fields and warehouses to the shelves.
Store employees say product demand is 25% greater than it was in 2019.
“There’s not really a shortage of product. The main issue is the shortage of workers in all stages of the game. I mean, from the processing plants to the manufacturers to the warehouses and then straight to the retail stores,” said Jeff Joseph, owner of the Bigley Piggly Wiggly in Charleston, West Virginia.
Sometimes, the problem is in the packaging.
“The metal cans for vegetables or the plastics for drinks and the cardboard that you need, the glass bottles that’s needed to put the products in, is what’s holding up the process,” Joseph said.
There’s also a shortage of truck drivers to get the products from point A to point B.
“I can’t find anything more important than truck driving because our goods and services are dependent upon it, and our very lives are depended on safe drivers,” said Bud Anderson, a driving school owner. “You get mad at the people because they don’t have your favorite brand of whatever food and toilet paper. It’s not the people at the store’s fault, and it’s not really the truckers’ fault because they’re doing all they can do.”
Regulations set in place to ensure the safety of the truck drivers are also, ironically, contributing to the driver shortage.
“They can only drive so many hours per day, and with GPS, now we have the ability to know whether or not a particular truck and driver are driving more than is safe,” Anderson said.
Barely more than a year after the coronavirus caused the steepest economic fall and job losses on record, the speed of the rebound has been so unexpectedly swift that many companies can’t fill jobs or acquire enough supplies to meet a pent-up burst of customer demand.
The worker shortage in many industries is causing employers to raise wages and, in some cases, raise prices to offset their higher labor costs.
Joseph says he hopes people don’t go back to panic buying as they did at the start of the pandemic when paper products and cleaning supplies were scarce. Now he’s seeing a lack of things such as pet food, baby products and sometimes water.
“Every store wants to meet their customers’ needs, and it bothers us when we can’t do that. So, we try to stay ahead of the game and follow the news and what’s going on, but sometimes it’s a guess,” Joseph said.
Nevertheless, there are some customers who say the product shortages aren’t a problem.
“I noticed the shelves have been empty but growing up we learned to deal with whatever is on the shelf, make a meal of it and keep it moving,” said customer Alice Wilkins.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.