Supermarkets have been struggling to keep food fully stocked throughout the pandemic as a result of labor shortfalls in every part of the food system, including farms, manufacturers and distributors. Now Omicron is bringing the problem to a new level. The variant is raging across the U.S. and raising health concerns that many thought vaccines had put to rest. Schools and day cares are seeing closures again, keeping more Americans from work.
All of that will help fuel wage increases and price surges for consumers, as well as 2020-style food shortages.
“We’re already seeing bare shelves,” said Bindiya Vakil, chief executive of supply-chain consultant Resilinc Corp. “Labor shortages due to Omicron are going to exacerbate the issue.”
Grand Rapids, Mich.-based grocery distributor and store operator SpartanNash Co. is seeing a tripling of cases in recent weeks among its staff. About 1% of its 18,000-person workforce reported having the virus in recent weeks, compared with about one-third of a percent a couple of months ago. The company has been able to fulfill orders, but with delays. The employees who are available are working more.
CEO John Brunnquell of Egg Innovations, one of the biggest US producers of free-range eggs is rolling the dice because he can’t afford to impose Biden’s mandate.
“Because it’s such a tight labor market, and because we’re already short of people, I don’t feel I have the ability to mandate it without losing a couple more,” he said.
On social media people were exposing how bad the shortage is: