The great toilet paper shortage of 2020 is seared in the minds of all who experienced it, but current supply chain pressures have not translated into widespread hoarding in Pennsylvania, although some stores are starting to limit the number of certain paper products.
While supply chain challenges have been ongoing since the onset of the pandemic, it has become more pronounced in the last three months, according to Andrea Karns, vice president of marketing at Karns Foods, a grocery chain with nine locations in the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania area.
“We’ve not seen hoarding, but we are getting incomplete orders,” Karns told The Epoch Times in a phone interview. She says, for example, you can get paper towels, but your favorite brand may be temporarily sold out. “We don’t have any categories that are totally wiped out. Products are coming in but as a shopper, you may have to be flexible; change your meal plan or try a different brand.”
Karns believes consumers understand the supply chain crunch and still have confidence that they won’t see a repeat of the empty shelves that were seen early in the pandemic.
“We are not limiting purchases at this time and we are working to avoid that. When you say ‘limit,’ people get nervous. The more we can avoid panic buying, the more we can avoid that.”
Joe Fasula is co-owner of Gerrity’s Supermarkets, a chain of nine stores in northeast Pennsylvania. The company also owns two Ace Hardware stores.
“I can’t say hoarding has popped up on our radar yet,” Fasula told The Epoch Times in a phone interview. “Even though the supply chain has been chaotic, I don’t think customers are worried that it will be like the pandemic, that they can’t find anything. They are seeing favorite brands missing from time to time.”
The company is not limiting purchases as it had done early in the pandemic.
Every manufacturer has had challenges at this point, Fasula said. Frequently, they will fulfill only partial orders. Manufacturers are reducing the amount of product they deliver by applying a certain percentage to all their customers. For example, they may send 20 percent less product than what was ordered across the board. “There is no question we’re going to continue to have inflation and supply issues,” Fasula said. “This is going to last quite a while, and I don’t see an end in sight. If someone can tell me when the labor shortage will end, that is when inflation will end. Higher labor costs are driving inflation.”
Gerrity’s has raised wages for every position throughout its stores, but it still struggles to fill high-skill positions including bakers, cake decorators, meat cutters, and cooks. The cost of a decorated cake has gone up to help cover the higher wage for the decorator.
While most grocery items are produced domestically, many items at the hardware stores are produced internationally. Prices started going up a few months ago. The cost of lumber and sheetrock were among the most notable increases.
“We are seeing continued price increases from pretty much every vendor,” Fasula said.
Every stop in the supply chain has staffing challenges, from the raw materials in the quarry or the farm to unloading trucks, he said.
“We are doing the absolute best we can to order the products and get them on the shelves for customers and to keep things running. Please understand. I think everyone in retail is exhausted,” Fasula said.
The company installed more self-check-out facilities because they didn’t have enough workers. Sometimes customers complain that the machines are taking away jobs. Fasula assures them they are not replacing any jobs and invites them to apply. He would be happy to hire them.
“It is incumbent on the government at this point to give people incentive get back to work, lift regulations, look at bottlenecks in the supply chain to get it moving quicker.”