Omicron’s Spread Means More Food Outages at U.S. Grocery Stores

From farm to fork, every aspect of the food supply chain is under increasing pressure from the latest virus surge


By Leslie Patton, Elizabeth Elkin, and Deena Shanker, Bloomberg 

January 6, 2022


The highly contagious omicron virus variant is disrupting already stressed food supply chains, sickening so many workers that more shortages at grocery stores are all but certain.


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, from farms to manufacturers to 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 daycares 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 outages.


“We’re already seeing bare shelves,” said Bindiya Vakil, chief executive officer of supply-chain consultant Resilinc Corp. “Labor shortages due to omicron are going to exacerbate the issue.”


Grand Rapids, Michigan-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.


“It’s harder because we’re asking people to work overtime,” CEO Tony Sarsam said in an interview. “We’re stretching ourselves.”


On the receiving side, the company is having trouble getting supplies from food manufacturers, especially processed items like cereal and soup, Sarsam said. “The manufacturers can’t get labor,” he said...


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