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As what we had hoped would be the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic seemed to ease last year, grocery store shelves began filling again.

Many of us breathed a sigh of relief. Other than during extreme weather emergencies, most of us had never experienced such shortages.

The panic buying ended. And we no longer had to worry about being able to purchase enough food and other groceries for our families.

Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but… if you haven’t already seen it, empty grocery store shelves are returning. And some analysts are afraid food shortages could become even worse than before.

Supply chain problems

Investigative journalist Sharyl Attkisson recently tweeted, “I’ve never seen empty shelves like this in my lifetime.”

Among the shortages are canned foods and beverages. That’s thanks to a shortage of aluminum.

And even when manufacturers catch up with aluminum production, transportation and logistics problems will slow down shipping.

In other words, this problem isn’t going to go away overnight. Some have predicted the supply chain will be disrupted until at least the middle of next year.

Shortages of everything

So, what’s causing this? As we’ve discussed previously, the global supply chain has been disrupted in a major way. Food and other grocery items are among the casualties.

Basically, supply can’t keep up with demand. There is a significant shortage of factory, warehouse and dock workers. As well as shipping containers and truck drivers.

Some container ports and factories around the world have shut down due to the pandemic. Recently there were more than 70 container ships idling off shore in Southern California. The New Yorker called it “a maritime parking lot.”

In an attempt to ease the problem, Long Beach and Los Angeles ports that normally close at night and on weekends were staying open 24/7. In response, retailers Walmart and Target expanded overnight operations at those ports.

Food is being hoarded

The Wall Street Journal writes, “Global supply-chain bottlenecks are feeding on one another. With shortages of components and surging prices of energy and critical raw materials squeezing manufacturers around the world.”

But it’s not only tech-related items that will be affected as the holidays approach. Food producers are also warning about shortages. And those shortages are being compounded by hoarding.

The Bloomberg News Service recently posted this chilling headline. “People Are Hoarding: Food Shortages Are the Next Supply-Chain Crunch.” 

Butterball is one of the leading turkey producers in America. Company officials say there may not be enough turkeys to go around this Thanksgiving.  

Prices respond by rising

Anytime demand exceeds supply, shortages occur. And prices rise dramatically. Shipping costs skyrocket. CNBC reports that shipping costs have recently risen by 300 percent globally.

Manufacturers of various goods are getting into bidding wars for space on vessels. And that’s leading to exporters raising prices. Or sometimes canceling shipments altogether.

The White House has promised an overhaul of the snarled supply chain system. The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a loan guarantee program to strengthen the food supply chain.

The department’s secretary said this program would help small facilities remain in business. And expand their market opportunities. The result, he said, would stabilize the market. But until that happens, expect shortages and higher prices. 

Food issues abound 

Stephen Salisbury is the district manager at warehouses in South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming and Colorado. Here’s what he says.

“What we’re seeing now is the long-term effects coming out of (the pandemic). Not enough employees, too many people on unemployment, transportation is a big issue.

“Product ingredients, packaging for products, anything you could think of that’s associated with food, there tends to be an issue.”

Other food buying options

We all know it’s important to have non-perishable survival food ready and waiting for situations such as the one we find ourselves in.

In fact, FEMA suggests you have enough food and water to get you and your family through at least 72 hours of an emergency. At the bare minimum.

I hope you have an emergency food supply. But there are also things you can do to acquire food when store shelves empty.

Here are a few suggestions:

Watch for dedicated store hours

Find out which stores in your area offer dedicated hours for those most in need. Check their current hours of operation as well.

Target stores nationwide have set aside the first hour of shopping every Tuesday morning. It’s for seniors and those with underlying health concerns.

There is no set age for this, and no one will be asked to prove they have an underlying condition. So, they are asking younger and able-bodied people not to shop during that hour.

Walmart stores open one hour earlier than normal on Tuesdays for seniors and those “most vulnerable” to COVID-19.

Albertsons stores are reserving two hours (7-9 a.m.) on Tuesdays and Thursdays for vulnerable shoppers. Such as seniors, pregnant women and those with compromised immune systems. The stores include Safeway, Acme and Vons.

Shop online

Online food suppliers are having the same issues supermarkets are. Many of them can’t keep enough in their warehouses to fulfill orders.

But if your local grocery stores have too many empty shelves for your liking, it’s worth it to try to find an online retailer that can help.

Among online retailers selling food and supplies are Amazon, Costco and Sam’s Club. Yes, you can visit Costco’s and Sam’s Club’s brick-and-mortar stores. But their online supplies don’t come from their stores, so they may have some things you can’t find in-store.

And, of course, you can purchase survival food online from companies such as 4Patriots. 

Pantries, shelters, kitchens and bartering

Food Pantries: Pantries are doing their best to stock up on food, so hopefully one near you will have a good supply.

Emergency Shelters: While the goal of a shelter is to provide shelter, they usually have food in the form of donations from concerned citizens.

Soup Kitchens: These havens for the hungry are even more crowded during a crisis than normal. Getting there when they open usually helps.

Bartering: Maybe you don’t have food in a crisis. But perhaps you have something else that someone needs and is willing to trade for.

We live in trying times. The supply chain is in bad shape right now, which means food shortages and rising prices. Finding food and other supplies we need can be challenging.

I hope some of the ideas presented here today will help.

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