Mary Long, director of the Supply Chain Forum at the University of Tennessee, reports on the types of shortages that grocery stores were experiencing in late 2020 and into 2021, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
In the final weeks of 2020, grocery stores experienced shortages of many seemingly random products, although some were tied to seasonal purchasing patterns, such as fruitcake ingredients, canned pumpkin, dried spices and mincemeat. Also affected were tier-2 supplies such as aluminum. The reason for the shortages, says Long, was “a perfect storm of connected supply chains.” Retailers lacked the ability to sense incremental demand through multiple layers of supply. “We haven’t built forecasting models that are all-encompassing like that,” she says.
Other issues affecting product availability included a shortage of personnel, and panic buying by consumers. As a result of all these factors, distributors and retailers encountered serious capacity issues, in their ability to both store and move product.
Distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine, which got fully underway in early 2021, hasn’t for the most part directly affected the availability of transportation and warehousing capacity for regular grocery items, Long says. The two types of movements require different sizes of equipment and refrigerated or frozen capacity.
The pandemic has impacted grocers’ forecasting models, however. “It has opened the door to how we look at forecasting, and the need to make those models more robust,” Long says. In response, some retailers and suppliers are drawing on external data sources, such as social media and weather reports, to supplement the intelligence needed to access demand. Nevertheless, Long says, grocers and other retailers can expect 2021 to be another year of shortages and sporadic supply. “For sure, there are going to be some new things that surprise us,” she says.
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