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Americans Should Probably Prepare for More Grocery Shortages This Fall, Experts Say logo 9/30/2021 Kaitlin Stanford
Woman standing in grocery store © Provided by Woman standing in grocery store

Few of us would like to return to the early days of the pandemic, when shopping at the grocery store was equal parts strange and terrifying. (I mean, who can forget waiting outside on long lines in a mask and gloves, only to find half-empty shelves and no toilet paper inside?) According to some experts, though, it may not be entirely behind us. In fact, some suspect that food supply shortages may return this fall — and they're warning Americans to get ready.

To be fair, we've been dealing with product shortages for a while now

Thanks to disruptions in the supply chain, shortages on everything from micro-chips to construction materials have driven up costs and caused production delays for well over a year now. But food suppliers have had an especially rough time with low supplies, compacted by transportation issues and labor shortages, which have caused food prices to rise.

According to the Labor Department, wholesale inflation rose 8.3 percent last month from August 2020. Food items like meat, poultry, fish, and eggs are up 5.9 percent year-over-year, and up 15.7 percent from prices in August 2019.

Ultimately, it's the consumer who pays the price for all of this

And the fact that it's still dragging on after all this time has certainly been wearing thin on a lot of Americans.

"The industry continues to face shortages during the pandemic, and those shortages on product and packaging may vary week to week," Maria Brous, director of communications for Publix, told Today. "In some instances, suppliers have discontinued multiple varieties to concentrate on their best selling items to meet demand."

As for which items might be running short this season? Brous says it can be somewhat hard to predict, but many industry experts have their theories.

Keep an eye on canned food items

According to Rodney Holcomb, a food economist at Oklahoma State University, canned foods may be harder to come by, believe it or not. But that's not because of the food that's stored *inside* the cans — instead, it has more to do with the actual can.

"Aluminum availability is still a concern," Holcomb shared, "so it may be more difficult to find those canned, ready-to-eat items on store shelves."

This could impact a whole slew of popular food items that come packaged in aluminium — like canned vegetables and soups, as well as sodas, iced tea, and other soft drinks.

"Aluminum prices have increased considerably over the course of this year," said Jayson L. Lusk, a distinguished professor and head of the department of Agricultural Economics at Purdue University. In fact, he said, they've increased by over 40 percent since January and almost 9 percent in the past month.

Consider freezing meat and poultry

Listen up, meat-eaters: Holcomb warns that you may want to plan ahead and freeze things now — especially when it comes to holiday dinners.

"Meat and poultry products will still be tight supplies this fall," Holcomb told Today. "Not necessarily because of a shortage of livestock or poultry but because COVID has processing plants working at less than full capacity."

Stephanie Ruhle, an NBC News senior business correspondent, suggests buying your Thanksgiving turkey now and freezing it for later to ensure that you have one.

Fresh items may be harder to come by

Stew Leonard, Jr., CEO of the Northeast supermarket chain Stew Leonard's, told the outlet that his chain is fully stocked with non-perishable items like pasta, kids' snacks, and paper products after ordering ahead.

"But we’re seeing a shortage with fresh product, like turkeys for Thanksgiving, fresh fish, and center cut steaks like ribeye and porterhouse," Leonard shared. "We’re having trouble getting New Zealand lamb as there are ships waiting to be unloaded at the dock because there aren’t enough dock workers."

"Fortunately, my family and I have been working with these suppliers for so many years and we buy direct," he added.

The grocery store isn't the only place that could experience more hiccups this season

Americans can expect the mail to get slower and more expensive ahead of the holiday season, too. (Yep — *again*.)

Starting Friday, October 1, the US Postal Service will implement new service standards for first class mail and periodicals. According to USPS spokesperson Kim Frum, that will unfortunately slow down delivery time by about 30 percent.

And, from October 3 to December 26, the Postal Service will be temporarily increasing prices on all commercial and retail domestic packages because of the holiday season, Frum told NPR.

(Oh, joy.)

That said, not everything about the new service changes will be bad. Frum said that they'll actually lead to speedier delivery times for some pieces of mail going cross-country and other long distances. In addition, single-piece first-class mail (AKA smaller, more lightweight mail) that's traveling within the same region will still be delivered in two days' time. First-class packages, however, can expect to be slowed down — which could definitely be an issue come holiday time.

The bottom line? We're still not out from under this pandemic yet — not when it comes to the spread of the virus, and not when it comes to the ripple effects it's having on the economy. We may be in for a rocky fall and winter ahead, but experts seem hopeful about what the new year could bring.


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