MERIDEN — As lines outside grocery stores become a common sight once more, suppliers and distributors are working around quarantines disrupting the supply chain to keep food and household supplies flowing to the shelves for holiday shoppers.
“We’re in the middle of a pandemic and it's changed the supply chain drastically ... and our manufacturers are doing whatever they can,” said Bill Rosa, owner of The Russell Hall Co. in Meriden.
The company generally supplies plastic packaging and cleaning supplies to restaurants, delis, schools and nursing homes, but during the pandemic grocery stores have become a new clientele for paper towels and toilet paper.
Though the company hasn’t run into issues with not being able to fulfill its orders, Rosa said manufacturers have had to contend with both quarantines reducing their workforce and social distancing requirements changing the workflow on their shop floors.
According to the Associated Press, around 10 percent of workers at cleaning supply manufacturing plants are calling out sick each day. That’s led to a 21 percent reduction in paper towels and toilet paper on store shelves nationwide and a 16 percent reduction in cleaning supplies on store shelves. Before the pandemic, 5 to 7 percent of consumer goods were typically out of stock, market research company IRI said.
The AP reported that Walmart has seen a rise in demand for cleaning supplies in some stores, while supermarket chains like Kroger and Publix have limited the quantities of toilet paper and paper towels that shoppers can buy in one purchase. Amazon said it’s working with manufacturers to resupply its mostly sold out stock of disinfectant wipes and paper towels.
Though the shelves at Tops Marketplace in Southington haven’t been emptied of paper towels and toilet paper, owner John Salerno said name brand items do sell out quickly.
There have also been spot shortages throughout the pandemic, where one item in particular will be in short supply for a week or so. Shelves at local stores were “wiped out” of pasta a few months ago, specialty milks like oat milk have been harder to come across and non-perishables like canned beans and soup have been intermittently scarce.
“There are shortages out there, but not long lasting,” he said.
Salerno attributes the shortages to a combination of increased demand, including holiday shoppers in the days leading up to Thanksgiving, and trucks getting delayed at various points in the supply chain.
“I think it’s production, I really do. Because if they have a plant that experiences COVID all the sudden it shuts the plant down for a week,” he said. “ … Even our warehouse, even they got hit. They had trucks delayed... You're supposed to get a truck on Tuesday and you don't get it until Wednesday.”
Demand for turkeys this Thanksgiving seemed to be steady compared with past years, Salerno said, however buyers opted for smaller birds and sales of pre-prepared turkeys tripled.
The slowdown in business for restaurants has allowed grocery stores to pick up some extra suppliers of food and products which would normally be destined for use in commercial kitchens.
“All along through the pandemic we've addressed it by going to other suppliers,” Salerno said. “Restaurants are hurting so were buying a lot from our restaurant suppliers.”