Tops and other U.S. supermarket operators began buying turkeys, spices, and cranberry sauce earlier this year, in a bid to avoid shortages that left some shelves empty in 2020. The chains grocery store are grappling with supply chain challenges heading into what is typically their busiest time of year, and some executives have said they are preparing for consumers to hold larger gatherings than ‘they only did so at the end of last year, although it is becoming less clear how people will spend their vacations as the Delta variant increases cases of Covid-19.
“We locked the turkeys in the second, third week of February,” said Culhane, senior vice president of merchandising for Tops.
Supermarket executives have said they’ve gotten plenty of holiday staples after ordering more stuff like stuffings and sauces from a wider range of brands than usual, and many are trying to get them. items faster so they can be placed in their warehouses. They say they are buying merchandise earlier to make sure they get as much product as possible from suppliers before the holidays.
Still, food industry officials have warned consumers may not find all the brands, flavors, or sizes of food they want for Thanksgiving and Christmas meals. Consumers may also see their holiday shopping bills higher, as retailers pass on increases in transportation, labor and commodity costs, they said.
Wider supply chain challenges persist for retailers due to labor and raw material shortages. A range of products, including bottled drinks and snacks, is running out as logistical challenges escalate for the food industry. Companies are short of truck drivers and factory workers as goods continue to be delayed at ports. Supermarkets sometimes receive as little as 40% of what they order compared to the days before the pandemic when they were well over 90%, executives said.
Tops, based in New York, said it began planning for this year’s holiday season as early as late last year, placing advance orders for items that had proven difficult to keep in stock. . The company bought holiday staples such as gravy, cranberry sauce, and nutmeg and cinnamon spices, in addition to red and green nuggets for treats. It has housed frozen turkey and other items in its warehouses since early summer.
Some chains say their canned pumpkin products have been delayed and plan to sell more store-branded versions if needed.
Grocery delivery provider Fresh Direct LLC started ordering turkey in February, about a month earlier than usual, said Scott Crawford, its director of merchandising, adding that the company had ordered 2-3% more to make sure she had enough. Fresh Direct, owned by Koninklijke Ahold Delhaize NV, also brings in other holiday items earlier, including sugar, flour and other ingredients for the ready meals it sells.
“It’s a bad reason to lose a customer because you don’t have cranberries,” Crawford said.
Retailers said they have enough warehouse space to store holiday items, but it’s expensive to prepare earlier, in part because product prices can drop later in the year. . Many chains pay extra to secure more trucks.
SpartanNash Co. is spending more on wages and transportation to lock in the workforce needed to keep its inventory of merchandise in circulation, said Dave Petko, its supply chain manager. The Midwestern food retailer and distributor, which has started planning for this year’s holiday season in 53 weeks, is estimating how much stock it will need based on levels of Covid-19 cases.
Some said they would rather spend more than risk empty shelves.
“We wanted to make sure we weren’t left behind,” said Steve Smith, general manager of Food City stores in the southern United States. Food City received and started selling Halloween candy in August from the typical October starting point, he said. .
Food vendors forecast and adjust demand based on sales volume. Some said they feared they had underestimated consumer demand: Grocery sales have been stronger this year than many retailers expected, even though pandemic-related restrictions on meals at the restaurant have receded.
Some items, such as canned tomato products, have already sold out in recent weeks, executives said. They added that they still don’t know how complete or on-time their shipments will be from manufacturers, and that there isn’t much they can do when they only receive a portion of this. that they bought.
“We’re taking more because we know there are going to be shortages,” in part because of demand, said Gus Lebiak, president of distributor Krasdale Foods Inc.
Consumers themselves can shop for vacation get-togethers earlier, some executives said, to avoid the last-minute stress of finding commodities. In stores, industry officials said, shoppers won’t find empty shelves, but may find fewer varieties of items.
“It might not be the label they’ve used for the past 20 years,” Tops’s Mr. Culhane said.
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