NYC Grocers Still Facing Supply Crunch; Many Aisles Left Unstocked

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(Photo by Owen Hoffmann/Patrick McMullan)

 

By: Hadassa Kalatizadeh

Supply for New York City retail and wholesale grocery stores is still tight and will foreseeably continue to be so through the end of the year holiday season.  The pandemic introduces scarcity to the markets with supply chain complications.   As reported by Crain’s NY, city grocers now warn there’s no guarantee that food staples including bread and soda -which have historically been readily available and quick to sell in America—will be in stock at the local stores.  “The soda companies, the bread companies, we can’t count on them for the normal store deliveries they once did,” said Morton Sloan, co-owner of Morton Williams Supermarkets, which has 16 NYC stores. “If they used to come Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, they might just come on Tuesdays now.”

In the current supply crunch, grocers have seen one distributor after another fail to deliver, leaving them scrambling for new suppliers.  Beginning even before the pandemic, a third of New York’s wholesale distribution centers disappeared, said Burt Flickinger, managing director of the Strategic Resource Group retail consultant. “Huge distributors to the New York area have gone away,” Flickinger said. “You’ve had the bankruptcies of White Rose and other associated wholesale grocers that were big suppliers to the New York City market.”  Flickinger said the 2015 bankruptcies of A&P, Pathmark and Waldbaum’s, and then the January 2020 bankruptcy of Fairway Market, left a huge gap in grocery distribution around the city. Local supermarkets now get their staples from wholesalers as far as Wisconsin.  “You have distributors that are now five to eight hours away,” Flickinger said. “In a pandemic crunch they can’t get the trucks here on time.”

John Catsimatidis, founder of Gristedes Supermarkets, also acknowledged the day-to-day difficulty of getting stocked up. “There’s been a shortage of several products,” Catsimatidis said. “What they’re doing is they’re seeing the price of crude oil continue to rise, the price of labor continue to rise, and they’re saying, ‘We don’t want to be caught behind the curve of price increases outrunning our costs.’”  Sloan also chimed in, pointing out that the key reason for the supply-chain slowdown has been the lack of truck drivers.  “In almost all cases it’s attributable to transportation not having enough trucking available to receive things and to get the deliveries to the warehouses,” Sloan said. “And distributors don’t have enough drivers to make deliveries.”

Kendra Hems, president of the Trucking Association of New York, confirmed that the city is down 115,000 drivers post-pandemic.  “It’s difficult to recruit individuals into the industry,”  Hems said.