Things have looked a little different at grocery stores ever since March of 2020 when products such as frozen pizzas, canned goods, hand sanitizer, and, yes, toilet paper were flying off the shelves. Glancing around today, it’s clear that the supply chain has not yet fully recovered from that huge jolt. Our current challenges are all largely due to the same issue we faced two years ago: a disruptive virus continues to circulate globally and wreak havoc on the complex web of operations — from production to manufacturing to shipping and distribution — that are necessary to get food, toiletries, and other consumer goods to our local stores.
No retailer or business is immune to supply chain snarls these days. Grocers from Albertsons to Publix to Food Lion to Costco are all facing difficulties keeping certain items in stock. It’s enough of a challenge that my local Schnucks stores have posted signs essentially telling customers that if a shelf is empty, there’s not more stock in the back they can go fetch; they are simply out.
Our favorite grocer, Aldi, is no different. Aldi put out a notice to customers asking for their patience during the holiday shopping season, and even now Aldi tells its customers it’s sorry on its website for any current delays, stating: “We apologize, but due to shipping delays, some advertised ALDI Finds items may not be available for purchase.”
Supply chain troubles and shipping delays are not just affecting Aldi Finds in the famous middle aisle (which Aldi fans also fondly refer to as the Aisle of Shame). Shortages have also come for Aldi products we’re accustomed to being able to find all the time, any time of year.
What’s Missing From Aldi Shelves?
Here are just a few things we’ve personally seen temporarily run out of stock at Aldi during the past few months.
- Sour cream
- Ricotta cheese
- Saltine crackers
- Spaghetti noodles
- Canned cat food
- Blossom tampons
- String cheese
- Frozen breaded chicken of any kind (nuggets, tenders, etc.) except “red bag” chicken
- Refrigerated sausage links and ground sausage sold in rolls
- Refrigerated crescent rolls (out of stock at some of our local stores, with other stores only carrying name-brand Pillsbury)
- Frozen shredded hash browns (availability varies from store to store in our area)
- Frozen burritos
- Fresh garlic
- Apple juice
- Frozen Pancakes and sausages on a stick
- Various types of fresh meat
Why Are So Many Products Out of Stock?
Product shortages at retailers are a result of multiple reasons.
The number one cause is COVID, which continues to affect workers in production, manufacturing, shipping, and in stores. When workers are out sick and can’t make the food, or can’t transport the food to stores, or can’t put the food on store shelves, sporadic product outages will result. Conagra, which oversees brands such as Duncan Hines and Healthy Choice, reported in January of 2022 that they were seeing rising employee absences due to omicron and that it could strain operations for at least the next month.
Labor shortages are another potential reason behind product shortages in stores. It’s not just people who are out sick, but also people who have decided that working in food production or working as a grocery store cashier is not worth the low pay and stress especially during a pandemic, so they’ve found better jobs elsewhere in other industries.
Regarding the labor shortage, we also should not discount the potentially large number of people suffering from symptoms of long COVID, who may have been forced to quit work or reduce their hours because of chronic fatigue, brain fog, headaches, or other lingering health issues. One researcher estimates 1.6 million people are out of the full-time workforce because of long COVID.
Another cause of some bare shelves is the fact that we’re still in the midst of winter, and parts of the Northeast and Midwest have routinely been hammered by snowstorms that have sparked the typical runs on bread and milk. In addition, those storms have sometimes delayed truckers hauling shipments of products to stores. When bad weather and pandemic-related shipping challenges are combined, it can hit store shelves especially hard.
When Will Shelves be Stocked Again?
Most of the recent outages at my local Aldi stores have been temporary. If a product is out of stock one week, it might be back the next week, or in a few weeks at most. We went without a lot of frozen breaded chicken products for several weeks, but then almost all of those chicken products suddenly showed up again. One week I couldn’t find regular sour cream and could only get light sour cream. Ricotta cheese was missing for a couple of weeks but was in stock during my most recent Aldi run. String cheese is out of stock about 80% of the time at my local stores.
Because all of these shortages have been primarily driven by one factor — COVID — they will likely smooth themselves out once the pandemic settles into an endemic state with fewer large infection surges that affect employees working in production, shipping, and retail. Fortunately, most of the world is on the downward trend of the omicron spike and things are looking more positive for the time being and in the immediate future. So here’s to hoping you can find your Aldi chicken tenders, Saltine crackers, and canned cat food again soon.