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Empty shelves, higher prices greeting local shoppers

News Photo by Darby Hinkley Empty shelves greeted customers who were looking to purchase chicken on Monday. Stores have seen inventories go up and down due to the ongoing supply chain disruption. It can also be hard to find some produce, frozen food, bread, and pet products.

ALPENA ­– Empty shelves and higher prices are greeting shoppers when they visit stores in Northeast Michigan.

The ongoing strain on the supply chain impacts consumers who seek to buy meat, bread, frozen food, pet supplies, produce, and some personal care products.

The Biden administration announced Wednesday the release of $14 billion to the Army Corps of Engineers to fund 500 projects, with a focus on easing supply chain problems and addressing climate change.

Included in the bill was $470 million for a new lock in Sault Ste. Marie that is key for shipping iron ore.

On Wednesday, employees at stores in Alpena were busy refilling shelves that had become low, or empty, over the weekend. In some stores, freshly emptied boxes lined aisles as eager customers waited to grab needed products.

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz A sign notifying customers of possible product shortages hangs above packages of shredded lettuce at Meijer in Alpena on Wednesday. It isn’t uncommon for certain products to be in short supply as the nation suffers from a supply chain destruction.

In Alpena, inventory shortages have been sporadic, but most shoppers say they are able to buy what they need, but may have to pay more.

Carol Anne Wiggins, of Alpena, did her shopping at Meijer Wednesday morning. Many of the shelves that were bare over the weekend were filling back up, but there were some products, like frozen food, that still needed filling.

She said she isn’t concerned about wide-spead product shortages right now, but if things drag on longer, or get worse, it will become worrisome.

“Today isn’t bad, but I have seen the empty shelves over the last few weeks,” Wiggins said. “There really isn’t much we can do about it except change what we might want for dinner, or go without for now. It could be worse.”

A myriad of issues currently impact the national and international supply chain. The COVID-19 pandemic remains a key factor, as manufacturers and delivery employees are becoming ill and unable to keep up with demand.

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz Only a few packages of frozen lasagna remain in the frozen food section of Meijer in Alpena on Wednesday. Many stores have struggled to keep inventory even with demand, as the supply chain continues to struggle due to the COVID-19 pandemic and employee shortages.

A shortage of truck drivers and other employees critical to keeping the chain intact also continues to slow product from being dispersed around the county.

Large ports in California, which have been backed up for months, continue to see ships anchored waiting their turn to unload product, while facing a growing backlog of shipping containers on shore to dig through and prepare for shipping.

Foul weather – including Winter Storm Izzy that impacted a large swath of the country with snow and ice – has delayed delivery of inventory to stores and restaurants.

Several meat and vegetable recalls also resulted in less product available on the market.

Mark Lauritsen, international vice president for meatpacking at the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, told NBC News last week that the combination of all of the individual circumstances have left the supply chain unstable.

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz Empty boxes line the frozen food aisle at Save-a-Lot in Alpena on Wednesday after employees restocked freezers and shelves. Many stores face product shortages due to the ongoing supply chain disruption. Besides frozen foods, produce and some meats can be hard to find.

“As these jobs remain unfilled and the omicron variant is able to find a foothold among the largely vaccinated workforce, the labor shortages are further exacerbated,” Lauritsen said. “Because of the absences that we do have, combined with the labor shortage, you are seeing the lines are running slower than they were,”

Tara Williamson is from Gaylord, but was in Alpena for a doctor’s appointment Wednesday. She said she is seeing the same empty shelves in Gaylord stores, as people in Alpena do. Williamson said lunch meat and sports drinks have been difficult to stock up on and added that for a time, chicken was a chore to purchase.

“I really noticed it at home a few weeks ago when I went to buy meat,” she said. “We eat a lot of chicken and it was really hard to find so we had to adjust. It looks like today Alpena has almost everything in stock.”

To compound the problem, people who find the products they need take more money out of their wallets to pay for them. Inflation has surged and some customers experience sticker shock when they see the cost of items.

Last week, the Consumer Price Index showed inflation rose in December at its fastest year-over-year since 1982, surging 7% and raising costs for consumers. The price of food jumped 6.3% year over year, which is the biggest hike in grocery prices since October 2008.

Williamson said the increase in costs is more alarming than not finding the food she wants.

“You have to buy what is on sale, but those items sell out quickly,” she said. “It seems like everything right now is out of control. You definitely don’t get as much as you used to for what you spend now.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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