America's already stressed food supply chains have been hit tremendously hard by the wildly contagious omicron virus variant, leading to increased food shortages, as reported by Bloomberg, which could lead to further price increases and 2020-style scarcity.
There was a labor shortage even before the variant hit the U.S. in December, as many workers were reluctant to take a job that might expose them to the virus. Many have called in sick from their job due to quarantining, or have fears of infection or a general sense that it’s just not worth it.
That’s only become more pronounced in recent weeks, as grocery stores are having increased problems finding and keeping workers, especially as the viral spread is leading to schools and daycares closing, forcing parents and caregivers to stay home and take care of their children.
Workers “in every part of the food system, from farms to manufacturers to distributors,” have been impacted by the variant’s spread. The Grand Rapids, Mich.-based grocery distributor and store operator SpartanNash Co. saw a tripling of cases amongst its staff, leading to delays and workers who feel stretched thin.
Supply Side Hit Hard As Well
While grocery stores are having problems finding enough people to stock shelves and work the cash registers, some companies are also having problems getting enough goods to stock. Food manufacturers can’t get enough labor, leading to shortages of processed items like cereal, soup and meat.
Outbreaks at meat processing plants in 2020 led to shortages and spikes in prices, and beef and pork producers are reporting signs of bottleneck issues, as “the number of hogs slaughtered so far this week was down 5.5% from a year ago, and cattle slaughter was down 3.6%, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data Thursday,” according to the Journal.
The paper also reports that companies can’t find enough food inspectors to come to work to oversee the processing of animals, which is legally required.
Farms are also dealing with the sting of omicron, as Egg Innovations, one of the biggest U.S. producers of free-range eggs, has been understaffed due to pandemic. Companies such as Campbell Soup and Egg Innovations are actively and “aggressively” hiring workers, but executives like Egg Innovations Chief Executive Officer John Brunnquell is caught in a quandary. Many people don’t feel safe coming to work, but the labor market is so tight that he feels like he can’t mandate vaccinations without taking a hit to his operations.