Frustrated with empty shelves in the supermarket? More supply problems could be on the way

Posted at 4:38 PM, Sep 18, 2020

When COVID-19 became a public health emergency this past spring, it caused widespread problems for supply chains that moved food from manufacturers to your local grocery store.

Six months after the pandemic started, consumers are still finding several popular food items hard to find.

The company that produces "Peeps" (Just Born in Pennsylvania) recently announced that it will not have Halloween or Christmas versions of the popular marshmallow treat this year. The company shut down temporarily for the pandemic and that will also affect the holiday offering of its "Hot Tamales" and "Ike and Mike" fruit candies.

"I don't think the consumer will know when they walk into a supermarket what is short and what is not short because so many things are disrupted," said John Phillip Tarantino Jr., president of Tarantino Foods, LLC in Buffalo.

Tarantino Foods is a wholesale food distributor with 2,000 customers that includes colleges, casinos, restaurants, and pizzerias.

The company president told 7 Eyewitness News Reporter Ed Reilly that his business is having a hard time finding many items such as french fries, California dates, certain types of cheese, frozen bread, bread crumbs, ketchup, Kraft ranch dressing, macaroni and cheese, McCormick spices, and packets of hot sauce - to name a few.

It is a difficult situation for food service suppliers as retail demand in grocery stores exploded during the crisis and forced manufacturers to redirect their efforts. Some less-profitable items are not being produced. Pasta and flavored drinks have seen those reductions.

Tarantino said consumers were looking to buy anything they could stockpile, such as Campbell soups and frozen vegetables.

Shut down of food plants with workers afraid of the virus started the problem which increased to a "tsunami" with surging demand by shoppers.

That situation was made even more complicated by a severe shortage of product packaging materials. Tarantino said he believes that to be one of the reasons why some food products are having a hard time getting to the shelves currently.

The family-owned business is recommending people take advantage of the WNY harvest season to stock-up on corn, tomatoes, and squash. Not only is it plentiful and cheap, but there could be produce problems coming soon as workers are not able to pick citrus and row crops, like lettuce and broccoli, on the West Coast due to the wildfires, added Tarantino.

Some viewers asked why canned pumpkin is so hard to find?

7 Eyewitness News contacted Libby's and received the following response:

"The team in Illinois is currently working hard harvesting Libby’s pumpkins and canning for the upcoming season. We typically begin shipping to retailers around this time for bake season, so you can expect to see pumpkin back on shelves over the next few weeks."

Wegmans also sent a statement regarding the shortage of some items:

"There are certain products that are still in high demand, for example, cleaning supplies and paper products. While we continue to get shipments of these products to our stores, we are on allocation from the manufacturers. We have purchase limits on these high-demand products to best serve the needs of as many customers as possible."

The National Grocers Association sent the following shopping tip:

"Consumers should plan ahead of their trip to the store, make a list and purchase what they need for the time, as well as check on the store’s website or social media pages ahead of their trip as stores will communicate important information on product availability and additional tips."

This story originally reported by Ed Reilly on

Coronavirus Resources and Information

Johns Hopkins global coronavirus tracker