KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — You’ve probably noticed it, empty shelves in your local stores. The supply and demand sting is being felt by every industry, including Oscar’s Restaurant off of Cumberland near the University of Tennessee.
“The problem we have right now, because of the pandemic, is a shortage of the employees,” said the owner, Louie Albaba. “We don’t have the help we need right now.”
Albaba explained at the business’s peak, there were more than a dozen delivery drivers. “Right now, I barely have maybe two or three drivers,” he said. “For example, last Saturday, which was a game day, I canceled all my deliveries because I didn’t have any drivers.”
He said the lack of staff also means he’s the one in the kitchen every day. “I drop my kids at school about 7:30 in the morning, I drive straight here, I leave about five or six o’clock in the evening.”
In addition to the staff shortage, Albaba is having trouble finding the supplies he needs for the restaurant. “They don’t have one-fourth of the items I needed, the shelves are empty,” he said of his run to one of the local grocery stores Tuesday morning.
“I used to get a box of chicken wings for like $49 or $50 max, that’s 40 pounds of chicken wings, now it’s almost $160,” he continued. “Almost on a weekly basis, they are short two or three items because they don’t have it.”
University of Tennessee Supply Chain Management Professor Ted Stank broke down how the supply is constantly trying to keep up with the ever changing demand.
“Demand is fickle and can change on a dime,” Stank began. “The supply chain resources to support that demand take weeks or months to be able to align to be able to support different kinds of demand.”
The perfect ingredients for a rough outcome. “The restaurants are having to be very flexible and agile to look at what products we can get today and which ones are limited,” he said.
Stank described the supply and demand issue as a perfect storm that has been brewing since the start of the pandemic in March 2020. His advice for customers is if the store doesn’t have your first choice of brand for a product, be flexible and purchase another brand. Additionally, if you know you will need a specific ingredient for your Thanksgiving or Christmas dinners, buy them in advance.
Stank warned the one thing people should not do is panic-buy. “Our supply chains are good a lot of our products are made domestically, for what we will need to survive we’re not going to have a shortage,” said Stank. “I’m not predicting any dire consequences by the way, so the worst thing we could do is to overreact.”
He also emphasized there needs to be an understanding that there is not an industry this issue does not impact. “Even if it’s not a direct product being impacted, there’s generally some sub-component in that product that’s been impacted,” he said.
For the big question of when this will all be over and done with, Stank said most likely not until 2022. “There is some expectation that following the Chinese New Year holiday, which is in February of 2022, that demand typically hits a point seasonally where we see a bit of a slow down,” he said of catching supply capacity up to demand.
“The last time we saw shortages like this was probably in World War II,” Stank added. “We have just become accustomed to a world of plenty.”
The President & CEO of the Tennessee Grocers & Convenience Store Association also spoke about the issue of empty shelves at grocery stores.
“Since the beginning of this pandemic the food industry in the U.S. and in Tennessee has encountered kinks in the supply chain that we’ve worked very hard to overcome,” said Rob Ikard. “I’m very proud to say that we have not encountered any food shortages since the beginning of this pandemic because everyone is working double-time and is very creative and very resilient in terms of getting food to the stores and onto the tables of Tennesseans.”
Ikard too warned the consumer to be flexible and also to be kind to the workers. “The message to the frustrated consumer who maybe can’t find what they’re looking for on a given day, the people that you see in your grocery store, and in the back-room, and at the wholesaler, and the distributor are all working extremely hard to correct that issue.”