LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Food retail experts say the supply shortages have all come to a head.
Existing shortages of workers in the food manufacturing and transportation industry have worsened with Omicron, causing absences for factories, truck drivers, and grocery store employees themselves.
Now, stores across the country are battling through delays in shipments, leading to some empty shelves and others very low on popular food items.
At Kroger, Trader Joe's, Walmart and ValuMarket locations in Louisville, WHAS11 News saw the impact.
As of Thursday afternoon, some frozen meats sections having nothing left.
Grocery stores have also struggled to quickly restock brands of pasta, dairy items, bread, produce, juices and even some pet foods.
"It's a hit or miss game," Mike Whitaker, manager of the ValuMarket on Bardstown Road, said. "You keep ordering because you don't know what's going to come through the warehouse and what's not."
The National Grocers Association said many factors have led to these issues, including an ongoing shortage of labor across the entire supply chain, an acute shortage of truck drivers, and disruptions in product packaging.
The NGA also reported some stores are operating with less than 50 percent of their staff for periods of time -- and omicron isn't helping.
"We've seen it in our warehouses down in Nashville," Whitaker said. "We just saw it last week where some of our warehouse pickers and truckers [were] out with COVID."
WHAS11 News also spoke with the Kentucky Grocers & Convenience Store Association.
"They don't know from one day to the next what's going to be on the truck, what's not going to be on the truck," said KGCSA Director of Communications and Public Affairs Steve McClain. "They put the order in and the trucks come in with maybe half of what they've ordered."
It gives flashbacks to what things looked like early in 2020, except now experts like McClain say it's not so much panic buying causing the shortage.
"Before these last couple months, we're averaging an absentee rate of about two percent. That's now up to around eight percent," McClain said. "From the start of the supply chain, all the way to the end of it."
McClain said it's affecting all parts of the industry, from production plants having higher absentee rates to transportation workers being out sick as well.
It's forced employees and customers to plan around the slowdowns.
Whitaker said they've tried to think ahead, ordering larger shipments at a time earlier than usual, knowing it could be a while until they get the next one.
He says winter weather has played a part too, most recently snow from last week.
And with the possibility of more coming to the area this weekend, Whitaker said they're preparing for that impact too.
The question employees and customers want to know: When will this get better?
The KGCSA said it's hard to know for sure but believes it could take at least a few weeks, or when omicron loosens its grip on the community.
State experts advise people to try to grocery shop at off times of day if they can, not after work on weekdays or typically busy times on weekends.
Officials also said many stores have even chosen to spread out supply inside, sometimes not stocking all items at once in order to temper panic buying.