UPDATED 10:59 AM PT — Monday, March 23, 2020
While the U.S. food supply remains strong, a number of industries are struggling to stock its shelves and get food to grocery stores. This comes as retailers, warehouses and farmers currently face major labor shortages amid the coronavirus pandemic, while the demand for food industries increases.
The current food service workforce is struggling to keep up with the growing dependency on their services as Americans continue to buy-in-bulk.
“We’ve already increased our trucks from 950 a day to 1,350 a day, so we’re getting product on the shelves as fast as possible,”stated Lisa Helfman, Public Affairs – H.E.B Houston. “We have product, it’s just getting it on the shelves, getting it to you, and if you spread out the buying then the stores stay stocked.”
Several protective policies are making it tough for certain industries to effectively produce and transport food to grocery stores and markets. For example, American farmers and ranchers are being hit hard by the State Department’s policy to delay issuing H-2A visas to Mexican workers as they rely on roughly 250,000 H-2A workers each year.
Additionally, the trucking industry is being hurt by restrictions imposed on receiving and docking food supplies from truckers as well as shutting down rest stops.
Food service workers are also shying away from work because of the high risk of exposure due to working in close quarters with people for several hours.
“Because of anxiety, I can’t even sleep and President Trump says to stay away from people, and it’s just full of people,” said Veronica Duran, a worker at a Food 4 Less grocery store.
Meanwhile, states like Minnesota, Vermont and Michigan are categorizing food workers as “essential workers.” The states are rewarding their services by giving them the same benefits as health care workers and first responders. Employers are also trying to adequately supply food workers with face masks and gloves amid shrinking supplies.
Analysts are speculating an overhaul in developing industrial robots to harvest and transport food to solve the labor shortage problem, but have said the technology is not yet ready to fully deal with the issues at hand.