Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Trip to the city

I did something yesterday I haven't done in three months: I took a shopping trip to the city. Seriously, I haven't been there since October 11.

I concentrated on the big box stores, since that's the only reason to go into a city anymore. My stops were: Staples, Home Depot, JoAnn's Fabrics, Cash'n'Carry (now called Chef's Store), Costco, and Winco. Aside from our purchases, however, I also wanted to gauge how full the shelves are since I keep hearing dire news stories about supply-chain shortages.

I had very little to get at Staples and Home Depot (a floor mat for under my desk and another step stool, respectively). I also had just one purchase at JoAnn's: some gnarly elastic to use as earthquake strapping for our spice rack in the pantry. While the lady at JoAnn's was measuring out the elastic, I asked if they were having trouble getting things. She gave a rueful chuckle and gestured toward an enormous wheeled cart stuffed with, I'm guessing, 200 bolts of fabric (including Christmas-themed prints).

"See that?" she said. "That was supposed to arrive two months ago. We just got it yesterday."

"Stuck offshore, was it?" I asked, and she said it was.

Chef's Store is probably my favorite place to shop. It's a restaurant-supply store and simply the best place to purchase bulk bags of flour or beans. I did not see many obvious holes in their inventory, with very select exceptions.

They even had plenty of frozen potatoes. We don't buy these, but I'd heard they're in short supply for many restaurants.

I noticed a few holes in the meats, but honestly not many.

I did ask about the availability of a 40-lb. box of frozen boneless skinless chicken breasts, since I had it in mind to can up some additional chicken. The fellow shook his head and said they have it in stock, but I wouldn't like the price.

"How much?" I asked.

"$110," he replied, himself scandalized. "It dropped to $80 for a while, then went up to $110."

Granted the last time I bought a 40-lb. box of chicken breasts was nine years ago, and it was on sale for $60. Nonetheless, I didn't buy any.

While checking out, I asked about their supply chain. Two of the men operating the cash registers joined in. "Horrible," they said. Apparently they're only getting in fifty percent of what they order. For this reason, I was pleased to get nearly everything I was looking for.

Costco, my next stop, was another story. The shelves all seemed full, including produce and meat, but something seemed amiss. I finally realized what it was while picking up some dog food: all the upper tiers of massive shelving were bare. And I mean bare.

I asked a passing Costco employee what was up with that. Apparently the reason was Snoqualmie Pass – the main east-west thoroughfare between Washington and North Idaho – had been snowed shut for several days, and had only just reopened. It wasn't just Snoqualmie Pass, it was every other east-west pass that had been closed due to weather, and Idaho was feeling the effect. I happened to hit Costco just as they were beginning to restock.

Interestingly, there were hardly any people in Costco. I've been there at times when it's wildly crowded. This was the opposite, even though it was mid-day on a Tuesday in decent weather. Go figure.

(Oh, and no restrictions of purchases of toilet paper. I snagged two packs.)

My last stop was Winco, which unquestionably has the best bulk-food section of any store I've seen. I was able to pick up some bulk pasta, farina (Cream of Wheat), coffee (still attractively priced), powdered milk, and red lentils.

What I couldn't find, however, was generic (Western Family brand) saltine crackers. Chef's Store didn't have any either, nor did our local grocery store.

They had Nabisco Premiums (notice how they're stacked forward to disguise the bare shelves behind), but those cost literally three times the price of the generic, and I wasn't about to pay that much. They also had plenty of generic saltines with unsalted tops, which were clearly an unpopular option. So, I didn't buy any crackers. I think I'll make them instead.

The other thing I couldn't find were strike-anywhere matches. What's up with that? For weeks we've been looking for strike-anywhere matches. Every time we go into a local grocery or hardware store, we search the shelves for strike-anywheres, and they're sold out. Winco had plenty of strike-on-box matches, but those aren't our preference.

I didn't specifically mention matches, but I did ask the checkout lady about supply chain issues in general. She made the same observations as everyone else I spoke to: aside from the passes being closed, the store is getting anywhere from half to three-quarters of what they order. In light of this, I was pleased to see the shelves seemed full (though granted I didn't hit many of the center aisles, since I tend to be a perimeter shopper).

So that was my trip to the city. What's happening in the rest of the country?


  1. I've been told that shipping and storage regulations for strike anywhere have gotten expensive.
    The claim is that they start fires easily and draw rodents.

    Most places don't even carry them anymore.

  2. Most places don't carry strike anywhere matches anymore. I'm surprised you saw empty listings for them.
    Regulations for storing and shipping them have gotten tight and expensive recently; strike anywhere matches have been blamed for several warehouse and truck fires,so many stores have stopped carrying them.

  3. I'm handicapped so it comes to me. I placed a huge order thinking I would only get half of it and I got it all with some acceptable substitutions. Hysterically there was no sparkling water to help me kick my coke habit. As a result I have meat till the summer. Huge carnivore here. But I'm I'm texas with no impassable roads for the most part. Batting he'll freezing over again. But it's been worse in past weeks and may be again. I will need Canning jars and lids and dunno how that will be.

  4. I went into a store yesterday for the first time since before Christmas and saw plenty of empty shelves and fronting on those that appeared to be stocked - was a little shocking even though I'd heard such things. It was just a couple of oddball things I needed so hopefully I won't have to go again for a while.

  5. I am in Florida and pretty much only go in to a Publix. Most recently I have noticed holes in the store. Not bad, but holes or things moved up to the front. I wanted some cannellini beans for a soup recipe the other day and there were none of any brand. That was a first. So far though everything I have needed is there. I am one that if I use something I try to get the replacement when I shop so the fact that I ran out of those beans is attributed to holiday and just getting caught off guard.

  6. My experience at the grocery store (the only sort I go to regularly) is the same as others: fronted shelves with maybe two or three rows instead of a full shelf. And sometimes, odd things are out of stock.

  7. For the few times in a month I hit the stores I see different areas thin at different times EXCEPT for the meat department..especially at Walmart.. it always seems ransacked. By the way, you can make cream of wheat for pennies by grinding your wheatberries not as fine as flour. Use the same cooking directions and measurements as normal..I like to use milk

  8. There seem to be shortages over most all types of merchandise as well as a lot of food products. Lots of fronting products to the front of the shelf to get that "full" look. Shortages seem to come and go as products show up and then sold out. Prices are constantly climbing upward via a smaller package or a higher price . I would gauge the real world inflation rate around 15-18% .We are in SE Wa.
    The trucker issues at the US Canada border that are coming to us soon will not be helpful , especially in wood products ,hot house tomatoes ,mushrooms and many other products . I am afraid the pain will felt on both sides of the border. Dicey times for sure.

  9. Many oddball shortages in my area too but I found one bright spot- one of uur local farm stores has an entire aisle of canning jars, rings and lids for the first time in almost 2 years. Wish I could post a picture here. It is a beautiful sight. I am going to buy a bunch this weekend!

  10. Stores have an abundance of canning jars, but no rings or lids. I don't know if they are not getting lids or lids are selling out quickly. I will only use Ball, maybe Kerr, but those are not available. Sometimes, I do see other brands of jars and rings.

    1. Last summer I couldn’t find Kerr or Ball lids anywhere. In desperation I bought an off brand at a local hardware store. Never again! I keep finding jars of food that have released their seals.

    2. This is my worry and why I'm looking now. Some things should not be generic.

  11. Just a suggestion, buy bone in, skin on thighs. They're always cheaper than breasts. Skin and debone them setting the skin and bones aside for making broth or stock. The thighs have better flavor and are juicier than breasts. You'll have broth and canned chicken and will have killed two rocks with one bird.

  12. I was amazed to find ball canning lids with rings both regular and wide mouth at the Hy-Vee store in MN. You had to buy the combo and of rings and lids, but after months of no other options. I went ahead and purchased a few boxes. Who knows what will be available this fall.

  13. I live nearly city center and i see maybe 2 carsc an hour..???

  14. I think some of this is from supply issues and some from folks stocking up, which, since co-vid hit, a lot more people do. No one in their right mind wants to go out more than necessary, and stocking up greatly reduces necessary trips. So almost everyone is doing it.
    A couple weeks ago I passed a Walmart shopper with an entire big buggy loaded with big boxes of her favorite K cups of coffee. A few steps further down that aisle that kind of coffee had been wiped out. Saw the same thing last year and it was a guy with 2 big buggy fulls of chef boyardee. He was in the check out aisle as I entered the store. He saw me gawking and said " it's only going to get worse ".

    I'm trying not to do this to any store, but do routinely get certain things. That way I don't wind up panic buying and it's easier to stay in a budget.
    Speaking of which, I'm working on reducing the budget. Portion control is a big part of that I'm finding.
    Prices are zooming up for fruits here down south and the produce aisles frequently seem sparse. There's always cabbage.

    Companies manufacturing our goods, including foods, like to keep the process going 24-7. So they run the name brand stuff then run the same product overage as generic. You can frequently tell what name brand your product is because it's often beside the name brand on the shelf. Also, they have this down to a science because the labeling tends to use the same colors of ink. Their profits are greater for name brand, and with shortages persisting for whatever reason, the scant supply of generic goods will probably continue. Stick to your budget. Make substitutions, eliminate where possible, and save whatever you can for the future. Maybe it will be for future good deals!

  15. Same here in Southern Illinois. I went to 3 local stores Walmart,Kroger and a small mom and pop to find cabbage. None available anywhere but I did find a head of red cabbage at Walmart. Shelfs stocked at less than 50% on a bunch of items. Order your garden seed now because it will be in short supply again this year

  16. In western NC...odd shortages. Have noticed a lot of "spread and front fill" going on in several stores. Last trip to Sam's Club = things looked full but the overhead racks were empty and on the floor (for example) there would be two pallets of Wheaties and no Raisin Bran. Were almost out of eggs. Had no cream, cream cheese or half and half

  17. So yesterday I go to my local grocery store that has a small franchise in Eastern WA and North Idaho. I went for a few items that were in their sales flier. The item I wanted was not there. In a conversation with an employee, she stated that 50% of the items they order were not received. Some of the items on the shelves were also stocked on the front of shelves to make it look like there were items there. Buckle up folks it's going to be a bumpy ride, keep stocking.

  18. I made a run to WallyWorld this morning. For various reasons, had not been there for a few months. Kerr canning lids available in both sizes plus as a box of rings/lids. But not stocked deeply at all.

    They already have their display of seeds up and stocked.

    Found everything I was looking for except small butane canisters for my single burner cooker. They were selling the same kind of burner but no fuel available.

    I did notice several shelving units were bare. But that could have been because I was there at store opening and they hadn't stocked those shelves yet. There were more stockers then shoppers when I was there. I also noted several places where stock was 'faced' with nothing behind the first row of items.

    SJ in Vancouver BC Canada

  19. I have to say...this is not something that just started happening. I have pictures that I took in July of 2019 from our local Kroger store. The pictures of of massive holes in the canned vegetables, the dried beans and also produce. Walmart and Meijer were the same. Signs were put up by the stores saying that products were "Temporarily Unavailable". Condiments were fronted on the shelves along with other foods. Walmart's signs said "Product Shortage". I don't think people were paying very close attention back then. My siblings and I have been. Then fast forward a few months and Covid hit. Since then shortages have been blamed on sickness, short staffing, weather, etc. I've watched it happen. The shortages started well before now. It's just a lot worse now. I wouldn't wait for passes to get plowed or Covid to go away. If you're smart you start preparing now if you haven't already. Learn to can, dehydrate, whatever your food preservation choices are, but it's going to get worse I'm sure.

  20. Massachusetts here. Like Sandy, I’ve been unable to find canned cannellini beans for a month. Otherwise the shelves are sparse of some items, but it changes weekly. If it’s not in stock this week, it is often is the next week.
    Huggies wipes are often gone. And today at Market Basket the entire gluten free section of crackers was gone. They had one brand only of GF cookies. This store usually has the largest selection of GF products.
    Sandwich meat has been very hot or miss.

  21. Southern Arizona here. I haven’t seen ball lids since March 2020. Our Target hasn’t had distilled water in over a month. Pasta shelf has been bare since just afterChristmas. No paper plates, cup or bowls. Saw Neufch√Ętel cream cheese today for the first time in 6 weeks today. Some products are sparse but there, especially half and half and other dairy.

  22. I also have had trouble finding generic crackers at our local Kroger stores. Finally in desperation I bought 2 boxes of the Zesta saltines since they were cheaper than the Premium brand. That was a couple of months ago. Now it’s time to restock and I’m wondering what I’ll find & how much it will cost.