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Grocery store food availability improving

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Nearly 70% of shoppers report encountering no food shortages during last week of May.

The grocery cases and shelves that were left barren in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic are, for the most part, back to their pre-COVID-19 states, according to The NPD Group. In the week ending May 28, 68% of U.S. grocery shoppers reported to the firm that they hadn’t encountered any of the foods and beverages they were shopping being out of stock for during the week, while the remaining shoppers did encounter out-of-stock items, according to the findings of NPD’s "NET COVID-19 Pantry & Food Strategy Tracker."

Although consumers have moved on from the panic grocery shopping they did in the early stages of the pandemic, they still are maintaining the same level of food and beverage inventory. Across all categories, there has been only a 3% drop in the estimated number of food and beverage packages on hand in homes compared to early April, NPD reported.

Taking into account the meat and poultry supply chain issues due to COVID-19 outbreaks at processing plants and resulting labor shortages, 51% of the consumers who reported encountering out-of-stock items said they weren’t able to purchase the meat or poultry item they were looking for in the week ending May 28. Still, NPD said this is an improvement from 61% of consumers who reported finding meat or poultry out of stock the previous week ending May 21.

The availability of pasta, rice and beans also improved, with 10% of consumers reporting items in these categories out of stock during the week, compared to 24% in the previous week. A greater number of consumers, 33%, reported finding water, coffee, tea and juice to be out of stock in the week ending May 28 versus 25% of consumers who were unable to find these beverages in the previous week.

Other categories where a higher percentage of consumers were reporting out of stocks in the week ending May 28 compared to the previous week were: fruits, vegetables and potatoes, increasing to 25% of shoppers from 18%, and dairy (milk, cheese and dairy alternatives), which increased to 17% of consumers from 8% in the week ending May 21.

“With the majority of households still preparing all their meals and snacks in-home in May and the continuing supply chain challenges, limited or out-of-stock situations are inevitable,” David Portalatin, NPD food industry advisor and author of "Eating Patterns in America," said. “Considering the unprecedented situations the COVID-19 pandemic has presented over the last few months, the U.S. food supply chain has held up remarkably well.”

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue relayed last week that across the cattle, swine and broiler sectors, processing facilities are operating at more than 95% of their average capacity compared to this time last year.

Beef facilities are operating at 98%, pork facilities are operating at 95% and poultry facilities are operating at 98% of their year-ago capacity, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported.

Beef and pork processing capacity at their lowest points during the COVID-19 pandemic were 35% below year-ago levels. Broiler capacity was 6% lower, which equates to a decline of about 20 million birds.

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