Do grocers need to get better at planning for weather-related disasters?
Texas is currently experiencing an environmental catastrophe some are comparing in its severity to Hurricane Katrina. Unprecedented winter weather has caused a long list of infrastructural problems on multiple fronts that are putting citizens in harm’s way, not least of which is the breakdown of grocery supply chains.
Regional grocer H-E-B described the supply chains as having experienced a severe disruption in an NPR report late last week. Shoppers, after waiting in long lines outside attempting to secure supplies, have been sharing images of entirely empty grocery shelves on social media at that chain and many others. Grocers are reported having stock-outs on staples like meat, eggs and potatoes.
To make matters worse, food has been spoiling in refrigerators due to lengthy power outages, putting customers in even more dire need of food. By Friday night, power had been restored to the region but water systems remained crippled.
On Thursday, H-E-B announced the temporary closure of some stores and reduced hours of operation due to power outages and water shortages, according to Supermarket News.
A growing list of retailers outside of grocery have also been forced to close throughout the region.
For instance, Dallas-based Neiman Marcus and J.C. Penney had to close locations throughout the state, according to Yahoo!Life. It is estimated that the catastrophe will inflict somewhere in the neighborhood of $50 billion of economic damage on the Southern U.S.
Even as the weather warms there are additional causes for alarm. The New York Times reports that experts fear increased temperatures over the weekend could lead to a thaw that could result in exploding pipes, and that there might not be enough plumbers available to mitigate the damage.
This is not the first time in recent memory that a natural disaster in the U.S. has led to a compromise of the integrity of vital food supply chains.
In April of 2020, the novel coronavirus pandemic began impacting food supply chains from various angles. Hoarding grew commonplace, creating artificial scarcity on staples. Meatpacking plants closed down due to rampant COVID-19 infection among workers and farmers dumped food normally sold through restaurants that were not able to operate.
- Several Days Into The Texas Deep Freeze, Food Is Scarce – NPR
- Live Updates: Power Comes Back in Texas, but Water Systems Are Crippled – The New York Times
- H-E-B scales back operations in winter storm-ravaged Texas – Supermarket News
- Neiman Marcus and JCPenney Are Among the Texas Retailers Forced to Close Stores as Winter Weather Deals $50B Economic Blow to Southern US – Yahoo!Life
- Is America’s food supply chain nearing its breaking point? – RetailWire
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Should grocers be expected to take the lead in preparedness for weather-related disasters and other disruptions by purchasing generators and taking other steps to keep stores open so customers are not left without groceries? What steps could grocers take in the future to prevent customers from being put in potentially dangerous positions due to the breakdown of supply chains?