LA GRANDE — Supply chain issues gripping the nation have led to shortages in everything from semiconductors to paper trays at school cafeterias, but Thanksgiving looks to be running smoothly and on time, according to grocery stores in rural Oregon cities.
Marco Rennie, owner of Market Place Fresh Foods, La Grande, said hangups in the supply chain have affected grocers across the board, but his store is ready to help customers meet holiday meal needs.
“It has been more difficult,” Rennie said, but he added, “We’ve been fortunate that we secured turkeys in advance.”
Rennie and Market Place Fresh Foods has ordered its share of turkeys as well as reaching out locally in order to fill any potential shortages. The store is partnering with Bellamy Family Farm in Summerville to provide locally sourced turkeys ahead of Thanksgiving.
“We’ve been really blessed that way,” he said. “I’ve been getting notices from our wholesaler telling us that turkeys are in short supply, but we pre-booked ours far enough in advance that we’ll be OK.”
The Bellamy Family Farm turkeys will be on sale by order, while Rennie predicts that roughly two-thirds of the store’s turkeys sold will be the traditionally ordered birds.
Rennie noted that the store’s wholesaler made him aware that canned cranberries may be more scarce than in previous years, but the store is not having any problems bringing in fresh goods.
“There are certain items that historically do well that we’re struggling with a bit,” he said. “From our wholesaler we see anywhere from 30-40% out of stock from the products as a whole.”
Heading into the Thanksgiving holiday with an increased element of uncertainty in receiving full shipments from wholesalers, stores like Market Place Fresh Foods are facing unprecedented challenges, so planning ahead has been a major point of emphasis.
“We’re looking forward to a great Thanksgiving and just counting our blessings,” Rennie said.
At Grocery Outlet in Island City, owners Randy and Michelle Willson have not come up against any major issues stocking up on Thanksgiving items.
“We’ve actually been able to fill our shelves all the way up,” Randy Willson said. “All my vendors have really stepped up to the plate.”
He noted that the store is an opportunistic buyer, so they have been able to continue stocking Grocery Outlet with bargain items. Ahead of the holiday, the store is fully stocked on the typical Thanksgiving food items. In addition to turkeys, the store is offering bundle deals that include ingredients used for traditional Thanksgiving dishes.
“We’ve got plenty of birds on hand,” Randy Willson said. “We’ve been very fortunate.”
‘It changes every time’
Other grocers in Eastern Oregon expressed similar takes.
“Turkey’s on the table. We’ve got turkey already in our freezer,” said Blaine Huffman, owner of Huffman’s Select Market in Prairie City. “I’m sure there’s going to be items we’re going to be short on, but on the whole we’re fine.”
Grocery stores have had to adapt to a changing supply landscape that has seen shortages crop up in unexpected places.
“We don’t know one load from the next what we’re going to get — it changes every time,” Huffman said. “The food supply chain is vulnerable. A lot of stuff is still sitting (on transport ships) out in the ocean.”
Huffman said he had some issues ordering pre-made pies for Thanksgiving, and the store is already out of stock of those items. Supplies for homemade pies, however, are available.
Considering that smaller markets lack the same buying power as larger chains such as Safeway or Walmart, there was a cause for concern that residents in frontier towns, including John Day or Prairie City, might have to travel farther to fill their shopping carts for the upcoming holiday.
“Before, I was able to buy pallets of certain things like condensed milk,” said Mike Shaffer, operations manager for Chester’s Market, in John Day, about supplies that are in greater demand during the holiday, but during what he termed the current “logistical nightmare ... if you have to reorder it, that’s where you may run into an issue because everybody else is reordering, especially for the season.”
Shaffer said he ordered key holiday items months in advance, preparing for increased business as the deadline for putting the turkey in the oven looms.
“As far as staples go, we’re sitting pretty good,” he said.
Supply chain issues have cropped up from a myriad of pandemic-related minutiae, such as labor and raw material shortages, low production yields and increased costs of goods as shipping costs skyrocket due to increases in fuel and container prices.
That means deliveries are often delayed, or when orders finally arrive at grocery stores, the contents might be less than what was expected.
“It’s hard to plan around, I’ll put it to you that way,” Shaffer said.
Those issues exacerbated an already vulnerable system. Still, Eastern Oregon grocery stores remain optimistic about the upcoming holiday.
“It’s not like it was last year,” Huffman said. “I think everything will be good.”