Supply chain issues impact businesses

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By Andreas Yilma, Staff Writer

A few empty spots on shelves are seen at LaBonne’s Market in Prospect on Oct. 27. The market, like many businesses, is dealing with a supply shortage caused by several issues. -ANDREAS YILMA

Labor shortages that have plagued the country and state have translated into a shortage of goods and higher prices as consumers gear up for the upcoming holiday season.

Eric Gjede, vice president of public policy for the Connecticut Business & Industry Association, said many industries are facing supply shortages. He said a labor shortage is among the root causes of the issues affecting the supply chain that carries products to customers.

According to CBIA surveys, there are about 70,000 job openings and more than 86,000 fewer workers in the state compared to February 2020, he said.

“People are having a really hard time finding employees,” Gjede said.

The U.S. Labor Department reported 4.3 million people quit their jobs in August and there are 10.4 million open jobs in the nation, according to The Associated Press.

Gjede attributed the labor shortage in Connecticut, in part, to employers’ vaccine mandates and child care issues for employees.

“There’s not enough child care workers,” Gjede said. “This right now, these unfilled jobs, this is the number one problem for businesses in the state and preventing a full economic recovery.”

Aside from the labor shortage, a lack of containers to ship items in, factories having to close due to COVID-19 surges, and backups at ports and warehouses have all impacted the global supply chain, The Associated Press reported.

The industries that use products frequently or have a high turnover of products are experiencing the most shortages, Gjede said. These businesses include grocery and retail stores as well as restaurants.

Robert LaBonne Jr., owner of LaBonne’s Markets in Prospect, Watertown, Woodbury and Salisbury, said his stores have experienced or will experience shortages of items, including juices, cream cheese, spices and baking items.

Signs taped to shelves where items were missing in the Prospect store on Oct. 27 read, “We are out of stock on this item due to supply chain shortages.”

LaBonne said it’s a challenge to keep some products on the shelves, but he doesn’t think it will get too bad.

“Earlier this year, it was probably 1,100 to 1,400 items that were temporarily or permanently discontinued,” LaBonne said. “I’d say it’s less than 1,000 items now.”

As businesses struggle to fill jobs and get supplies, Gjede said they are also warning customers to shop early in anticipation of the holiday season.

“Businesses and government need to figure out the solution to this problem and work together to solve it,” he said.

Labonne urged people not to wait to the last minute to shop.

“If it’s something special, don’t hesitate,” he said. “Pick up your stuff a little earlier than the week of Thanksgiving.”

LaBonne said he’s already purchased important holiday items, including a pre order of about 1,700 turkeys, to get ahead of the curve.

LaBonne added a lack of truck drivers has led to higher distribution costs and reduced the delivery window for his stores by 20% to 30%. Last year, LaBonne rented a 26-foot refrigerated box truck to pick up products. He rented another box truck for the upcoming holiday season.

Jesse Camille’s Restaurant in Naugatuck is facing similar challenges.

Larry Erickson, who’s owned Jesse Camille’s for 25 years, said the restaurant has struggled to get a variety of items, including paper goods, plastic forks, pineapple juice, frying oils and rye bread.

“It’s tough out there,” Erickson said.

Erickson said he is forced at times to buy items online that are sometimes double the regular price or go to stores himself.

“I go from store to store. I go to various towns,” Erickson said. “Distributors seem to be out of the same thing.”

“Without having direct contact (to distributors), I do feel a little panic,” he added.

“I do feel there are going to be issues. I don’t know what is going to improve.”

The labor and supply shortages are leading to a spike in prices, according to the business owners.

“From what I’ve heard from distributors, frozen turkeys will be a shortage,” LaBonne said. “I think it’s going to be up 10% to 15% over last year’s prices.”

Erickson said the price of chicken has nearly tripled and the price of beef is through the roof. Everything is up at least 30%, in some cases 50%, he said.

“Prices are going to be up tremendously,” LaBonne said.