Empty shelves can be jarring for shoppers used to having access to everything they want and need, in every color and flavor, at the touch of a button or the end of a 10-minute drive. Empty or picked-over shelves are often the first sign consumers see that supply chains are struggling to deliver.
Those shelves are not, however, a good indicator of how global supply chains are flowing, according to Tom Hammann, who helped manage General Mills’ supply chain for 22 years and now runs a consulting business.
“That product could be in the back room,” Hammann said. Retailers are having trouble hiring for all kinds of employees – in the front and back of the house along with the warehouse. “That product could be in the distribution center and it’s on the way. It could still be in a plant,” he said.
Consumers are seeing the shortages that supply-chain professionals have predicted for months. Raw-materials shortages, production delays and disruptions, slower and sometimes interrupted port operations, and labor shortages have put supply chains in overdrive, and many goods aren’t where they need to be.
“The value chain starts so much earlier before things hit the shelves that something could be happening today that you won’t feel on the retail shelves for another 60, 90 – more likely, 100 days or so,” said Eytan Buchman, the chief marketing officer for Freightos Group.
What looks like a shortage of goods, Buchman said, is actually more like a backlog. A rush of goods trying to get from one side of the world to the other, all with the common deadline of holiday shopping season, have led us here.