Grocery stores across the country are reporting a return of supply chain issues seen at the start of the pandemic, with some stores struggling to keep popular food items on their shelves.

Nick Hansen is an owner of Hansen’s IGA, which has 11 stores mostly in western Wisconsin. He said it’s been harder to get orders in since September, and now service levels are back to where they were in March 2020.

"It's been a slow train wreck here for months, and it's just gotten worse and worse," Hansen said. 

He said a lack of labor, either because of COVID-19 infections or hiring issues, is the biggest hold up for the industry. That includes everyone from semitruck drivers to workers in distribution warehouses. 

Hansen said his business is only getting about half of what they order during a given week because his distributor doesn’t have enough employees to fill orders.

"(Our distributor) even went to the extent of limiting how much we can order just because they're saying, 'We only have so much labor in our warehouse,'" he said. "We're trying to prioritize the highest moving (products), and there's a lot of variety that we're just having to say we can't even order it because we don't want to use up our cases that we can get."

Hansen said his own stores have had some workforce challenges. They've raised wages to attract and retain workers and feel lucky to have seen fewer COVID-19 infections this winter than they had at the end of 2020.

Tim Metcalfe, president and co-owner of Metcalfe's Market in Madison and Wauwatosa, has been stocking produce at one of his stores all week because they're down employees.

He said everyone at the store is pitching in to make sure people can still get their days off, but they're not immune to workforce issues seen across the supply chain.

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