A few orange juice bottles can be found recently on a shelf at a Northwest Indiana Target store. Photo by Kerry Erickson
A few orange juice bottles can be found recently on a shelf at a Northwest Indiana Target store. Photo by Kerry Erickson
At least a few shelves have been empty or picked nearly clean at supermarkets and pharmacies across Northwest Indiana in the latest surge in pandemic-related shortages.

While stores are mostly well-stocked, Region residents have come across conspicuously bare shelves at local big-box stores and groceries in recent days amid the rise of the omicron variant and the record number of coronavirus hospitalizations in Indiana. Items like chicken, orange juice, milk, cough drops and cough medicine have been in short supply and harder to come by.

"Many of the supply chain issues are demand-related," Strack & Van Til Chief Operating Officer Dave Wilkinson said. "Labor, supplies, transportation and raw material shortages add to the problem. Workers with COVID on top of an everyday shortage of workers have exasperated the problem."

Strack & Van Til, which operates more than 20 stores across Northwest Indiana, has been working to meet increased demand throughout the pandemic at a time when supply chains have been faltering.

"Some manufacturers are experiencing raw material shortages and shortages of supplies like cans, bottles, etc., to put the product in," Wilkinson said. "Demand for most everything retailers sell is much higher than normal."

Some items have been particularly sought after during the recent rise in COVID-19 that's come with the omicron variant. A record 3,467 Hoosiers were hospitalized Monday.

"While we do our best to anticipate demand, some items not usually hard to come by have been on backorder off and on in recent weeks," said Cathlene Antczak of Vyto's Pharmacy, a locally owned pharmacy chain with locations in Hammond and Highland. "Immunity-boosting supplements and vitamins are in high demand. Like other retailers, at-home COVID tests sell out quickly and are more slowly replenished."

Vyto's has had to adjust to shortages of products most in demand, she said.

"Since our storefront is smaller, empty spaces are quickly filled with other merchandise," Antczak said. "Shipments from our suppliers arrive daily, so products are rearranged and empty spaces filled."

Customers might want to stock up on some items that demand has been especially strong for.

"We suggest that patients and customers plan ahead and shop before their supplies run low," Antczak said. "If high-demand products are needed, it may be best to call ahead to confirm the item is available."

Jewel-Osco supermarkets in Munster, Dyer, Crown Point and Chesterton also have scrambled to keep items in stock.

"We have been working closely with our vendors and suppliers to ensure that our customers have access to everything they need," Jewel-Osco spokeswoman Mary Frances Trucco said. "While certain categories might be constrained our stores have been diligent in providing alternative solutions and working quickly to fill any out of stocks."

Region residents have spotted empty shelves and refrigerated cases at many stores in recent days, including at Meijer, Target and Walgreens locations.

A major underlying issue is so many people have been calling in sick after getting infected with COVID, Indiana University Associate Professor of Economics Micah Pollak said.

"With omicron spreading so quickly, businesses could face a large portion of their workforce, such as 20% or more, all out sick at one time, far more than we’ve seen with any earlier variant," Pollak said.

While coming across empty shelves can be a surprise or an inconvenience, the shortages likely will be short-lived, as they were during the onset of the pandemic in early 2020.

"While these disruptions may be severe and sudden, the good news is that they will likely not last too long, perhaps a week or so while omicron cases continue to rise across the U.S. and Indiana," Pollak said. "Once cases peak and begin to fall, based on how rapidly cases have fallen in other countries, it’s likely we’ll see supply disruptions due to staffing clear up quickly."
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