By Benjamin Kahn and Sasha Rogelberg
From toilet paper to dishwashers to cars, empty shelves and display cases across the country are emblematic of broken supply chains exacerbated by the ongoing pandemic. In the Jewish community, businesses of all kinds are feeling the effects.
“Paper goods, aluminum, oil, plastics — all the basics everybody uses — are going up [in price],” said Eli Siegel, general manager of Market Maven, a kosher grocery store in Pikesville. In an effort to keep prices down, Siegel is constantly reaching out to new vendors. “We are forced to call dozens of different companies — many we have never used before — to get these basic things that I cannot run a grocery without.”
The shortages are due in part to an increase in demand for durable goods — items that can be kept and used for over a year, such as appliances and furniture and mezuzahs — and a decrease in the use of services, such as dining in restaurants and seeing movies in theaters.
“Because people are spending more on durable goods than on services, there is a very fast-increasing demand and expectation to produce,” said Joseph Friedman, Israeli- American economics professor at Temple University.
However, not only are manufacturers unable to keep up with the demand for goods, but distribution has slowed significantly, Friedman said.
Labor shortages are mainly to blame, with low-wage workers quitting over poor working conditions and pay. Friedman said there are 20,000-30,000 fewer heavy truck drivers on the road than before the pandemic.
Then there are the bottlenecks at ports. Dozens of freighters are anchored off the coast of Los Angeles, waiting to unload their cargo. Some of these freighters have to wait up to a month to be inspected to offload. While they are anchored, crews still have to be compensated.
At Ben Yehuda, a kosher pizzeria in Kemp Mill, general manager Yissachar Cohen sees these bottlenecks in the form of higher cost of goods and staffing problems with the companies that deliver supplies.
“Delivery drivers are showing up an hour after closing or not at all,” Cohen said. “These drivers are responsible for ensuring that everything from oil for the fryers to the sauce on the pizza makes it to the restaurant on time.”
Staffing issues with delivery companies are only making the supply chain issues worse. Because some of the companies are unable to hire enough drivers to meet demand, Cohen occasionally has to make supply runs himself, going out early in the morning to get basic ingredients like tomato sauce.
“Randomly, I will just be out of a topping because [my suppliers] never shipped it,” he said.
Tracy Yitzhaky, co-owner of Moti’s Market, a kosher grocery store in Rockville, said that her business has been impacted as well. Prices are not only going up on food but on packaging too, she said.
“If you see empty shelves, it’s not because we are not ordering items,” Yitzhaky said.
Siegel noted that there was already difficulty obtaining products when the pandemic first started, when players across the supply chain started shutting down.
“Suppliers, processors, warehouses, distributors, deliveries — even if they did not completely shut down, the slowdowns prevented them from keeping up with their schedule,” Siegel said.
Now, Chanukah is a month away. Market experts say this year you can’t do your holiday shopping too early.