Out of Stock: Product shortages heading into the holidays

PITTSBURGH — With COVID-19 cases surging again and the holidays fast approaching, concerns are growing over a new round of product shortages.

Cleaning Supplies

It’s not as bad as it was in the spring, but the cleaning supply aisles are hit hardest in most stores. No matter where you go, when you go, you’re going to see empty shelves and some items out of stock.

“All the cleaners— they’ve been out of stock since this whole craziness started,” said Randy Sprankle, owner of Sprankle’s Neighborhood Market in Leechburg.

Sprankle said manufacturers have ramped up production to help deal with the shortage, but many products are still hard to keep on the shelves.

“Order more; order more; order more; As soon as you get it on the shelves, it goes.” he said, describing his never-ending routine.

Sprankle’s Market is not alone. We visited multiple store chains throughout the Pittsburgh area and whether it’s Target, Walmart, Giant Eagle, Kuhn’s, or others— all had product holes on the shelves.

Finding what you want

It can be hit or miss to find the exact brand you want, especially when it comes to disinfectant wipes and paper towels. But if you’re willing to settle for store or generic brands—you can generally find the product you want.

“You just think differently. Use something else,” said Sprankle’s customer Heather Rings, who has learned to adjust to the new normal.

Specialty products, like mold and mildew cleaner, oven cleaner and even Draino can be the most difficult to find and often require visits to multiple stores.

Soup & Soda & Spices

Certain varieties of soup, such as vegetable soup, are also hard to find.  The reason is a worldwide shortage of aluminum cans.

To prioritize the demand, manufacturers have shifted production away from less popular items.

“There are some major companies that have cut the slower lines altogether, because they can’t get the cans,” Sprankle said. “Like Cherry Red. Cherokee Red. They don’t make it anymore. They quit making it cause they didn’t have enough containers and it was a slower item.”

Spices are also experiencing a run these days.  With people stocking up for the holidays and more people than ever baking and cooking at home, it can be hard to find popular items, such as garlic salt and onion salt.

Pumpkin puree can be another elusive item.

“You order whatever pumpkin you can get,” Sprankle said. "Libby’s Pumpkin, the brand name, it’s been empty forever.

Turkey & Ham

When it comes to the holiday staples, such as turkey and ham, it’s best to buy early when you see them in the stores now, before supplies run out.

“My supplier told me, there’s no more turkeys to be had,” Sprankle said.

As for that Christmas ham, he said customers can expect to pay about a dollar more a pound, this year.

“Last year, $1.69.  This year, we’re looking at around $2.59 (a pound),” he said.

Takeaway Tips

The best advice is to think ahead about what you need and buy it when you see it.  Also keep in mind that stores advised there is no need to hoard. You should be able to get what you need if you’re flexible and willing to try alternative brands.