Grocery shoppers coping with higher prices as stores grapple with supply chain issues

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- If you've been to the grocery store recently you've probably noticed higher prices and fewer items on store shelves. There are many factors are impacting the supply chain, and one industry expert expects the pandemic to impact stores for at least the next 18 months.

The president of Rupena's Fine Foods said the store will not raise prices unless they're absolutely forced to because of higher costs, and even then, it's just by a few cents at a time.

Normally the price is increased on just a few products each week, but not lately. Maria Rupena-Karczewski is the President & Manager of Rupena's Fine Foods. She said, "But 70 is a lot. It's a lot. And it's more like 10 cents, things like that."

After 96 years in business, the Rupena family knows the grocery industry. Rupena's operates on razor-thin margins to keep customers satisfied, as does the entire industry.

Brandon Scholz, the president of the Wisconsin Grocers Association, said, "Grocers really don't like to increase prices because their customers are very sensitive. But at some point, they have to."

How a product comes to market determines the cost: the industry relies on producers, suppliers, warehouses, and shippers to grow, package, store, and ship products from the beginning of the supply chain to a shopper's cart. So, shortages in labor, raw materials, packing supplies, and drivers all impact price.

But another problem: Rupena's general manager reports not enough items are being produced right now. Rupena-Karczewski said she'll hear him walking through the aisles scanning item tags. "I hear a *beep* and I'm like 'Oh that's not in stock either?' And he's like 'Nope!' And then *beep* 'Nope!'"

One distributor in particular is struggling to produce. Rupena-Karczewski said, "We actually had to stop using them because they could not guarantee us a delivery at all."

And shortages in non-food items are also having an impact, for example the spice rubs Rupena's makes in-house. Rupena-Karczewski said it's, "Very, very difficult to keep one of our beef and pork in stock. Either the lids we can't get or he can't get the bottles."

Chain grocers are feeling the same effects despite sometimes having deeper pockets. Scholz said, "Just the mere fact that you're bigger, doesn't necessarily make it easier to not deal with price increases, especially something as dramatic as this particular round."

A spokesperson for The Kroger Co., which operates Pick 'n Save, sent along the following statement: "The situation with supply chain constraints is a fluid one. Various manufacturers are struggling to keep up with supply and demand. Add to that the fact that raw materials, at times, can be scarce and with the transportation industry short resources, it does create some supply chain constraints. Certain vendors in various commodity categories have been affected but the problem is not across the board and the good news is the situation is nowhere near as serious as it was during the early stages of the pandemic when the supply chain was heavily constrained."

Scholz expects many of the contributing factors will slowly regulate over time, like fuel costs, more people returning to the labor market, and a stabilizing supply chain. He says all of those should help flatten prices in the grocery aisles.

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