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Shortages, out of stock: why are so many products disappearing from supermarkets?

  • Post category:Economy News
  • Reading time:4 mins read

In recent years, not a month goes by without a product disappearing from supermarket shelves, victim of a stock shortage. Explanations on the phenomenon that confuses consumers.

There has been sunflower oil, since the invasion of Ukraine, a major producer of this plant, by Russia. Or toilet paper at the start of the Covid-19 epidemic in 2020. From early March to mid-August, mustard, salad dressings, non-alcoholic drinks, crisps, oils or even poultry were affected, according to a barometer compiled by panelist NielsenIQ.

The fact remains that 96.4% of the references remained available on the shelves in August, according to this same source. But the rate of ruptures, which last an average of 4 days, is abnormally high in a country used to not missing anything.

How to explain these ruptures?

Until the Covid-19 epidemic, supplying stores was a well-oiled machine. Before placing an order, merchants based themselves on sales during the same period in previous years, taking into account specific events such as end-of-year celebrations or the arrival of fine weather.

But since 2020, between confinements, teleworking and the impact of the war in Ukraine, the forecasts have been much less precise.

All the players agree that it is above all the so-called “precautionary” purchases that empty the shelves: customers, hearing that the mustard harvests have been bad, or seeing that the shelves are already quite empty, will be tempted to buy more of these products than usual, to store them at home.

“At least in June, we had no more mustard because we had achieved our figure for the year”, recently explained on BFMTV Michel-Edouard Leclerc, the president of the strategic committee of French stores E. Leclerc. The French bought in six months what the leading retailer thought it would sell in a year.

“If I quote a brand” which could run out soon, “everyone will rush” to buy it, also said Michel-Edouard Leclerc.

This eagerness escapes the forecasting models of businesses, which will want to place an order at the same time, clogging up the supply chain. In addition, suppliers may be tempted to charge more since available stocks are hotly contested.

The interest for professionals

If sunflower oil has made a comeback in stores, it’s often at higher prices, suggesting supermarkets are cashing in on the crisis. Professionals respond that these supplies cost them, as do packaging and transport. But since demand is high, some may have been tempted by higher prices.

In any case, traders do not like to leave shelves empty, which they see as loss of profit, estimated by NielsenIQ at 2.7 billion euros since the start of the year. A figure to qualify, however, because it does not take into account the “oversales” made when the product is available on the shelves.

Voluntary breakups?

However, certain breakthroughs are chosen by professionals, whether agro-industrialists or distributors.

Fans of Mikado, Petit Ecolier, Pépito or Pim’s have recently noticed that some of their products were missing from the shelves. This is the consequence of the decision of the group that owns these brands, Mondelez, to “deep clean” a production site, following a salmonella alert in a Belgian factory of one of its chocolate suppliers, and after ensuring that no product offered for sale contains contaminated chocolate.