Why Are We Seeing So Many Bare Shelves at Grocery Stores Across the Country?


by Samantha Biggers, DC Clothesline:

Over the past few months, my husband and I have kept an eye on the store shelves in our area. We don’t shop daily or even weekly, but the trend of increasingly bare shelves has been incredibly disturbing. This made me curious as to what others have been experiencing. As a member of various online prepping communities, I see a lot of conversations and concerns, but one thing that has stood out to me is the amazing number of people chiming in to report sparse or bare shelves or just not being able to find a specific item they like.

We visited many different stores.

Over several months we visited various regional and national grocery stores, drug stores, and dollar store chains.

You may be able to guess where these pictures come from but I am not going to mention store names because I fear that by doing so I will contribute to a damaged reputation for these stores. I don’t want to affect the financial well being of the hardworking families that rely on their employment with these stores.

The main grocery warehouse for a major regional chain is quite close, and they are a well-capitalized company with no significant financial difficulties, but even they seemed to have problems keeping some items on the shelf.

Here are the most commonly out of stock or in short supply items.

The pictures in this article were not taken during snowstorms. They were taken during a typical shopping day in the winter time in the USA. My husband and I wanted to make sure that snow was not making the results worse than they actually are. This research is intended to inform, not foster unwarranted fears.

Please excuse the blurry quality of some images, we were moving fast and also trying not to be too obvious when exploring stores.

Trash bags of all sizes. Store brands of trash bags were missing, or in short supply, at all the stores we visited over the past few months.

Convenience and canned goods

Non-rechargeable batteries. AA and AAA sizes were the ones missing most often

Large packs of toilet paper and paper towels

Larger bags of pet foods and some canned varieties

Frozen foods

Canned meats

Storage totes and plastic food storage containers


Over the counter pain relievers and antacids

Other items that were regularly missing:

  • 5 and 10 lb bags of rice
  • Large canisters of oatmeal
  • Cosmetics
  • Light bulbs
  • Basic hardware items
  • Outdoor gear

A lot of people think bare shelves are the result of food stamp benefits being issued early.

Food stamps being issued early had only a slight effect on store stock, but it was more noticeable in some areas due to stock already being low.

Food stamps were issued early, with many people receiving their February benefits by January 20th on average.

While this did lead to some people buying more groceries and supplies during January, this would only explain some of the low inventory that happened within the last few weeks, not the low stock that we have seen over the course of many months.

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