Pixabay, empty shopping cart

The pandemic, snow storms, production problems, increase in pet ownership…these may be contributing factors of why pet food aisles are bare at some local grocery stores in Pennsylvania, according to media reports.

Chris Anthony, manager at Country Harvest Family Market in Palmerton, Pa., told Times News that his shelves of canned cat food are about 80 percent bare. Anthony pointed to some production problems with Nestlé Purina (Friskies) and the J.M. Smucker Co.

“Both of those companies are experiencing COVID-related shutdowns and production problems, as well as Nestlé Purina experienced shutdown due to the recent snowstorm; that was kind of like the final blow,” Anthony told Times News.

Anthony said that he had received an email from his supplier indicating that both Nestlé Purina and J.M. Smucker have all their products on national allocation, meaning that they are sending products based on percentage of sales under normal conditions.

“They don’t have enough supply to meet everybody, and that’s going to continue on at least until the end of summer,” Anthony told Times News.

Wendy Vlieks, a spokesperson at Nestlé Purina, acknowledged that some pet food products may be more difficult to find with the high consumer demand, but the situation isn’t unique to Purina brands, The Morning Call reported.

“Please know that we’re sorry that some consumers are having to wait longer to find their pet’s favorite product, but we are working hard to ensure product availability,” Vlieks said.

Also in Pennsylvania, Tractor Supply, Target, Giant and Weis were experiencing shortages, too, according to The Morning Call, which is part of Tribune Publishing. Such stores offered “only a skimpy selection of Fancy Feast and Sheba—if you’re lucky.” While South Mall’s Petco was well stocked compared with the grocery stores, there were “noticeable gaps” on the shelves, including Blue Buffalo Healthy Gourmet and Science Diet canned cat food, according to the newspaper.

Freshpet, a refrigerated pet food maker that recently opened an expansion facility in Hanover Township, Pa., is another brand that has fallen short. The reason? “Booming demand” as well as a labor shortage in the fourth quarter due to COVID-19 testing and shelter-in-place orders, Billy Cyr, CEO of Freshpet, told The Morning Call. The recent snowstorms haven’t helped either, Cyr added. However, things are improving.

“But it will take until sometime in April to fully catch up to demand,” Cyr added. “Consumers will see an improvement long before that because the stores will get filled first, then the backrooms, then the warehouses and then our warehouse.”

Unlike the grocery stores, pet retailers seem to be fairing better, particularly because they have a wider selection, Tony ElChaar, owner of three Lehigh Valley, Pa., pet retailer locations, told The Morning Call.

“We’ve encountered some shortages in some of the brands, but what we sell is not the same kind of thing they sell in the grocery stores,” ElChaar said.

Village Pet Supplies and Gifts, which has stores in Hanover Twp. and Luzerne, Pa., are stocked with natural cat food with human-grade ingredients, Brenda Bartlett told The Citizens’ Voice. This pet food is not made at the same facilities as the canned cat food experiencing shortages, she added.

“We are actually seeing everything bounce back to normal at this point in terms of the manufacturing rate of the human grade foods,” Bartlett told the newspaper. “The problems are in the grocery brands and that doesn’t affect anything at our stores and we are having no problem with product arriving.”

For related coverage, read: