Weird, Random Shortages at Metro Denver Grocery Stores

Paper products were in short supply at a Jefferson County Walmart on October 19.
Paper products were in short supply at a Jefferson County Walmart on October 19. Photo by Michael Roberts
Back in the spring of 2020, shortages of toilet paper and cleaning products when demand soared during the rise of COVID-19 led to panic-buying frenzies at grocery stores in metro Denver and beyond. And while reports about product scarceness across Colorado are growing once again, the current scenario is nothing like what happened a year and a half ago.

This time around, based on what we saw during visits to five major retailers in recent days, the shortages aren't as widespread and seem a lot more random — and much weirder.

The situation is hardly unique to Denver. Retailers nationwide are having difficulty restocking a wide array of items for reasons that have been attributed to troubles with the international supply chain, as well as a domestic dearth of truckers, railroad workers and dock employees along America's coastlines. These kinks have escalated to such a degree that last week, President Joe Biden announced that the Port of Los Angeles's hours would be expanded to 24/7 in an attempt to smooth out the flow of goods across the country.

The ripple effects were obvious during my visit to a Jefferson County Costco on Sunday, October 17. We were just about out of paper towels, but when my wife and I went to the section of the store where paper products, including toilet paper, are usually on display, we instead found pallets of bottled water. When we asked an employee if the paper products had been moved, he told us they were completely sold out — though they were hoping to get a new shipment this week.
click to enlarge An example of how random the product absences were at a Jeffco King Soopers this past weekend. - PHOTO BY MICHAEL ROBERTS
An example of how random the product absences were at a Jeffco King Soopers this past weekend.
Photo by Michael Roberts
Next, we headed to a nearby King Soopers and discovered that the shelves where paper products are typically stored were nearly empty, too. There were plenty of other gaps as well, but none that seemed specifically related to COVID-19. For instance, cleaning products were on hand in abundance; apparently, America has decided that sanitizing every surface in sight is highly overrated. But there was no chicken broth or almond milk, neither of which would seem to be a necessity should another lockdown occur.

Cut to yesterday, when I toured three other giant box stores in the area — a Walmart, a Target and a Safeway — in the hope of determining if certain products were hard to find everywhere. But there was no discernible pattern.

At Walmart, the main absences I spotted were tomatillo, yellow squash, Eggo waffles, frozen pizza, french fries, rice, pasta, ramen, toilet paper and paper towels. At Target, it was tough to find soup mix, cups of macaroni and cheese, Teriyaki bowls, spices, rice, cooking oil, snack crackers, Gatorade, juice packets, Tampax and, strangely enough, Pokémon trading cards. But the Safeway was close to fully stocked, with shortages in the chip aisle and the sparkling water section the standouts.

Granted, this Safeway is never particularly busy; it's just down the street from a King Soopers, which tends to be packed in comparison. Still, the shortage situation looks far from dire.

At least for now.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts