Food Shortages at Whole Foods Market Linked to Ordering System, Increased Demand

Food Shortages at Whole Foods Market Linked to Ordering System, Increased Demand
iStock/hillaryfox

Ordering mishaps and increased consumer interest are being blamed for empty Whole Foods Market store shelves in the months following the acquisition by Amazon.

Business Insider reports the natural food chain is experiencing “a crush of food shortages in stores that’s leading to empty shelves, furious customers, and frustrated employees.”

Whole Foods’ employees point to an ordering system implemented by the chain in 2017 for the glitches. The system, called Order-to-Shelf (OTS), “is a tightly controlled system designed to streamline and track product purchases, displays, storage, and sales,” according to Business Insider, which spoke to several employees familiar with the system. “Under OTS, employees largely bypass stock rooms and carry products directly from delivery trucks to store shelves. It is meant to help Whole Foods cut costs, better manage inventory, reduce waste, and clear out storage.”

But the limitations of the OTS system, the employees say, is creating consistent out-of-stock issues and angry customers “are crushing morale.”  The stores are directed by the Whole Foods corporate offices in Austin, Texas, even despite regional preferences.

“At my store, we are constantly running out of products in every department, including mine,” an assistant department manager of an Illinois Whole Foods told Business Insider. “Regional and upper store management know about this. We all know we are losing sales and pissing off customers. It’s not that we don’t care — we do. But our hands are tied.”

Store managers are tasked with checklists for each aisle of the store, and to ensure there’s no back stock — excessive product inventory in the loading or storage areas. Extra stock is a common practice for most supermarkets to avoid empty shelves. A product mention by a celebrity, for example, could lead to rush in purchases a store may not be prepared for under the OTS system losing potentially thousands of dollars in sales. But Whole Foods employees say the stores keep inventory especially thin.

“If anything is amiss, or if there is too much inventory in storage, the manager in charge of that area of the store is written up. After three write-ups, they can lose their job,” Business Insider reports.

“Last week, we ran out of onions and potatoes twice,” an employee of a Brooklyn Whole Foods store said. “Entire aisles are empty at times.”

It’s not clear what–if any–measures Amazon will be taking to remedy the situation. Competitors like Target, Walmart, and Kroger, have continued to increase organic and natural product selections. And Trader Joe’s, the discount natural food chain, was just ranked as the most preferred supermarket in a national customer poll.

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Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and editor focused on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, diet preferences, health, and politics. She is the senior editor for sister websites OrganicAuthority.com and EcoSalon.com, and works as a research associate and editor with the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. Jill has been featured in The Huffington Post, MTV, Reality Sandwich, and Eat Drink Better. www.jillettinger.com.