Retailers in Pointe Coupee and other parishes face an array of challenges to meet the supply and demand for goods in the wake of Hurricane Ida.
It’s a perfect storm that includes the aftermath of the Category 4 hurricane, along with delivery issues, an employee shortage and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, according to Les Cantrell, Pointe Coupee Parish director of economic development.
Items ranging from gasoline to food staples, such as milk and bread, have been tough for retailers to keep in supply since the days before the storm.
It’s not because of a product shortage.
“A lot of vendors say they have the products, but don’t have a driver,” Cantrell said. “Many are displaced because of the storm, they may be working on storm damage at their homes, then some warehouses still don’t have power.”
It explains much of the reason why deliveries remain sparse, and why shelves aren’t stocked he said.
Consumers are buying all that they can, but suppliers are struggling to keep up with the demand despite fewer delivery drivers.
“You might have one driver having to cover four delivery routes,” Cantrell said.
Local restaurants are feeling the pinch.
Most use wholesale suppliers, but the added demand from utility workers in the area, along with the limited delivery schedules, have made access to those goods far more difficult.
“Demand is high at eateries, which had to resort to buying bread and other food items from local retail grocers as opposed to the wholesale suppliers,” Cantrell said.
“Restaurants are having to do their fill-in at the local supermarkets, whether it’s produce or bread.”
Supermarkets receive bread deliveries daily, unlike restaurants that may receive it two or three times a week.
Many of those products come from the eastern part of the state, in areas that took a much bigger hit from Ida.
It has made it difficult to meet the demand, Cantrell said. “Volume has increased, so the standard order is no longer the standard order because you have all the linemen in town for two or three days.”
The gradual reconnection of electrical power through the region will ease the spike in gasoline demand, although it may still take a few weeks for area such as Ascension and Livingston parishes to rebound, he said.
Cantrell said he saw one truck and trailer that had 21 55-gallon barrels they filled for gas, going all the way back to Gonzales.
“Pointe Coupee has become a hot spot for residents to the east looking for gas,” he said.
Even after the storm, the employee shortage may remain an issue.
Hours have been cut at local businesses and some restaurants have cut out the night shifts.
Cantrell said he expects the workforce numbers to rebound now that additional unemployment benefits related to the pandemic have ended.
“Benefits are running out, so maybe things will crank back up by the holidays,” he said.