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Is it business as usual in the grocery world?

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Updated Jan 2, 2018

There have been a number of posts popping up on social media showing empty grocery and retail shelves and claiming the ELD mandate is the reason for a lack of produce and JIT loads. It’s been difficult to trace the validity of some of these posts, as grocery store reps are loathe to make public comment, and validating images depicting a distinct lack of items is often an arduous task. There is more than one completely false claim on the interwebs, y’all, I know it’s hard to believe.

That being said, when I saw a post by Christopher E. Fiffie of his hometown Publix in Kissimmee, Fla., with some pretty barren-looking shelves, I knew they were real. I knew they were real because we know Chris on a personal level, and not only is he an outstanding individual overall, he owns, creates the content for, and operates one of the most successful and well-known trucking video and image companies in the United States. He’s also one of the most even-tempered people I have ever personally been acquainted with.

Among Fiffie’s pics…Among Fiffie’s pics…

So I got on the phone with Chris, to ask him about the pictures, and his reason for the post. But before I did that, I called three grocery chains (Kroger, Meijer, Publix) and one small Ohio-based two-store operation (Jungle Jim’s) and left queries about a lack of JIT (“just in time”) freight or produce with their corporate representatives and media specialists. I asked everyone the same question : “Has your operation suffered any kind of delay or disruption in time-sensitive freight since the ELD mandate went into effect on December 18th?”

Back to Chris.

Here’s something I think is pertinent to the whole story. The location he shops at, and has been frequenting for the past four years in Pleasant Hill Commons, is not a 24-hour location. It closes at 10 p.m,, and Chris actually prefers to shop right before closing, so he often sees second-shift or after-hours stocking beginning during his trips. Keep that in mind.

Fiffe Publix Pics 2 2017 12 29 16 08Like George and I, Chris had seen several posts on social media about empty shelves, and wondered if they were truly representative of the situation. He posted the pictures because he wanted people to be aware, at least in the Publix grocery store he frequents, that something he saw on social media was happening in the real world — more specifically, his world.

Fiffie said, “I’ve shopped in this place during times of high volume sales” — he mentioned hurricane preparation on the original Facebook post — “and even when items were selling quickly, there was an order to everything, and it was re-stocked quickly. That’s why I like Publix, they’re orderly. But it wasn’t like that – it looked haphazard and bare. There was no re-stocking going on.”

I did not get an official response or reason for the lack of items in that location from Publix before post, nor did I get any answers from Kroger or Meijer, but I did get a call back from the two-store operation out of Fairfield, Ohio, and I’m definitely going to do an interview with this guy one day, but in the interest of getting this post in before Todd wrings my neck, I’ll come back to that one.

Another of Fiffie’s shots.Another of Fiffie’s shots.

Jungle Jim’s International Market is a destination in itself. Famous for unusual items, displays and “things you never thought you’d buy in Ohio for a thousand, Alex,” the store has locations in Fairfield and Cincinnati, and has been in operation for more than 40 years. (I personally love that the website for Jungle Jim’s has a specific page for truckers, with a great overview and clear, safe directions.)

Mark Caminiti, Organic Produce Manager/Organic Produce buyer for a place that buys a vast variety of produce, and moves it from some pretty obscure places across the globe to little ol’ Fairfield/Cincinnati, Ohio, was happy to go on record with the ELD question. He was not only happy to go on record, he was happy to tell me he’s been in this business for more than 30 years, and foresees some serious issues with the mandate, especially for produce and JIT loads.

Caminiti acknowledges the “perfect storm” nature of holiday freight, and agrees it may be the reason for regional shortages of some things, however the logistics veteran has grave concerns for a post-holiday schedule – when things get back to a “normal” of sorts.

“If they don’t put teams in all the trucks, we’re going to stop getting produce from California” in JIT loads, he said. “That’s just all there is to it. We need to get back on a post-holiday schedule and see how some of this is going to shake out, but I do predict a lot of problems.”

All that being said, the local grocery (Kroger) where I shop is fully stocked this afternoon (Publix in Rock Hill, S.C., this afternoon all well and good, too. –Ed.). And I don’t believe anyone needs to run out and buy up a bunch of groceries. Like Chris, I do want people to be aware of the possibilities, and like Mark Caminiti, I believe we won’t hear the general public start crying about it until they feel it in their pocketbook.

Meanwhile, if your market is out of something, ask why. You may or may not get an answer, but it never hurts to ask. I’m curious to the answers you get – let us know.