By Tori Mason

DENVER (CBS4) – Many grocery aisles in the Denver metro area are filled with empty shelves and disappointed customers. Some familiar with the industry say the supply shortage has been coming in waves, even before the King Soopers picket line formed while workers there were on strike this month.

Many shoppers who avoided Kroger stores earlier this week were leaving competitors with unchecked items on their lists. Some shelves this week have been as empty as their fridges at home.

(credit: CBS)

“At Safeway and some Walmarts, their meats are really low and some of the dairy products. They’re not getting as much product as they used to get. They used to be stocked more than they are now. They only have very small varieties,” said Sherry as she left a Safeway store in Denver on Thursday.

Instacart workers are feeling the shortages, too.

Deborah enjoys delivering groceries through the Instacart app, but she wasn’t accepting orders from King Soopers during the strike.

But King Soopers orders kept coming.

“In Instacart, there will be one order for Sprouts and four for King Soopers. One order for Safeway and five for King Soopers. I would say the majority of the Instacart orders are still being ordered from King Soopers,” said Deborah.

Deborah says she’s been a loyal customer to King Soopers for decades, personally and professionally. She spends hours in grocery stores every week and noticed the supply issues before the strike.

“Before they went on strike, I was finding empty shelves in many stores. I was in a Safeway the other day and there were two cartons of eggs and I had two customers. Each got one carton of organic eggs,” said Deborah. “I went to another Safeway yesterday and they had full stock of eggs, but no dairy.”

She said she was happy to support the workers when their strike was on, but supply shortages along with increased demand at other stores don’t go unnoticed for Instacart workers.

“I have to substitute a lot. I’ll tell you, at least 20% of my orders are not available and are being substituted with something else,” said Deborah.

Smaller grocers like Save-A-Lot have also seeing an increase in customers.

Gabriel Disbrow, President of Leevers Supermarket, operates over a dozen Save-A-Lot stores in Colorado.

He says he’s been learning to cope with supply problems throughout COVID, just like the bigger stores.

“The omicron surge has put some strain on the logistics processes, just with drivers being out and things of that nature,” said Disbrow.

He says Save-A-Lot store shelves aren’t very sparse right now. CBS4 saw aisles filled with food at a Denver location Thursday.

“As small independent grocers, we can pivot in and out of different supply chains,” said Disbrow. “If one production line at one facility is not able to keep up with the demand, we can pivot into other ones in a way that some of the larger, more rigid companies can’t because they’ve got long term contracts.”

Whether it’s Save-A-Lot or Safeway, grocery workers inside are asking for patience.

“We are very committed to be transparent, to consumers. If we can’t get something, we’re letting people know and trying to identify alternate sources. It’s been a challenge,” said Disbrow.

Sherry, who once worked at Safeway, thinks empty shelves are a mix of pandemic and picketing.

“Drivers would rather have somebody ride with them or a substitute driver bring in the food instead of them crossing the line.” said Sherry.

In a statement to CBS4, Safeway said:

“Safeway stores are staffed and we are continuously restocking our shelves. We appreciate everyone’s patience as we work to serve our customers.”

Tori Mason