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Stores struggling to keep variety of cat food in stock

Heathcliff is hungry, but there’s currently a dearth of canned cat food to feed his belly.

Much like last year when toilet paper was nearly impossible to come by, consumers are finding it difficult to snag cans of cat food for their felines.

The shortage was alarming to Linda Zak of Saylorsburg, who said she was caught off guard while shopping at ShopRite of Brodheadsville on Thursday in search of canned food for her three cats.

“I thought it was very peculiar,” Zak said Friday. “I’m in Weis right now, and I just got some cat food; they have a little more than ShopRite (right now).”

Zak, who noted her cats only eat canned food, said she only recently noticed the shortage.

“I always keep enough,” she said. “I always stock up.”

Zak said she’s just grateful she’ll be able to feed her pets.

“I’m just glad I can still get it,” she said. “I just don’t want to have to start cooking for them. If we run out I’ll start cooking for them.”

Donations down

Shoppers aren’t the only ones who have seen an alarming decline in the availability of the product.

The shortage has been disheartening, said Dana Dunbar, shelter manager at Carbon County Friends of Animals in Jim Thorpe.

“Over the last few months, it seems like (they’ve) cut down on donations,” Dunbar said. “It’s an impact on shelters and people’s own personal animals if it becomes harder to find in the stores.”

Dunbar said that typically some cats need the canned food for dental reasons, and are not able to eat certain dry foods because of digestive issues.

“I’m not sure if we’re affected because of the departments; are people not able to work in those departments,” she said. “Even some of our volunteers that have donated in the past, some used to bring like two cases, and (they say) ‘now I can only bring one.’?”

Nonetheless, Dunbar said it’s been a disturbing trend to watch.

“I’m not really sure what’s causing it,” she said. “Is it a virus thing, or just a manufacturer issue, not enough staff, limiting number of staff members?”

Doing their best

So who’s to blame for the canned cat food crunch?

Chris Anthony, manager at Country Harvest Family Market in Palmerton, said there’s some production problems with Nestle Purina (Friskies) and The JM Smucker Company, where most of the cat food in our country is made.

“Both of those companies are experiencing COVID-related shutdowns and production problems, as well as Nestle Purina experienced shutdown due to the recent snowstorm; that was kind of like the final blow,” Anthony said.

He added another plausible explanation.

“As far as the demand being up for cat food, I don’t know if that’s necessarily true; it’s not like the United States has more cats today than it did a year ago,” he said. “Maybe because people are home more, maybe they’re feeding them more.”

Anthony said his shelves of canned cat food are probably about 80 percent bare.

“The email that we did get from our supplier did indicate that both Nestle Purina and JM Smucker have all their product on national allocation (sending based on percentage of sales under normal conditions),” he said. “They don’t have enough supply to meet everybody, and that’s going to continue on at least until the end of summer.”

Anthony said “the same kind of philosophy happened when the toilet paper situation happened.”

“There are a couple of brands that are available,” he said. “Our store brand and most of the private label brands that you may see.”

Anthony said these will continue to be challenges as we continue to deal with COVID-19.

“We’ve seen a number of customers starting to buy tuna fish,” he said. “We’ve had a spike in canned tuna fish (sales).”

Chris Kinsley, president of ShopRite of Brodheadsville, admitted his store is currently dealing with a canned cat food shortage.

“We haven’t been notified anything about when it might end,” Kinsley said. “We’ve pretty much been going on and off since the pandemic (dog and cat food). Right now it seems to be at a pretty bad situation.”

Kinsley said the deficiency is no fault of grocery stores.

“We’re limited to what we can order; it’s really out of our control,” he said. “My guess is warehouses are probably having some worker-related issues.”

“I read that many people have adopted more pets since working from home,” he said. “I really thought it was coming back; about a month or six weeks ago we were in good shape, and then it went away again.”

Kinsley said one of the issues is “we haven’t really got any information from our wholesaler. We just don’t know when the shortage is coming or going.

“We’re probably back to 90, 95% in most categories,” he said. “Right now, dry cat food is fine, (but) not the canned.”

Canned cat food isn’t quite as scarce at Mallard Markets in Lehighton.

Mallard Markets is having similar issues with manufacturer availability but it’s very specific to just the Nestle line.

Kinsley's ShopRite in Brodheadsville still has some empty spots on its shelves in the cat food aisle Saturday. Most grocery stores are having a tough time keeping their shelves filled with canned cat food. MARTA GOUGER/TIMES NEWS