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Staffing, supply chain issues, inflation expected to continue in 2022, panel says

The pandemic has brought with it a spate of negatives, including workforce shortages, empty shelves, supply chain backups and rampant inflation. Expect that to continue in 2022, said members of a business panel discussing next year’s economic outlook.

“There wasn’t a port or trade lane across the world that hasn’t suffered from the effects of the pandemic, and the businesses in New England were not immune to that at all,” said Mike Meyran, port director for the Massachusetts Port Authority.

Meyran, speaking as part of a Thursday panel from the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce on the area’s 2022 economic outlook, expected backups at the port to carry over “throughout the better part of next year,” he said.

He recounted the events that have contributed to 2021’s supply chain issues, including shutdowns at the Ningbo port in China, as well as a lack of truck drivers and other workers along the supply chain to keep things moving.

Warehouse and ship space remain in short supply, further straining the system. Disparate COVID-19 vaccination rates across the world will also continue to impact the supply chain, Meyran said.

Despite these challenges, he remained optimistic that infrastructure projects at Massport will help alleviate the pressure. One project will allow the Bay State’s port to handle bigger ships, with the first arriving next month.

“That’s going to offer a little bit of bandwidth to our customers and hopefully become a little bit of a relief valve during this crisis,” he said.

Stop & Shop President Gordon Reid said the grocery business has also weathered its fair share of challenges. Early in the pandemic, he said,  the demand for groceries was nearly like “a snow day every single day.” Although demand has stabilized in recent months, other issues remain.

Reid chalked up supply challenges to several factors. Many suppliers now sell 100% of what they can produce, he said, causing products to be rationed. Additionally, labor, transport and raw material shortages are causing inflation rates to soar up to three times what it was in 2019 and 2020, he said.

Though he expects shortages of items like paper goods, juice boxes, spices and pet food to continue next year, along with price increases of meat and poultry, Stop & Shop is working to offset those with promotions, loyalty programs and other solutions.

“What’s been encouraging if nothing else is the fact that people can still buy all the ingredients they need to make a solid meal and a healthy meal,” he said. “People like to make choices, so you might not come get your favorite brand … (but) you can make your Thanksgiving meal and (your) Christmas meal.”

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