Texas Is Facing a Food Supply Nightmare in Wake of Blackouts
(Bloomberg) -- Restaurants in Texas are throwing out expired food, grocery stores are closing early amid stock shortages and residents are struggling to find basic necessities as a cold blast continues to upend supply chains.
At Tarka Indian Kitchen, a chain with eight locations in Texas, fresh veggies and meat were discarded after being shuttered for days. The same is true for Coolgreens, which sells salads and sandwiches, while Milkshake Concepts had to throw out inventory due to a burst pipe. Similar stories are piling up during a historic cold spell that has knocked out power and snarled roads.
At a Whole Foods Market store in The Woodlands, Texas, two women were overheard exchanging tips on where to find a gallon of milk, while another person asked a store employee about buying the entire supply of bottled water.
The situation is so dire in Houston, a major city for dining out, some people have running lists of restaurants that are open and have food supplies. Late Thursday, a canvass of restaurants in the area showed several were either out of food, unexpectedly closed or only available for large group orders. People were complaining about difficulties using UberEats and DoorDash as a result.
Tarka Chief Executive Officer Tinku Saini said via email that the issues extend beyond expired food. “We’ve transitioned to working through the water challenges -- access to water, low water pressure and boil-water notices in some areas. Then, we are navigating the obstacles with suppliers as they determine the safest way to deliver our products.”
The challenges are further limiting residents’ access to food as grocery store shelves remain barren in many areas. Supermarket chains such as Kroger Co. have implemented purchase limits on items such as eggs and milk, while HEB Grocery Co. said the weather is causing “severe disruption in the food supply chain.”
A Kroger store in West Houston was out of bread, milk, cheese, chicken, hot food and bottled water on Friday afternoon, after having fully stocked its shelves in the morning. Buyers lined up at the store from 4 a.m., staff said.
Julia Dominguez, a social worker for Baylor College of Medicine, was relieved to be able to get some snacks, paper plates and napkins, after days of not being able to get inside grocery stores due to lineups.
“For the last couple of days I drove around looking for hot food because I didn’t have power and water for 72 hours,” the 65-year-old said outside the store. “But I had shelter so I’m not a complainer.”
Some chains that managed to remain open have been closing before sunset so shelves can be restocked overnight. Hard-to-find items in the Houston area include beef, bread, deli meats, frozen pizzas and milk. A visit to an HEB store in the city’s northern suburbs on Thursday afternoon found the produce section with little more than a few bags of oranges.
“Getting food and gasoline has been difficult,” said Lyndsey McDonald Garza, who lives in the Houston suburb of League City and owns a Galveston real estate brokerage. “Grocery stores are either not open or only open for small window of time. We’ve been going to the convenience store because it’s the only option.”
Target Corp. closed three stores in Texas and was restocking food and water in stores that are still open. Amazon.com Inc.’s Whole Foods Market chain is working to “reopen all stores in the coming days,” a spokesperson said in an email.
Suppliers also suffered woes. Chicken producer Sanderson Farms Inc. activated an emergency plan and suspended operations in Texas, Mississippi and Hammond, Louisiana processing plants earlier in the week. Still, the company lost power in as many as 200 of its 1,918 broiler houses in Texas by Tuesday. The storm also affected deliveries of eggs to hatcheries in the state.
Indeed, there’s hope operations may return to normal soon as services come back online and temperatures rise. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages the state’s grid, said it had returned to normal operations Friday.
Still, many restaurants, which have already endured a nightmare year from pandemic-driven shutdowns, face obstacles to reopening. Some companies are trying to adapt in the meantime.
Dickey’s Barbecue Pit, which has 142 Texas locations, said it could be a week or two until it is back to normal hours and full menus, though operations are resuming at most of its restaurants. The company has altered its menu and is going directly to its suppliers when possible to pick up food.
On Monday, as the lights flickered at its 80-year-old original location in Dallas, staff began giving away food to first responders instead of letting it expire.
“With the understanding that our food is no good to anyone if it’s spoiled and these heroes need it most, I encourage anyone who is able to do the same,” Dickey’s CEO Laura Rea Dickey said.
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