Shortages of meat, produce and other items began showing up at the wholesale level in the Washington area yesterday, amid predictions that shortages may reach the grocery counter within a few weeks if a strike by independent truckers continues.
Besides limiting grocery deliveries, the strike has also brought the business of some local moving companies almost to a standstill, with household goods piling up in warehouses. Local families, including approximately 40 military familes, have found themselves hastily improvising housing arrangements to cope with postponed moves.
The General Services Administration has notified government agencies that relocations should be delayed if possible and that employes who must move may be reimbursed for renting trucks and trailers to move themselves.
Two of the area's major grocery chains, Safeway and Giant Food, said their deliveries have not yet been affected by the nationwide strike. But at other area business, the truck strike was painfully measured by what didn't arrive.
At the Washington Beef Co., one of the area's biggest meat wholesalers, president Sidney Kolker said he was waiting for two trucks carrying 100,000 pounds of meat that hadn't arrived. At Hechingers, six or seven flatbed trucks loaded with lumber didn't arrive.
At the Maryland Produce Center in Jessup, where 20 to 30 loads of water-melon would normally have been unloaded this week, only four arrived.
Although some shortages of meat and produce are becoming apparent, wholesalers and others said the effects of the strike had been softened somewhat by steps taken in anticipation of the disruption of deliveries. While some business stockpiled items in advance of the strike, others turned to rail shipments to get the groceries to their plants and warehouses.
Overall deliveries of fruit and vegetables this week were about 8 percent less than deliveries for the same week last year, even though rail shipments of produce increased about 60 percent, according to Department of Agriculture regional market reporter Richard Hallinger.
At the Maryland Wholesale Food Center in Jessup, executive director J. Gary Lee said that rail shipments of fruits and vegetables had been arriving at a rate of about 15 a day compared to a normal rate of about four a day. Truckers who have picketed the food center "have been peaceful, fortunately," said Lee.
Wholesalers and some grocers predicted that the higher prices and shorter supplies would occur in the next few weeks.
"People who are quoting higher prices for next week," said Kolker, whose meat wholesale operation supplies several area school systems as well as hotels and restaurants. "Even with the higher prices, you can't get it."
"Normally, I'll have 15 to 20 loads coming down from California for Sunday night (by truck)," said Wilson Ringgold, saleman for Sid Goodman and Co., a large wholesaler of fruits and vegetables. "I have one load coming," he said.
Ringgold said he sees "no relief in sight" from shortages or high prices.
"Maybe 10 to 15 percent of what has been ordered" hasn't arrived, said John Mullican, president of New York Beef Co., a retail and wholesale outlet. "God only knows what is going to happen."
"Most of your stores have been buying heavy anticipating the truckers' strike," said Mullican. "Beyond two weeks, if the strike lasts that long, I think there would be a critical shortage," said Mullican.
"We've just getting deliveries in. Everthing is normal," said a Giant Food Spokesman. "There's no reason for any consumer hoarding. We have a high in-stock condition in our warehouses and in our stores and don't anticipate any shortages whatsoever."
Giant's shipments are delivered by Teamsters, independent ttruckers and truckers who work for food manufacturers.