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Hawaii Supply Chain Continues Uninterrupted, But Why Are Store Shelves Still Empty?

Casey Harlow / HPR
Empty shelves are becoming an increasingly common sight at stores around the state. This shelf normally would have instant ramen.

Shipping operations are continuing uninterrupted to the state. Yet empty shelves are an increasingly common sight in local grocery stores. Toilet paper, cleaning supplies and chicken are just some of the items you may not find at your neighborhood store. So why is that?

Shipping to the state continues without interruption. The two big shippers to the state, Matson and Pasha, have told legislators the supply chain is not affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

And as shipments continue on normal schedules, companies are assessing their volumes and considering additional measures.

"If the demand is there, that is above and beyond the capacity we have with the three ships that we have coming in every week, then we can deploy an extra vessel to cover the capacity requirements," said Vic Angoco, senior vice president for Matson's Pacific Division.

Angoco says Matson has added reserve ships in the past to meet demand. But he says the frequency of shipments may not fill the bare shelves at stores.

"It's not increasing the amount of ships or frequency because the ships are not full at the moment," he said. "There is still capacity on the ships to bring in cargo, so it won't solve the issue.

"I think what's being ordered is right, but it's just a run on the products -- where people are buying more than they normally would."

State and county officials continue to urge residents not to hoard or panic shop, so that current inventories can supply as many people as possible. Senate President Ronald Kouchi believes if everyone returned to normal shopping habits, everything would be fine.

"We've received, from Pasha and Matson, commitments to continue the delivery and regular shipping schedules. And all the supermarkets are saying there is a regular food supply chain that's totally intact," he said. "If you go back to normal buying, you don't have to worry about us running out of food. The shelves will be full again next week."

But grocery store shelves for certain items seem to be continually empty.

"We're adjusting quantities as needed to meet the increased volume, but in some cases we're not getting what we order at the present time," said Jenai Wall, chairman and CEO of Foodland. "And, you know, with bathroom tissue, for example, as soon as we put it up on the shelf, it's usually gone pretty quickly."

Wall believes part of the issue is the increased demand for these products outside of Hawai?i. And like Angoco, she says the challenge isn't getting the products to the state.

"Everyone across the county is facing the same thing because the same items are in demand," she said. "So it's not like a hurricane is just hitting Hawaii, and it's only the people of Hawai?i who need bathroom tissue and other things.

"I think the manufacturers are having to adjust their production to the increased demand. And so I think they'll get there, and I think we're seeing that is happening. But I think that it will take a little bit of time."

Wall hopes residents can be patient in the meantime.

Disclosure: Foodland and Matson Inc. are underwriters of Hawai?i Public Radio.

Casey Harlow is an HPR reporter and occasionally fills in as local host of Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Contact him at or on Twitter (@CaseyHarlow).
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