Labor slowdowns by union workers at US West Coast ports have not only delayed shipments of frozen french fries to McDonald’s restaurants in Japan, but are now impacting deliveries of refrigerated foodstuffs to US military commissaries (grocery stores) from Hawaii and Guam to South Korea, Okinawa and mainland Japan.
“The challenges to supplying our stores in the Pacific are ongoing, and we cannot determine when cargo movement patterns will return to normal,” stated Kevin Robinson, a spokesman for the Fort Lee, Virginia-headquartered Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA).
In some instances shoppers have experienced critical shortages in perishable items such as chilled juices, produce and dairy products.
“Several factors have caused our overseas stores to fall short of what’s required to serve our patrons there,” DeCA Director and CEO Joseph H. Jeu said. “We are doing everything possible – increasing our product reorders, looking for additional approved local sources and examining alternative shipping methods – to find solutions to these problems and ensure that products are available for our customers wherever they shop.”
Distribution problems in Europe have also been experienced. However, this is not due to labor contract issues, as Atlantic ports on the Eastern Seaboard are not involved in the dispute.
At European ports, sea containers were unable to clear customs when a computer process failed, which stalled deliveries of perishable items from December 18-24. During that same period, system failures between DeCA’s Integrated Business System and its warehouse management system affected delivery of about 40% of the frozen food stock keeping units from DeCA’s cold storage complex in Kaiserslautern, Germany. Non-perishable and produce items were not affected by the business system issues. DeCA anticipates improved stock availability in Europe by Jan. 14, depending on delivery location.
DeCA’s supply chain has many moving parts. US products bound for commissaries in Europe and the Pacific are first transported from the United States by ocean vessels to overseas docks and then trucked to central distribution centers. From these distribution centers, the products are further transported by truck to individual stores. This process is also supplemented by local purchase contracts for certain items such as bread and dairy products.
In the Pacific, shipments destined for commissaries in Hawaii, Guam, Korea, mainland Japan and Okinawa have been delayed up to 10 days due to ongoing West Coast port delays related to negotiations between the Pacific Maritime Association and labor unions representing West Coast dockworkers. Mediators from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service recently joined these negotiations.
Slowdowns at West Coast ports have impacted the ability of commissaries in the Pacific to keep shelves fully stocked with sensitive chilled products including yogurts, luncheon meats, butter, fresh bone-in meat and fresh pork. Frozen and dry grocery products were not affected by the West Coast port delays because a 30-day supply of such items is maintained in DeCA’s central distribution centers. It is not possible to maintain a warehouse supply of sensitive chilled items because of their shorter shelf life.
DeCA officials are looking for solutions to work around ongoing West Coast port delays that continue to affect transportation of products to the Pacific. Commissary personnel there are standing ready to receive incoming shipments immediately upon arrival and stock them to the shelves.
With shipments scheduled to arrive weekly, management is keeping shoppers informed with signs in the stores. “However, if a customer doesn’t see the product they want to purchase on the shelf, he or she can check with their local store management to find out when it will be received,” said David Carey, DeCA’s Pacific Area director. “We apologize for the inconvenience this has caused our shoppers during the holiday season.”