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Latest shortage on store shelves? Pet food

First, we saw hand sanitizer, Lysol, and toilet paper flying off the shelves. Now the latest hit on the supply chain is pet food.

CLARKS SUMMIT, Pa. — Pet owners came to the canned cat food aisles of local Walmart and Giant stores this week to find bare shelves and possibly their favorite brands out of stock.

It's a problem Kevin Young started noticing back in December. He's the president of Pawsitively for the Animals, a Scranton nonprofit that's been delivering pet food to area food pantries during the pandemic.

"We're paying more money now because where we normally go, we're tax-exempt, and it is the lowest in the area. But in order to keep the need going that our food pantry requires, we have to purchase elsewhere and pay a premiere price, and that's adding up," Young explained.

In a statement to Newswatch 16, Petsmart said more people have added pets to their families during the pandemic, which is driving demand and causing shortages among manufacturers.

Manufacturer Nestle Purina tells Newswatch 16 it's producing and shipping more than ever before and working hard to keep up.

Bethlehem-based pet food maker Freshpet said in a statement on social media that COVID-related staffing shortages, plus the December snowstorm, have made it more difficult to stock the fridges of retail stores, but the company said, "more is coming."

Smaller businesses such as Stately Pet Supply in Clarks Summit have not seen an issue with supply.

"A lot of the products that we carry are owned by family businesses," said owner Rebecca Martino. "So that versus a big giant company that has an entire investment board, and you can't even necessarily get a hold of everybody that has decision-making ability in a company that's going to be different and things a lot of times take longer."

Martino says the cost of metal may be another reason for the shortage of canned cat food. 

"Metal has always been an expensive part of packaging so the COVID-related ripple effects that every industry are going back into costs of everything." She says some companies are switching manufacturing plants to lower their costs, which may also contribute to delays.

Martino says she's had a lot of customers who usually shop at big-box stores knocking on the door of her business in the last few months.

"Even if it's not a product I currently stock, I work with many different warehouses, so we may even be able to access the product you're looking for that Walmart did carry. We can still probably get it for you, and if the warehouses have it, we can get it for you," Martino said.

All the more reason to shop small during the pandemic.

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