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Long Islanders face fruitless quest for juice boxes as stores run low

Sara Fahrenholz of Plainview said she's been having

Sara Fahrenholz of Plainview said she's been having trouble finding the Mott's 8-ounce apple juice bottles that her son Steven, 4,  loves; she has resorted to ordering cases from Amazon after striking out at many supermarkets and big-box stores. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

In the quest for juice boxes, it’s moms and dads who are getting squeezed.

Long Island supermarkets and other retailers are running low on the little packages of juice that kids love to find in their lunch boxes, prompting parents to order cases online or drive from store to store in a fruitless search.

The scarcity, which is hitting supermarkets across the nation, stems from pandemic-related labor and supply-chain problems, industry experts said. And while supermarket executives hope the difficulties will ease up soon, there’s no way to know for sure when that will happen.

Like many retailers, Stop & Shop, the largest grocery chain on Long Island, has experienced shortages of juice boxes and bottles "as suppliers are experiencing labor, logistics and packaging challenges due to COVID-19," a spokeswoman for the Quincy, Massachusetts-based supermarket chain, Stefanie Shuman, said in a statement Tuesday. In addition, she said, volatile apple crops have contributed to a dearth of juice concentrate. Suppliers have scaled back on some flavors, though Capri-Sun and Kool-Aid are expected to resume making a wider variety of products shortly, she said.

Hauppauge-based King Kullen also is facing "sporadic shortages" of juice boxes and pouches due to shortages of labor for production, warehousing, and transportation, the company said through a spokesman, Lloyd Singer. Certain sports drinks, pet foods and other household items also are in short supply, though the company is hopeful the situation will improve soon, he said.

An improvement can’t come soon enough for Sara Fahrenholz, who has been hard-pressed to find the 8-ounce plastic bottles of Mott’s apple juice that her 4-year-old son Steven enjoys at preschool, as well as the boxes that are a second choice.

"You can’t find them in the supermarket," said Fahrenholz, 43, who lives in Plainview. If she can’t purchase them at supermarkets or big-box stores such as Target or Walmart, she said, "obviously the last resort is Amazon."

Scott Boudin, 46, a producer for the Elvis Duran and the Morning Show who lives in Old Bethpage, said he has seen the same scarcity when he tries to buy Honest Tea juice pouches for his 10-year-old daughter, and when he does Instacart grocery-shopping runs as a side gig.

"That’s something that’s on a lot of people’s lists, and there are some times when I’ll go and the shelf is completely clear, no brands at all," Boudin said.

Capri-Sun production has been impacted by a shortage of apple and pear juice, as well as raw materials such as straws, said Stephanie Peterson, a spokeswoman for the Kraft Heinz Company, which makes the juice pouches. At the same time, Capri-Sun sales have jumped 30% so far this year to a five-year high, she said. The company is investing $25 million to increase production, "making us optimistic about being able to close the gap on the heightened demand," she said.

The makers of Kool-Aid, Mott’s and Honest Tea did not respond to requests for comment.

The supply of juice boxes has fallen sharply, with fewer than 67% of products available on store shelves last week, down from 89% a year earlier, said Krishnakumar S. Davey, president of strategic analytics at IRI, a market research firm in Chicago. Overall, juice products had in-stock rates of 82% last week, according to the IRI CPG Supply Index, he said.

For shoppers, "their choices are limited, and their favorite item may not be there," Davey said. Retailers also are less likely to offer coupons or other discounts, since they’re already having a hard time keeping up with demand, he said.

Making matters worse, overall demand for juice boxes is up by 20% from a year ago, according to the IRI CPG Demand Index, Davey said. That’s likely because more children are back in school, he said.

It’s been harder for manufacturers to predict demand due to fluctuating school attendance rates during the pandemic, as well as population shifts from New York City and other urban centers into suburbs, Davey said. "I don‘t know whether the algorithms have completely caught up to understand all of these migrating demand patterns of families," he said.

It’s hard to know when shoppers can expect to find a steady supply of juice boxes, though the difficulties could ease within three to six months as supply-chain difficulties get worked out, Davey said.

"If you just listen to all the CEOs, they‘re saying this is likely to continue for a little while," he said.

Salty snacks also are in short supply, with in-stock rates of less than 81%, he said.

But for those worried about a return to the most vexing shortage of 2020, Davey had reassuring words: toilet paper had in-stock rates of 87%, he said.

Boudin, of Old Bethpage, said he hopes consumers won’t panic and stockpile juice boxes.

"People get frenzied when they hear the word ‘shortage,’" he said. "If people would just buy the normal amount of things that they would normally buy, I think there’d be enough to go around."

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