Though food supplies have rebounded, it’s now where we store them that’s the issue.

By Tim Nelson
Updated September 24, 2020
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Back in March, it felt like everyone was stocking up on lots of food. Frozen foods, which could ostensibly help save us from having to go outside to feed ourselves for a while, were a particularly popular choice. While this panic buying led to all sorts of shortages at the time, supplies have rebounded to the point that there’s arguably too much meat on sale.

Now, there’s been something of an unexpected shortage of a different kind that may not be resolved quite as easily: we’re running out of refrigerators. As NPR reports, 2020 has inspired an unexpected shortage of major appliances like microwaves, refrigerators, freezers, and even dishwashers.

As with other 2020 shortages, the story of appliances is a now-familiar tale of unexpected shifts to both supply and demand. Between pandemic-induced production complications and the assumption that demand for pricey kitchen gadgets would decrease as the economy weakened, supply was curtailed. The end result was a decrease in the number of appliances (across most categories, at least) shipped by manufacturers to retailers. Compared to 2019, these shipments were down 7% through June.

Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

However, the realities of pandemic life made many folks more likely to replace their refrigerators. With everyone homebound, these appliances started breaking down under the strain of increased use. At the same time, widespread spending decreases on travel and other non-essentials suddenly left many folks lucky enough to hold onto a job with enough disposable income to make the upgrade.

Appliance brands like LG now say they’re working harder to fill the gap and meet demand, which has exceeded the wildest expectations of even seasoned appliance retailers.

"I have never experienced a year where there were shortages like we've seen this year," said Sandy Tau, who owns AHC Appliances on Long Island, told NPR. "We have freezers that are on backorder since the end of March that have still not come in."

Though life seems “normal” in some places, don’t expect the appliance supply chain to correct itself just yet. Some experts believe that these issues could run into 2021, a scenario that would become even more likely should a fall/winter pandemic surge take place.

So if you’re sick of your current kitchen appliances right now, just know that you’re definitely not alone. And definitely don’t bother putting a new fridge on your Christmas list.