The Better Living Center looks to adapt amid supply-chain issues

Wayne Drake, owner of Farmington’s Better Living Center, points out shelves bared by stocking-shortages due to the supply chain issues Thursday, Nov. 18. Drake said that the Better Living Center has suffered the brunt from supply-chain problems due to the national shortage of labor. Kay Neufeld/Franklin Journal

FARMINGTON — Supply-chain issues — The talk of the nation — have touched down in Farmington. Numerous local businesses have complained about not receiving stock on time. In some cases, stock hasn’t come for months at a time. Now, food is a current target of the supply-chain issues and Farmington’s Better Living Center (BLC) is feeling the brunt. It offers the BLC an opportunity to go back to its roots as a provider of local-products.

The BLC is Farmington’s main natural food source. It was founded in 1973. Wayne Drake, December 2020, purchased the property.. The BLC stocks a mix of brand-name health food products from suppliers and products from more than 90 local vendors in Franklin County and Maine.

Drake said that the BLC has been experiencing stock shortages since October at the latest. He spoke to the Franklin Journal on Thursday, November 18.

Drake stated that United Natural Foods Inc., his supplier for items from non local vendors, had begun capping his grocery orders three weeks ago. Drake recently placed an order for $9,000 and received only $4,000 of the product.

“We had no heads up,”Drake said.

He claimed that the store’s November 18 sales were $14,000 lower than those for October. If these issues persist, he expects that the store will lose $4,000-$8,000 in revenue during peak holiday season.

Drake has been told by distributors and truck drivers (because UNFI has been unreachable) that there simply aren’t enough employees in warehouses to pack up the trucks. Drake claimed that Drake is working with the employees who are available. “overworked”They walk out of the office after working 14-hour shifts and put UNFI in jeopardy. “at risk of losing everybody.”

The COVID-19 pandemic started with supply chain issues. This was due to panic buying and higher-consumer demand (both for products as well as delivery), shut-downs, and so on. However, the national labor shortage has made it difficult for suppliers to staff warehouses and other positions in the supply-chain, such as truck drivers.

Bloomberg reports that “There’s plenty of food. There just isn’t always enough processing and transportation capacity to meet rising demand as the economy revs up.”

This is evident in many ways across the country. Chicago is “running short of canned goods, boxed items … and certain dry goods.”Denver is short of milk The Portland Press Herald reports that Monte’s Fine Foods can no longer give out its signature pizza boxes because the box supplier tripled its minimum order “suddenly and with no advance notice.”

Farmington (and everywhere else): Supply chain issues and labor shortages are affecting regional stores such as Hannaford, Food City, or the BLC’s ability to stock. “natural, healthy food sections,”Drake said.

Drake said that UNFI’s capping has had a big impact on the store, its ability to sell specific products (brand-name and otherwise) and keep the shelves packed.

Just the day before, Drake said he was informed that the truck driver planned to drop off his week’s grocery order the next had called out. Drake was told by the distributor that they weren’t sure if they could find another driver, and that they might have to put off the order until the next week.

“I was super discouraged,”Drake said. “It’s brutal.”

Drake said that “any grocery item is affected”Supply-chain issues. Pre-packaged grocery items as well as brand-name products like crackers, frozen foods, and so forth.

Supply-chain problems and difficulty stocking shelves would be common. Drake is worried as the holiday season nears.

“I need to keep stuff on the shelf and we’re going into our busiest month of the year,”He said. “Thanksgiving-related supplies are definitely hard to find right now.”

The BLC had difficulty finding stock such that “Tofurkey,”Other vegetarian roasts, cranberry Sauce and other products are in high demand around Christmas and Thanksgiving.

Drake noted that the BLC’s roots are in local products. Drake has received pushback from customers looking for specific brands.

“A lot of people are coming in looking for variety (of products, brands). So working with UNFI in their huge selection of grocery items gives us variety,”Drake said.

Drake stated that he and his employees are happy. “sounded like broken records”Customers are notified throughout the day as to why certain products may not be in stock

They’re having to explain that “it’s happening to Hannaford too, it’s not about the BLC.”

Drake didn’t own the store when it closed in March 2020. However, he believes there were differences in the supply-shortages and the early-pandemic.

He believes that early-pandemic shortages are possible “man made, consumer driven” due to “panic buying.”The current supply chain challenges are “source driven,”He said that it was because of “all the ships sitting in the oceans”From a “(staffing) standpoint where they don’t have enough workers.”

Drake also pointed out that some of their items have gone up in price. In January, the BLC bought bulk bags full of flour for $43, which they now buy for $67.

“The prices … overall costs are going up, but our margins, markups stay the same. People are obviously seeing higher prices,”He said. “I have to make decisions and (often times) I don’t put full markups on stuff.”

Drake is concerned about the fact that BLC prices may have increased in some instances. “drives people to find cheaper options.”

Drake describes Drake “current model”As “unsustainable”It is difficult for local shops like the BLC. “survive.”

“What this has shown is I think everybody needs to be less dependent on a supply chain crisis (starting) in California,”He said.

Drake fears that if supply chain problems continue, he may have to temporarily reduce his staff hours.

However, these issues have offered Drake and the BLC the opportunity to rethink the the store’s model and become even more locally based.

“It’s an opportunity to rethink the local economy,”He said. “If we can insulate our community from something bad that happens halfway across the world, I think we need to do that.

“We have the capability … And we have the traditions. I don’t think it would take too much for us to get back (to the local roots). I think a lot of knowledge has been lost. But I think if we can capture it, people are so resilient and adaptable,”Drake said.

Drake believes that the BLC would be better off if other grocery chains such as Walmart or Hannaford had to adapt to a localized model.

As it stands, chain stores get better prices from suppliers than they do the BLC. “because they have the buying power.”

“The local economy levels the playing field,”Drake said. “We will thrive when they suffer … because we already have the (local) connections.”

The BLC has plans in place for this reason.

Drake hopes to increase the number of local products that are sold in the store. Drake believes that local products are more valuable than imported ones. Drake, for example, compared CBD oil from a major brand to one made in Franklin County. Although the CBD oil made locally costs $9 more, Drake considers it superior.

“Maybe you’re sacrificing some convenience, the price point,”He said. “But you don’t have to sacrifice quality to be local.”

Drake is also working to reopen the BLC’s kitchen. The staff, who are all skilled bakers and cooks, will be reopening the BLC’s kitchen. They will create food products that fill in the gaps in the town, such a variety of vegan dishes and baked goods.

He stated that this would allow customers to have fresher, healthier, and more local options. It would also reduce food waste by conserving local produce (in soups juicing smoothies, canning etc.). that fly in during Maine’s “short growing season.”

The transition to a more localized model comes at a crucial time. “freedom”For “Mainers to grow their own food”Drake stated that the rate of increases is increasing. This is due Drake. The Maine Food Sovereignty ActThe 2017 state legislature passed the following: “the Right to Food”Voters in the Nov. 2, election approved a constitutional amendment.

Drake expects to have the kitchen operational sometime in January. However, this will depend on how profits look in the next month because of supply chain issues.

The trickle down of the supply chain affects not just tables but the local economy too,”Drake said. “There’s things that we’ve planned to do to improve the store or add a kitchen, those things get pushed back.

“If I was going to hire a contractor to get our kitchen up and running, now that contractor is not getting our work,”He added.

Drake knows that the BLC will weather the storm.

“When I bought the BLC, I wanted to bring it into the new age,”Drake said. Drake said that although the new age may look different than he had imagined, he is optimistic about its future.

“The store’s been here for 50 years. It survived the 70s, survived Y2K, survived the pandemic — so far,”Drake said. “We will survive. We’ll overcome it.”

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