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Forget About Gasoline, Is There a Food Shortage?

Scott Eells | AFP | Getty Images

Grocery stores were scrambling to keep shelves stocked four days after Super Storm Sandy hit the east coast, but their efforts were hampered by power outages, storm damage and a lack of fuel for trucks.

Many people stocked up on non-perishable items before the storm, but post-storm they're looking to replenish their pantries and the pressure is on for grocery stores and restaurants to keep up with demand.

As gasoline lines grow in the tri-state area, consumers are wondering how suppliers will make deliveries and make sure that food is accessible.

Some of the larger supermarkets have managed to keep shelves full up to this point. Kings Food Market, which operates 24 stores in the New Jersey, is one of them. Currently all Kings supermarkets are open and functioning; some have power, another 8 stores are on generators that use diesel fuel, and a few are selling non-perishable items only. But at all stores some of the most coveted items like water, bread, ice, and wood are flying off the shelves almost as soon as they come in.

(Read More: Small Shops in NY Fight to Survive Sandy's Destruction)

Kings management is working to get supplies from out of state, for example, an 80-pallets ice delivery from Virginia that will be delivered for its New Jersey stores today. Other deliveries of produce, meat, dairy and fish are expected, but can be hit or miss depending on the availability of fuel and traffic conditions.

"We went out of the area, we have ice trucks rolling in from Virginia…You know the stores are stocked with food for customers to eat but everybody's looking for ice, everybody's looking for water, as you can see, we've been ahead of that. On our shelves, We've never been out of water, we've had that for the customers through the pre-planning, and we feel we're fine moving into a possible next storm," said Judy Spires, President and CEO of Kings Food Markets.

(Read More: What Super Storm? Gasoline Prices Fall)

However it all comes down to power. Power generation at the top of the supply chain is key to keep things running smoothly, and it also will impact gasoline distribution.

"The biggest issue with the suppliers has been the gas situation. As soon as they can get fuel, they're getting us product, and we're ready to stock the shelves as soon as possible," said Rich Durante, EVP of Merchandising and Operations at Kings Market.

Other larger chains like A&P are coping with power outages as well. In an emailed statement, A&P Spokesperson, Marcy Connor told CNBC:

"The majority of our stores are open to serve our customers and communities. We are working hard to re-stock our shelves as shipments become available, and we are committed to providing our customers with the quality goods and service they have come to expect from our stores."

(Read More: NJ Investigating Reports of Price Gouging)

And what about chain restaurants in Sandy's path? Regarding how much Sandy will costs restaurants Stephen Anderson, an analyst at Miller Tabak says "there are no estimates regarding the costs in terms of food spoilage, but my contention is that chains will be able to seek other suppliers easier than will independent restaurants."

"As far as the New York metro area goes, the worst of the traffic conditions are in and around Manhattan and New Jersey's shoreline barrier islands, where chain presence is more limited than it is in the suburbs. I've been through hurricanes dating back to at least Gloria in 1985, and my recollection is that lifeline and commercial facilities tend to go back on the power grid first before residential areas," said Anderson.

However larger retail food chains and restaurants are just one part of the story. Smaller groceries and restaurants are concerned about supplies. These mom and pops say their distributors are waiting in lengthy gas lines and dealing with major traffic restrictions as they try to run their operations.

(Read More: Gas Shortages May Not End for a Week)

DeCicco's in Pelham, NY has full supplies but the store manager says they are shifting supplies between their 9 stores and are not sure what will happen if things get worse.

And to add insult to injury, forecasters are saying that another winter storm may hit the east coast next week, posing more problems in the wake of Sandy's messy aftermath.

-By CNBC's Jackie DeAngelis
@JackieDeAngelis

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