Photographs of clothes washing products at a Tesco store are used to give the illusion of fully stocked shelves.
Zoe O'Connell
  • Supply chain issues mean that many grocery stores are struggling to keep key items in stock.
  • Rather than leaving shelves bare, some are finding creative ways to cover up shortages. 
  • This includes using cardboard cutouts to cover empty gaps or spreading out in-stock items.  
  • For more stories, go to

Grocery stores are becoming more creative in how they cover up supply chain-related product shortages to make shelves appear fully stocked. 

Some of these tactics include using cardboard photo cutouts of key items to cover bare shelves or altering the store layout to fill gaps.

Stores across the US and Europe are in the nightmarish position of trying to secure enough inventory to keep up with demand as global supply chains struggle. A lack of raw materials and labour has led to long delays, shortages, and rising costs. As some stores have started to stockpile the situation has only gotten worse. 

Some of the larger chains, including Kroger, are securing additional warehouse space to store extra inventory. Others are cutting back on discounts to ease consumer demand. 

Here are some of the sneaky ways they're covering up gaps in stores:

Moving products to unlikely places

This photo was taken by the shopper in September.
Stuart Turner

UK shopper Stuart Turner found that items such as salad cream (a condiment similar to mayonnaise) or HP sauce (a brown sauce), which don't need to be chilled, were moved to refrigerators to fill up empty spaces at his local Co-Op store. 

Commenting on the photograph, a spokesperson for the Co-Op told Insider: "Stores are always trying to make sure they look as attractive as possible and managers come up with creative ways of making sure shelves are full."

Cardboard dummies or cutout photos of products 

Empty baskets are replaced with pictures of asparagus at a Tesco store in the UK. The photo was taken in August.
B. E. Andre

Another tactic used by grocery stores is to put photos of missing items in empty spaces. This photo, which was taken at a Tesco store in August, shows cardboard cutouts of vegetables that were not in stock at that time. 

A spokesperson for Tesco told Insider that its cardboard cutouts are used in larger stores when there is extra space and are not connected to recent supply chain challenges. 

Signs or empty product display boxes to fill empty spaces

Polite signs at a Sainsbury's store in the UK.
Matthew Horwood/Getty Images

Rather than leaving shelves bare, some stores are using polite signs to inform shoppers of shortages. One grocery store owner recently told The Wall Street Journal that he's using display boxes to fill empty spaces. 

"For certain things, I'm afraid people will come in, see it's not here and wind up not coming back for it," Matt Santarpio, owner of Walnut Food Market in Newton, Massachusetts, told the Journal. "Keeping the box out shows I'm making an effort to get them in, and not giving up on them."

Shelves that are one row deep

One row deep shelves at a Tesco store in South East London on Tuesday.
Insider/Mary Hanbury

Some stores are making good use of in-stock items and spreading these across shelves by keeping them one row deep. According to the Journal, the official term for this is: "Facing up."

Santarpio told the Journal that some items that might have had one spot on a shelf in the past are now spread across two or three. 

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