The coronavirus officially made its way to the United States this month, prompting shoppers to run to the grocery stores and stock up on anything they think they may need should they truly need to go into quarantine, or just in case. That meant household staples like toilet paper and paper towels instantly disappeared from shelves across the country, as did pantry items like meat, eggs and canned goods.
Stores have been attempting to restock what they can, but panic-buying has not slowed down and many shoppers are still facing empty shelves when they attempt to go out and buy a pack of toilet paper. Several stores have announced various efforts in an attempt to better serve customers amid the coronavirus outbreak, including restocks, sanitization procedures and more.
Despite the demand, grocery stores are confident that they will not run out of product. "The shelves do have product," Greg Ferrara, president and CEO of the National Grocers Association, told Q13 Fox. "They are stocked. They are getting restocked on a regular basis. The supply chain in this country is very efficient and it's very effective."
Supply chains are built so that if something goes awry, there's always another option, and in this case, it may mean that food that was designated for one destination, such as a restaurant or office, may now need to go to a grocery store.
"There has to be an efficient way of doing that," Cohen said. "And that could be a challenge because this is going outside the normal structure of how business is conducted."
Some manufacturers have increased production in response to demand including Bumble Bee Foods and General Mills, though that plan requires a fine balance — once the high volume of shopping decreases, demand will go back to normal, so manufacturers shouldn't make too many changes to their daily operations.
"Up until this point, the supply chain has been working remarkably well," General Mills CEO Jeff Harmening said during a discussion of the company's third quarter financial results Wednesday. "Food continues to flow, we continue to make it. Our retailers continue to stock as quickly as they can. And that all is actually working pretty well."
In the meantime, some stores have cut their hours in an effort to give employees time to restock the shelves, including Walmart, Publix and Wegmans. On March 14, Publix, Harris Teeter and Walmart announced that their stores and pharmacies will be closing early each night to allow for sanitizing and restocking, with the change to stay in effect until further notice. Harris Teeter will close at 9 p.m., and Publix will close at 8 p.m. In a change that took effect on Sunday, all Walmart stores will now be open from 6 a.m. until 11 p.m.
In addition, many stores have had to place limits on the number of a certain items customers can purchase, and those lists have slowly been expanding. Depending on the store, items can include hand sanitizer, toilet paper, paper towels, tissues, baby wipes, eggs, meat, bottled water and more. Many of those items are not yet back in stock, but when they arrive, the limits will hopefully allow what stock there is to stay on shelves for a longer period of time.
More Hands on Deck
Several stores are also hiring more employees. Walmart is planning on hiring 150,000 new associates through the end of May and many other supermarkets are also hiring additional employees.
Dan Bartlett, Walmart’s Executive Vice President of Corporate Affairs, said on a call with reporters that Walmart is reaching out to people in the hospitality and restaurant industries to provide positions which may "morph into full-time jobs."
"With the demands we are facing, both in our [distribution centers] and fulfillment centers and in stores, here’s an opportunity where we can search capacity, provide jobs to people who may be hurting," he said, via Yahoo! Finance. "So, we see that as a two-for-one — it helps us meet the demands we are seeing within Walmart, but it also, hopefully, contributes to easing the pain of this broader economic downturn that the coronavirus has caused."
Alex Baloga, CEO and president of the Pennsylvania Food Merchants Association, told Penn Live that there is currently no timeline for when stores will be fully restocked but estimates that it will happen when restaurants, bars and other venues reopen. With so many closures, people are having to eat more of their meals at home, which means they need more food from the grocery store than they did previously. Baloga added that store inventories will not change until the amount of shopping levels off.
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