Sunday, March 26, 2023

Yes, some shelves are empty. But big grocery chains say supplies are on the way daily [Free read]

Empty shelves on the paper product aisle as seen at Lowes Foods's Pine Grove Drive store last week. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)
Empty shelves on the paper product aisle as seen at Lowes Foods’s Pine Grove Drive store last week. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)

SOUTHEASTERN, N.C. — No toilet paper? No chicken? Among various big-name grocery chains, the same products seem to get cleared out daily.

Shortages of paper products, meats, eggs, dairy products, bread, and more have spurred long lines before stores open, with many shoppers hoping to snag coveted items as coronavirus-related restrictions ramp up.

Related: Unsung heroes: Restocking shelves, helping customers in essential Covid-19 jobs [Free read]

The increased demand is twofold: with dine-in restaurants closed, customers require more products to cook at home. Plus, fear and uncertainty surrounding supply prompted a wave of panic buying that started last week and hasn’t relented.

But representatives from large grocery chains say there is no need to stock up. If a customer doesn’t see the product they’re looking for, they ask them to stay patient and check back in a couple of days. By limiting high-demand purchases at the register, the companies hope there will be enough product to spread around.

“The most common misperception I’ve seen is that grocers stock their shelves overnight so you have to get there first thing in the morning,” Meghan Flynn, spokesperson for The Fresh Market said. “And that’s really not the case.”

Flynn said Fresh Market stores across the nation are replenishing shelves all day long — not just at the beginning of the day. “We are bolstering our normal supply chain through this,” she said.

Now nearly through week two of government-mandated restrictions, Flynn said she hopes nerve-induced shopping will taper off. “I think hopefully people will understand that after this initial wave that things will return to normal,” she said. “There’s no need to stockpile.”

Whole Foods enacted purchase limits on certain high-demand supplements as a result of increased demand during the nation’s coronavirus crisis. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)

‘Supply in the supply chain’

“There’s supply in the supply chain. It’s just getting the trucks in and getting the trucks out,” Kelly Davis, spokesperson for Lowes Foods, said.

Suppliers are struggling to maintain the increased demand while following new restrictions around gathering and social distancing. So, chains like Lowes Foods have started using local vendors to bake locally and increased production of its in-store bakeries to fill the shelves. Shortages change daily, she said.

“For us, it’s really concentrating on how we can get food in and how we can give people breaks,” Davis said. “We are receiving things in our warehouse every day. And we are sending trucks out. It’s just getting the velocity of things coming in and out,” she said.

With 74 stores nationwide (eight located in the Cape Fear region), Lowes Foods sold enough toilet paper over a seven-day period to stretch from the Carolinas to California and back, Davis said.

Many chains, including Lowes Foods, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, The Fresh Market, Harris Teeter, Publix, ALDI, and more have carved out time early in the day dedicated only to seniors or hours that give preference to individuals identified as having a higher-risk getting seriously ill from the coronavirus.

More recently, stores including Publix, Kroger, and Walmart have pledged to install plexiglass “sneeze guards” for its cashiers. The guards are designed to protect both customers and employees from spreading the disease. Exposed to hundreds of people daily, cashiers are at a higher risk of contracting and spreading the highly-contagious virus compared to workers who are permitted to work remotely from home.

While a record 166,000 North Carolinians and 3.2 million Americans have filed for unemployment, many grocery stores including Fresh Market, ALDI, and Harris Teeter are actually hiring to keep up with the surge in demand.

Send tips and comments to Johanna Ferebee Still at

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