Grocery stores are dealing with increased demand; here’s what you need to know

Fear over a potential quarantine or supply shortages of basic goods have led to increased demand in local stores.

Shoppers are faced with empty shelves and long lines at cash registers even though grocers and local officials say stores will be restocked and there’s no need to overbuy.

So what’s happening in stores? Here’s what industry organizations, local experts and grocers want you to know.

Modified hours

Many grocery stores have modified their hours to allow for the restocking of in-demand products and to clean surfaces in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

  • VONS grocery stores will be open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. until further notice.
  • The Kroger Co.’s store chains Ralph’s and Food 4 Less will be serving customers from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. starting Monday, March 16.
  • Trader Joe’s locations will be open during the limited hours of 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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I had to do it guys, I went to my local Trader Joe’s in LB. I was able to talk to some employees and they had interesting things to say. ••• One person said the chaos began Friday morning when there was a line wrapped around the store of people waiting to get in. As a result shelves are empty and their delivery trucks will continue delivering daily but they may not carry the usual amount of items. The store will also shorten its hours-meaning they will lose work. Those hours are 9am-7pm. They are now required to wash their hands every 30 minutes and receiving constant email notifications. They said what ran out quick was meat and dairy and frozen food. They were surprised that alcohol and the greens were not bought up. ••• They also noticed how people are buying the weirdest things, specifically “things that won’t last”!!! We saw plenty of trail mix and all sorts of nuts. ••• One employee said his wife is a part-time teacher at LBUSD and won’t be able to get paid. He at least has a full time job and only works part time at TJ. ••• He made a good point that it’s not a bad thing for people to prepare—but they got to prepare correctly. Bottled water isn’t necessary. Tap water is still good.

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John Grant, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770, said reduced hours are important to keep workers and shoppers safe.

“The limited hours allow us to take a breath,” he explained. “It affords greater opportunity to wipe down the stores, to sanitize.”

Employees are feeling the brunt of the public health crisis. In addition to the rapid restocking required due to increased demand, angry shoppers are putting a strain on clerks and cashiers, Grant noted.

“They vent their frustrations, their anger, their fear on those who are closest to them. And the clerks, the cashiers, are right there.”

Limiting purchases

Some stores, including Kroger-brand stores and Whole Foods Markets, are limiting per-customer purchases of in-demand items, a source of frustration for some customers.

“We believe that everyone deserves to have access to fresh, affordable food and essentials, especially in times of uncertainty,” Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen said in a written statement. “That’s why we took the precautionary step on March 2 to limit the number of cold, flu and sanitary products per order…so everyone can have access to the items they need.”

Northgate Market in La Habra offered special hours for senior shoppers Monday morning, before announcing that it would offer the same at all 41 locations, including two in Long Beach, starting Tuesday. Shopping hours for those 65 and over are from 7 to 8 a.m.

Mother’s Market & Kitchen, which has a location in Signal Hill, instituted a similar plan. Starting March 18, all Mother’s Markets will be open at 6 a.m. on Wednesday, an hour earlier than normal, to let elderly, disabled and other at-risk people shop before the general public.

“We want to be sure all of our community members are able to get the products they need to stay healthy, and they are able to shop in a stress-free environment,” CEO Dorothy Carlow said in a statement.

In a press conference on Monday, Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia asked shoppers to be mindful of their older neighbors and avoid flooding grocery stores or buying up large quantities of products.

“There are seniors who need access to stores, and we need to allow those folks to shop for the items they need,” he said.

Home delivery

For shoppers hoping to avoid the large crowds and long lines, if for the sake of social distancing alone, stores and third-party providers are planning to expand home delivery options.

Whole Foods Markets announced that the company is “working to expand capacity to service more [Amazon] Prime Members with free, two-hour grocery delivery and door drop service.”

Grocery delivery service Instacart, which provides shopping services at various local grocery stores, decided to offer its recently piloted “Leave at My Door Delivery” program across North America in light of the COVID-19 outbreak.

“We’ve seen a significant surge in usage of this feature over the last few weeks,” the company said in a release regarding its handling of COVID-19. “As shoppers, this means we’re offering another way for you to deliver safely and making it easier for customers to clarify their preferences.”

Mother’s Market is also offering free deliver to anyone at-risk for serious coronavirus outcomes. Just visit MothersDelivery.com and use the coupon code FREE4SENIORS.

What about the supply chain?

The city of Long Beach is advising residents that there are no shortages or disruptions of supply chains at this point. Several industry organizations have confirmed that statement.

“We recognize that the grocery supply chain is being tested, but built-in efficiencies will continue to show how resilient it can be,” Doug Baker, vice president of industry relations at The Food Industry Association, said. “Retailers have secondary inventory sources that they could tap and they are adept to do so. We just need time to adjust, as this situation is unprecedented.”

Laura Strange, spokeswoman for the National Grocers Association, struck a similarly reassuring tone: “Food supplies are plentiful throughout the supply chain and are being replenished continuously to meet the demand,” she said in an email.

“While consumers might find supply of some products low or temporarily out of stock at their stores, grocers are coordinating very closely with their suppliers and partners throughout the supply chain and are working around-the-clock to keep shelves stocked.”

The ports

The ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles have experienced decreases in cargo volumes in the past months, likely as a result of reduced production and manufacturing activity in China, according to Deputy Executive Director Noel Hacegaba.

While the supply of some common imports from China, such as protective face masks and hand sanitizer, may be affected by this supply chain disruption, Hacegaba said it was unlikely that there would be a “significant impact” on the supply of common grocery items.

“The supply chain works to the extent that we all shop responsibly,” Hacegaba said. “We have to avoid panic-shopping, because that has the potential to disrupt supply chains.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated with more resources for seniors.

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