Coronavirus pandemic panic shopping hits grocery stores

Long lines and empty shelves are becoming more common in grocery stores nationwide as communities shut down schools and employees work from home amid the coronavirus outbreak, raising questions about whether America’s supply chain can handle a potential mass quarantine event.

Retailers and manufacturers have been working together to figure out how to speed up the production of select products, how to sanitize stores for customers, and have discussed hiring temporary workers to help in mass grocery store deliveries and food pickups nationwide, according to FMI or the Food Industry Association.

“In an unprecedented time, I would say that nothing’s off the table,” said Doug Baker, vice president of industry relations for FMI, who said they are even talking to lawmakers about eliminating some rules, like required 15-minute breaks for truck drivers, to keep supplies flowing.

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The Food Industry Association says they’ve discussed with retailers and manufacturers the possibility of hiring workers, such as restaurant workers, who would be struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic, to help in drive-thru pick-ups and food deliveries as the outbreak moves forward.

From coast to coast, customers have been waiting in lines for hot-ticket items such as bread, toilet paper, disinfecting wipes, pasta and hand sanitizers. In New York City, lines stretched long after the mayor declared a state of emergency Thursday.

“I haven’t seen it like this since the morning of 9/11,” one store manager at a Foodcellar in Long Island City told Fox News on Thursday night.

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Grocery stores are adapting to meet the needs of consumers, including Publix — which has now instituted 2-items-per-customer limits on the high-demand products such as bleach. Other stores like Stop-N-Shop are offering unattended deliveries in which groceries are left at doorsteps in an effort to limit person-to-person contact.

Manufacturers are also speeding up their production lines. Hand sanitizer pumps that were previously manufactured in China are now being produced in the United States in the form of flip-tops to help meet the demand, which is up over 300 percent compared to the same time last year.

Rather than having five or six different sized packs of high-demand products like toilet paper, retailers and manufacturers are being asked to focus on one or two different sized packs in order to make the machines in the manufacturing facility operate as efficiently as possible.

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“Shoppers may witness out of stocks in a store due to sales spikes, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the supply chain is short that product,” Baker said. “Retailers have secondary inventory sources that the could tap and they bare adept to do so. We just need time to adjust, as the situation is unprecedented.”

According to Nielsen, compared to the same time last year, dried beans and canned meat sales are up at least 31 percent. Oat milk sales are up 322 percent and fresh meat alternatives are up 158 percent. Face masks are up 475 percent while aerosol disinfectants, thermometers, bath and shower wipes, and first aid kit sales are all up more than 50 percent.

Grocery stores are discussing having someone sanitize all the carts, and some may deploy one person to serve hot food and soup in-store at hot food buffets, rather than allowing customers to serve themselves. Other stores are talking about stopping hot food service altogether, according to the Food Industry Association.

While grocery stores will remain open. Shoppers are being asked to step in and do their part — mainly, do not hoard products.

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“Take what you need to to meet the recommendations by the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] of a potential 14 day at-home stay,” Baker said. “But then don’t try to take more. Don’t try to take two to three to four months of that. That’s when we start seeing really significant shortages in the supply chain.”

Most of all, customers are being asked to be patient with their local grocers. “We’re gonna get that product back on the shelf,” Baker said, “as quickly as it’s empty.”