The coronavirus pandemic has changed every aspect of Americans’ daily lives including grocery shopping.
Local grocery stores are having a hard time keeping certain items in stock because of high demand. Some also are putting into place new safety measures to protect customers and store associates alike from the spread of the coronavirus.
The South Boston Walmart on Saturday set up cones outside the store directing customers to make their way through a line and maintain 6 feet of distance between themselves and the next person, rather than entering the store in the traditional way. An associate stationed at the door counted each person entering and exiting the superstore.
“Right now, there is a limit on the number of customers (in the store at one time),” said store associate Russ Jones, on Saturday. “Today, our cap is around 800. They may bring the number down later.”
Antonio Moore, another store associate at South Boston Walmart, said on Monday afternoon that the store had temporarily closed the lawn and garden and pharmacy/general merchandise entrances, leaving only the entrance/exit on the grocery side open, with the goal of reducing traffic in the store.
“It’s systematic so that people can still shop and browse while being safe,” Moore said. “We’re trying to make sure everybody is safe, and we’re trying to practice our social distancing. If we can set the example, then everybody else can follow.”
Phillip Keene, a Walmart spokesperson, in a Saturday email to The Gazette-Virginian, said the superstore had started taking steps on Saturday to “further promote social distancing and manage customer flow in all locations nationwide.
“This measure is intended to complement other recent changes to protect our associates and customers, including expanded cleaning and sanitization protocols, the installation of plexiglass (sneeze) guards at checkout and pharmacies, and floor decals and signage identifying appropriate social distancing,” Keene wrote in the email. “We remain focused on taking measures for associates to protect themselves while supplying the community with essential items for their families.”
Food Lion has started installing plexiglass panels at its registers and pharmacy counters, as well. The grocery store also has a special shopping hour for senior shoppers age 60 and older each Monday and Wednesday from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. Anyone the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identifies as high risk for serious illness also is welcome to shop during that special biweekly hour.
Because of high demand, Food Lion has placed limits on the number of items that each customer can buy in certain categories, including eggs, meat, hand sanitizer, paper products and household cleaning products, according to the company website (www.foodlion.com) and signage in the stores.
Grocery stores in South Boston also are focusing on keeping their shelves stocked with necessity items to meet the needs of customers.
Shoppers Value Foods has had at least a 50% increase in business each week since the coronavirus outbreak began, store manager Tim Davis said. He reasoned that the shortages of certain products in grocery stores are because the suppliers cannot keep up with the unusually high demand for product at a typically slow time of year in retail.
“Usually, January, February and March are the slowest months in retail,” Davis said. “The warehouses that store the products get items in on an as-needed basis. When you have a 50 to 80% increase in business, the warehouse is just not ready for that.”
Bread, in particular, is in short supply right now.
“Any bread product is difficult to get. People bought too much at the beginning of all this. The market was overrun,” Davis said. “I get maybe four or five varieties of biscuits (compared to 30 varieties before the coronavirus pandemic). I’m having a terrible time getting flour. I think people are probably trying to get it to make bread.”
Toilet paper and paper towels are hot commodities, as well. Davis said his store is starting to get those paper products in stock again, but he only gets a small amount on each truck, and it sells out fast. Other items that sold out during the initial buying frenzy a few weeks ago are rubbing alcohol, hand sanitizer and bottled water. While bottled water is slowly being restocked, Davis said hand sanitizer and rubbing alcohol are still hard to come by.
Customers also are stocking up on eggs, red meat and lunchmeat during the coronavirus pandemic, causing price inflation of those items.
“Eggs are three times the cost of what they were. Red meat is rising in price,” Davis said. “Hamburger was a problem keeping in stock, but we picked up some more suppliers. It’s hard to keep up with the demand for lunchmeat because people are having to eat at home now.”
Ed Burton, manager at Supply Line Discounts, also said sales have been on the uptick since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, and certain items are hard to keep in stock now because of the high demand.
“Sales are still up,” Burton said. “People ought to have enough to last six to eight months the way they’ve been buying.
“Hand sanitizer is not available,” Burton said. “Toilet tissue, we get a little bit here and there. We’re getting a little bit more than we had been getting.”
Burton added that keeping canned goods and Ramen noodle soups in stock is a struggle. He also said the store had sold out of eggs, another popular item, a time or two, but the store keeps that item in stock for the most part. The store manager also said Supply Line has consistently had ground beef on the shelves.