When the governor encouraged Pennsylvanians to stay at home to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, people swiftly headed to area grocery stores to stock up.
Faced with a two week quarantine at home, shoppers hoarded toilet paper, eggs, bread and meat. While a snowstorm might cause some panic-buying, this was on another level.
I stopped at my local Redner’s Market for chicken, only to find the chicken aisle bare. Cleaned out. Not a breast. Not a thigh. Not a chicken wing to be found.
“It is across all stores,” said Eric White, director of marketing for Reading-based Redner’s Markets, which is an independent chain of supermarkets with locations throughout Pennsylvania. “We are experiencing challenges with distribution and supply.”
While the amount of food available was adequate for a normal week, when customers flooded stores last week the regular supply was quickly diminished. To stop the hoarding, Redner’s is allowing store managers to set limits on the number of items customers can buy of certain foods, like toilet paper or meat.
“We are getting regular shipments of beef, baking items, and bread, but we can’t get it on the shelves fast enough,” said White. “We are getting four times the normal buying traffic, and replenishing product and trying to get ahead is challenging.”
Under normal operating conditions there would be enough food on the shelves, but when customers over-buy items, it drains inventory and warehouses and supermarkets have to catch up. There is no food shortage, it is that the customers are over-buying.
“It’s not at the level of last week now,” White said. “It is slowing down. And we are putting limits in place. It’s all hands on deck and we are doing our best to get the food on the shelves.”
White also said that due to the massive buy out of certain items like eggs, there have been commodity price shifts. “The price of eggs jumped over 200 percent,” he said.
“We understand the burdens placed on the stores,” White added. “We understand the guests’ fears.”
Redner’s is reducing store hours and closing earlier every day to restock items and clean and sanitize the store. The chain is also giving all store employees $2-an-hour raises until the crisis passes.
“All praise goes to our store folks,” White said. “They have been positive and up for the challenge. They are going about their business. We could not be more proud.”