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‘An excessive demand issue’

Grocers change strategy to keep pace with consumer demand, with safety, access and self-care in mind

Signage along Creston Walmart's paper product aisle shelves read "Limit of 2 for all paper products" due to excessive consumer demand. Because of the global pandemic of COVID-19, grocers across the nation struggle to keep paper products such as toilet paper and paper towel rolls and other essential items stocked.
Signage along Creston Walmart's paper product aisle shelves read "Limit of 2 for all paper products" due to excessive consumer demand. Because of the global pandemic of COVID-19, grocers across the nation struggle to keep paper products such as toilet paper and paper towel rolls and other essential items stocked.

Demand at Creston area grocers has spiked in recent days, with many shelves starting to look more bare than normal.

“This is an unprecedented situation for all of us. We’ve never dealt with anything like this before, and we know our customers haven’t either. We appreciate their patience and loyalty as we navigate these changing times,” said Randy Edeker, Hy-Vee’s chairman, CEO and president.

With many customers left standing before empty shelves bewildered as to where to buy what they need and worried about a supply shortage, management for local stores are not only reassuring consumers that supplies will be consistently available, but that they are changing some of their operations to better accommodate the public and their staff.

Supply and demand

“This isn’t really a supply issue, it’s more of an excessive demand issue,” said Tina Potthoff, Vice President of Communications at Hy-Vee.

Why are consumers panic-buying?

“Personally, I think that U.S. consumers saw what was happening in other parts in the world. This started to trickle from China, then Australia and now it gravitated to the United States,” said Potthoff. “I just think it was a matter of seeing things on the internet, seeing other people panic buy in other countries and I am assuming consumer behavior just tells you, ‘OK ... We may be told not to go somewhere for a long period of time.’”

Potthoff wants to ensure customers there is no need to worry.

“You’re still going to have your supplies,” said Potthoff. “I think that’s the greatest thing we can instill in people right now ... we feel very comfortable with where we are and we want our customers to feel that way too.”

In a press conference Sunday, President Trump said there are no shortages at stores but that consumers are buying three-to-five times what they normally buy.

“There’s no need for anybody in the country to hoard essential supplies,” Trump said.

“We’re running trucks 24/7,” said Potthoff. “I would say that the orders have been double to sometimes triple for various products and I do anticipate that to even out as people realize that they have plenty for the short term and that they can continue to go to the store.”

As items such as toilet paper, sanitizer, cleaning products and canned goods fly off store shelves, grocers and Tom Miller, the Iowa Attorney General, are keeping an eye on potential “price-gouging,” which is defined as raising prices unreasonably above the price of items or services compared to what they were sold for immediately prior to an emergency declaration. It also applies to a subsequent recovery period of up to six months.

“This is illegal and is something our office will pursue,” Miller said.

Consumers can report price gouging at www.iowaattorneygeneral.gov.

Change in hours

At Hy-Vee, store hours have changed to 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. for the general public, with a special shopping hour for individuals who consider themselves to be at higher risk, such as individuals with compromised immune systems, pregnant mothers and individuals over the age of 60.

Like Hy-Vee, Walmart and Fareway stores are also shortening their hours to help accommodate all of their customers and allow for restocking.

Starting today, Walmart opened at 7 a.m. and will close at 8:30 p.m. until further notice. Beginning Tuesday, Walmart will open at 6 a.m. every Tuesday until April 28 for a special shopping hour for older customers could be more vulnerable to the coronavirus. This special shopping event is targeted toward individuals age 60 and older.

“This will help ensure associates can clean and stock products,” said Dacona Smith, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Walmart U.S. “I could not be prouder of our associates and what they continue to accomplish for our customers. I don’t think any of us have been through an experience like this, and we continue to be amazed at what our people, whether in the stores or in the supply chain, are doing to make sure customers have what they need.”

Currently, Fareway is open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and closed on Sundays. The general public is asked to shop at Fareway from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., to allow special shopping hours from 8 to 9 a.m. for those 65 or older or individuals with “serious illness.”

In a notice to its customers, Fareway corporate said the reduced hours will allow for cleaning, stocking and to give their employees “much needed rest.”

On behalf of Hy-Vee, Potthoff also said self-care of its employees is a concern for management as Hy-Vee employees have been visibly working around the clock to stock and sanitize the Creston (and other) locations.

“We’re going to be in this for awhile. We’re not sure when it’s going to end, so we want to make sure that were able to provide service to our customers for an extended period of time,” she said. “This gives employees more time to spend some time with their families, restock and clean the stores and that their stores are prepared to be in this for the marathon and not the sprint.”

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