Grocery Store Shelves Won't Stay Empty for Long

NBC 7 Responds looks at the grocery supply chain and how it is reacting to the COVID-19 pandemic

NBCUniversal, Inc.

Stores around the country have been cleaned out of many products. Dried goods like pasta, canned foods, and even flour have been vanishing from the shelves as people stock their pantries during the coronavirus pandemic.

But distributors are fighting to refill those shelves.

"We've had to add a few more trucks down to San Diego to keep up with the supply," said Richard Flores of SGS Produce. "But we still have weeks worth of food in our warehouses."

On Tuesday, the California Grocers Association, which represents hundreds of retailers and suppliers, created a new campaign called #Enough4All to urge residents not to "please buy smart."

"The bare shelves you are occasionally seeing do not indicate lack of supply," said the association's President Ronald Fong. "It is a temporary result of consumers overbuying given the understandable worry right now."

Fong said grocery stores are pushing to hire more employees to keep up with the increase in demand. Customers should not be concerned about a shortage.

"Everyone can help stop this unnatural cycle of demand by simply buying only what you need for a week and curbing the tendency to over-buy," he said.

SGS Produce explained there is also limited supply right now as grocery stores transition their fresh foods, as winter vegetables give way to summer produce.

"Sales have doubled, even tripled, for some products," said Flores. "Instead of sending four trucks down, we're sending seven or eight."

Dried goods are at the top of the list, which explains the empty shelves where products like rice used to be. Flores says those shelves will be filled because the supply chain remains strong.

"Nothing has really changed," said Flores. "There's just a lot more sales."

Flores said customers don't need to worry because store shelves will fill up as the supply chain adjusts to the needs of shoppers.

"They just couldn't keep up with demand," said SDSU Marketing professor Miro Copic. "There are some substantial changes in consumer behavior."

Copic says grocery delivery services used to be rarely used, but are now a rapidly growing industry as people stay home. Now stores are asking is if people will change their habits once the stay-at-home order is lifted.

"85% of retail shopping was done in stores," said Copic. "But the longer we are at home during this crisis, the easier those habits are going to be to change."

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