COVID-19 Pandemic: US Grocery Stores Meet Demand For Non-Perishable Food

Grains, milk and paper products are flying off the shelves as fast as they are restocked after the demand for grocery items surged since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID-19 pandemic. The queues at the neighborhood grocery stores are longer than ever before because people attempt to hoard non-perishable food and household products in panic. 

However, federal officials are certain that the situation is under control. Rice, dairy, meat and produce are available aplenty in cold storage and producers are equipped to handle the rise in demand, authorities have assured. President of USA Rice Federation Betsy Ward explained that empty shelves signify a change in the logistical handling of the rice market and that there is no problem with the current supply chain. 

Federal meat inspection agencies also said they have not interrupted their operations, which are running as usual since March 17. Without inspectors, meat cannot be processed in large quantities. The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) hires around 7,800 meat inspectors across 6,200 odd plants who have not stopped doing their job during this crucial time. 

On March 15, President Donald Trump said there are no shortages as such and that, through his conversations with grocery store executives, he realized that people need not hoard food supplies. 

This is largely due to the strong supply chains in place, which are built to withstand unexpected blockages. In such situations, not generally witnessed by the consumers, the vendors are either changed or the products are replaced. Multinational supermarkets and retailers are connected to a network of supply chains across the whole world, who switch to different vendors as per their varied needs. 

Surprisingly, companies are going to restructure and expand in these trying times. The thousands of people who were recently laid off by the hospitality industry during the lockdown are being rehired by retail firms. By May end, Walmart is considered recruiting for 150,000 posts across warehouses and stores in the U.S.  

Walmart People have been advised against hoarding as the supply chain for groceries and food items in the U.S. is intact, according to authorities. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Household items need to be shipped more now than ever from warehouses for Amazon, a giant online retailer, as demand peaks. Hence, they are currently seeking 100,000 more hires to help them scale up their operations, the retailer announced last Monday. 

In another positive initiative, retail giants are also making adjustments to their timings for the elderly to shop separately since they are a vulnerable lot. Walmart is introducing a whole hour dedicated to senior citizens every Tuesday from March 24 to April 28, which will start an hour prior to their stores opening. 

Workers at retail outlets are taking on a lot. The employees are going to work despite the risks involved and are heroes putting themselves on the frontlines of the crisis, Reuters reported. Store clerks and workers consider their jobs a public service, and most of them are still coming in to work regardless of  potential contact with an infected customer.

Masks and gloves are not being provided to staff since the CDC said that most face masks are loose-fitting and not able to filter air particles. Only patients and those suspected should wear them when not in isolation. They are considered essential workers on power with medical personnel who cannot self-quarantine.

On Thursday, an employee of Whole Foods tested positive, and the company announced two weeks of paid sick leave for those who are infected. However, there are other companies who are not granting their employees sick leave if need be. While many people remain self-quarantined at home, they are taking to online grocery shopping to procure food safely. When compared with the downloads of last year, the mobile apps' demand rose by 218 percent for Instacart and Shipt by 124 percent as of last Sunday. 

Furthermore, grocery chains are shutting down 24-hour operations to disinfect stores and stock fast-moving shipped goods. Target closes at 9 p.m. Trader Joe’s will function between 9 a.m to 7 p.m. Walmart will be open from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m.