Grocers Prepare for a Second COVID Wave During Holidays

Grocers and suppliers feel more prepared for a second surge of COVID-19, reported The Boston Globe (Oct. 19).

Most grocers and wholesalers began stockpiling items that were popular during the first wave of shutdowns. Some goods like paper towels and cleaning products are still not easily available, but the industry is hopeful consumer hoarding won’t be as prevalent in a second wave.

“There are still some items that we really cannot get,” said Michael Violette, chief executive of Associated Grocers of New England.

A resurgence could disrupt the production of fresh product and meat. The prospect of shortages particularly remains considerable as Thanksgiving and other holidays approach.

Additionally, the coronavirus is expected to upend 50 years of steadily increasing turkey consumption as consumers change holiday traditions in the face of social distancing, travel challenges, and more, reported Seattle Times (Oct. 20).

Many predict smaller holiday gatherings in 2020, using smaller home-cooked turkeys. This shift in demand could hurt turkey farmers, with many fearing they have too many big turkeys and not enough small birds in the supply chain.

Butterball, one of the country’s largest producers of turkey products, projects a sizable increase in “immediate-family-only” gatherings, according to spokesperson Christa Leupen. Butterball also noted that its research suggests consumers are looking for ways to make Thanksgiving easier/simpler and are open to premade sides.

“The level of panic may not be as much as it was in the spring, but I think the consumer demand will be as high through the holidays,” said Nada R. Sangers, a professor of supply chain management at Northeastern University. “Once we are done with the holidays, we are going to start seeing a dip back to normalcy.”

Some grocers are accumulating “pandemic pallets,” which include paper goods and cleaning supplies, and many have worked for months to be ready for the season.

“For folks wondering about turkeys for Thanksgiving and Christmas, we believe we’re well-positioned for the holidays. Orders for these meats are placed much earlier in the year, so these items are already in cold storage,” said Jennifer Brogan, spokeswoman for Stop & Shop. “We have not only increased our buy, we have also shifted the focus into smaller turkey sizes, anticipating more small gatherings.”

However, stocking up can be more of a challenge for smaller grocers with less room to store goods. Chris Crosby, president of Crosby’s Marketplace, which has seven stores, is hopeful that holiday shoppers will pick up what they need early to limit the rush and the strain on stocks.

“There might even be more people in the store who don’t usually shop. They might go to a relative’s place. So that puts more pressure on us, too,” Crosby said.

When it comes to fresh food, the supply of perishables is more vulnerable to production disruptions. Concern is increasing over the supply of fresh produce, especially from international sources as the pandemic affected trade with some countries hanging on to their fresh foods and other banning imports.