Grocery stores impacted by COVID-19 outbreak

United Supermarket in Canyon
With the continued spread of COVID-19, many grocery stores throughout the area have been facing changes in operations as well as economic impacts.

Nancy Sharp, manager of communications and community engagement for the United “family,” which includes all Llano Logistics, RC Taylor, United Express, Amigos, Market Street and United Supermarkets, said COVID-19 has many people doing some fear-driven, panic-type buying, causing a significant increase in traffic in stores and people purchasing items.

The closure of dining establishments has also impacted sales as more people are cooking at home, which Sharp said has provided an increase to grocery stores across the country. The increase in traffic has also increased the amount of people who are working in the stores and the need for additional cleaning.

“We are cleaning multiple times a day, multiple surfaces. And so that has definitely increased the number,” Sharp said. “We're restocking several times a day; that also has increased the number of people we have working in our stores.”

As people have become more prone to panic-buying the products in high demand, Sharp said they have had to implement quantity limits on certain items to make sure there was enough supply for everyone to get something.

When it comes to businesses remaining open, Sharp said all of the United services will continue to operate as normal, with the exception of all dining rooms located within the Market Street stores closing to comply with what restaurants are doing.

“We've also had, as other businesses have had to suspend their operations, we've seen some of those workers come to us, we've had plenty of people who are looking for work, who want to work, and so we will continue operations as an essential service,” she said.

All United services have instituted a time set aside for shoppers over 60, people who may be immunosuppressed and pregnant women, who are the high-risk populations as defined by the Centers for Disease Control, on Mondays and Thursdays between 7 and 9 a.m., Sharp said. This is to give those customers a freshly cleaned store following the overnight deep cleaning as well as to ensure they will get the items they need after at least one round of stocking has been done.

Altogether, COVID-19 has greatly impacted the United services economically, and Sharp said they will continue working with manufacturers and customers to make sure the high-demand products are still being delivered at an efficient rate and shoppers are still getting what they need.

“…Overall, we certainly (have) had a great deal of activity in our stores in the demand for grocery items has been high, people are staying home. We've seen a lot or there has been some panic buying,” she said. “We've also seen a great deal of cooperation and people helping one another and the things you would expect to see, especially in our part of the state.”

As most of the other grocery stores in Lubbock county are chain grocery stores around the United States, there have been corporate statements released by each store.

Walmart Superstores

Walmart released an updated statement on March 18 with multiple operational and policy changes.

Store operating hours will now be from 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., according to the statement. These changes do not apply to store associates as they will still be able to work their scheduled shifts for the full hours.

There will be a special shopping hour for customers over 60 on Tuesdays one hour before the stores open that started on March 24 and will last until April 28, according to the statement. These stores' pharmacies and vision centers will be open during this time for those who need it.

There will be limitations on certain essential products such as paper products, water, essential items for childcare, cleaning supplies and dairy products like milk and eggs, according to the statement.

The AutoCenter will be closed to focus on maintaining and helping out within the store, according to the statement.

Target

Target released a statement on March 31 updating customers about their store changes and answering FAQs.

A team member will be stationed at each entrance to make sure all carts and baskets are clean and available for each customer, according to the statement. Checkout lanes will also be cleaned after each transaction and open checkout lanes will be rotated to be deep cleaned. Plexiglass partitions will also be added to checkout lanes, in the electronics department, at service desks, and in the essential departments such as the CVS Pharmacy and Target Optical.

Target’s management is working to coordinate the stores, distribution centers and suppliers to fast-track items guests need most to be restocked, including cleaning supplies, baby supplies, food and produce and over-the-counter medicine, according to the statement. Limits will be placed on essential products like toilet paper, foods like soup, pasta, milk and eggs, bottled water and hand sanitizer.
All stores will be closed by 9 p.m. every day to replenish products and deep clean the stores, according to the statement.

Drive-Up and Order Pickup will be available and will be made contactless by eliminating guest signatures and by having team members place orders in trunks or back seats of cars, according to the statement.

The first hour stores are open on Tuesdays and Wednesdays will be dedicated to shoppers over 65 years old, pregnant women and those who are most vulnerable or at-risk under the CDC's guidelines, according to the statement.

Target raised its pay by two dollars hourly for both full-time and part-time employees in stores and distribution centers until May 2, as well as an increase in payroll hours for deep cleaning, according to the statement. They will also be offering paid leave access to those team members who are over 65, pregnant or have underlying medical conditions.

David Anderson, professor and extension economist at Texas A&M University, said grocery stores do not have a shortage, rather, a big rush of customers far over what a grocery store would normally plan for based on their sales patterns.

“So, you know, you know grocery store gets trucks in every day for their items just normally stocking shelves,” Anderson said. “But if all of a sudden, you know, people pour in there and buy everything in sight, you know, the next shipment is not going to fill up what was purchased so, so we certainly have more  of a distributional effect, and I think it really highlights how complex our agricultural supply chain really is.”

While there has been a burst in sales, once people have gotten what they need and their pantries and freezers are full, Anderson said there is no telling when they will be going back to the store for the next round.

“So, this sets off a set of ripple effects, right. You know, at some point, people might not go to the store for a little while because they have everything they really need. They may have a bunch of stuff they don't need. So, this can set off, you know, a bunch of waves of unanticipated surges in buying and they may have unanticipated (periods where) nobody shows up, you're fully stocked,” he said. “So, this has set off this whole, I think rippling through our market, you know, and so there's both good and bad for grocery stores, I think, and we're going to observe the whole thing.”

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