Managers of local grocery stores say they are staying ahead of the curve so far in meeting increased consumer demand for food in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.
Keith Huffman, director of the IGA Rock Creek Marketplace off N.C. 268 East and the Holly Mountain IGA off N.C. 115 South, said the rush last week to scoop up nonperishable food and other household staples was unprecedented.
“I’m 58, and I’ve never seen anything like this,” said the long-time store manager on Wednesday. “It was a big whammy that hit us all at once, but we’re getting stocked back up today. We should be back to a normal schedule on Monday.”
Huffman said his stores are supplied by Hickory-based Merchants Distributors Inc. (MDI). “MDI is really good. The rush last week got them 24 hours behind. But now I don’t see any issues with supply.”
As an independently-owned company, IGA buys from many local suppliers, including its meat from Mays Meat in Taylorsville, its produce from Winston-Salem and its coffee from Hickory. “Every local supplier we can find, we buy from,” noted Huffman. “I’m a firm believer in supporting the hands that feed us.”
He added, “It may get worse before it gets better, but we’ll be able to handle” the consumer demand at IGA. “It’s going to take a little while for everybody to settle down.”
Brad Kirby, store manager of Lowes Foods off U.S. 421 West in Wilkesboro, said he had trucks deliver stock for replenishing shelves on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. The store is also supplied by MDI.
“In my career, I’ve never seen the influx we’ve had coming in, but we’re open for our communities and we’re keeping shelves stocked as full as we can,” said Kirby. “There’s not an abundance of stock that we’re used to, because a big demand has been placed on our warehouse and they’re spreading the product among the entire Lowes chain.”
Kirby said he doesn’t think virus-killing supplies like hand sanitizer will be available at his store for a while, and he foresees a limited supply of toilet paper and paper towels.
“We’re facing a big challenge over the next several weeks keeping a fully-stocked store, but we have a solid operation and I feel confident as long as manufacturers are able to keep up.”
Kirby said that at Lowes Foods, “we want to do everything we can for the community. We’re here for the community.”
Lowes Foods was founded in 1954 in North Wilkesboro and has close to 100 stores in the Carolinas and Virginia. It was acquired by MDI in 1984.
A subsidiary of Lowes Foods, Just$ave Foods is a family-owned chain with six locations in North Carolina. Zach Hall, assistant manager of the North Wilkesboro store off N.C. 18 North, said Thursday that last week’s rush was different than the typical “snow scare event” in which people stocked up on bread, milk and meats.
“People hit the panic button but this time it was toilet paper and canned goods and vegetables, preparing for the unknown,” he said. “We didn’t feel the effect at first but later we saw it fall down on us. We’ve definitely seen more foot traffic, and orders are up.”
Hall said that the store received a delivery truck on Tuesday and was waiting on another delivery soon.
“It takes a full team, but we’ve got a good team here. It’s challenging times but we’re making sure families have enough to hold on. We’ve got the bulk stuff to put in the pantry at home or to take to local food pantries.”