Coronavirus prompts shoppers to clear out Metro Detroit grocery shelves

Kalea Hall
The Detroit News

Mark Garmo has been in the grocery business for more than 20 years, and he's never seen anything quite like his Grosse Pointe Farms grocery store, Village Market, during the coronavirus scare.

The mad rush at Village Market started Wednesday, a day after Michiganians learned the virus had hit home, and has only continued to increase since then. Between Wednesday and Thursday, Village Market served 5,000 customers and it typically serves between 800-1,000 a day. 

Shoppers and employees navigate the isle ways near the fresh-meat counter at Village Market in Grosse Pointe Farms.

"The sky has fallen," Garmo said. "People are stocking up on everything. Every department is low on product: meat, dairy, bread, prepared foods, produce, water."

As the number of cases continues to grow and the government takes new measures to handle the virus, the demand at grocers throughout Metro Detroit, Michigan and the United States has emptied toilet paper aisles and cleared stocks of hand sanitizer.

Damon Washington of Eastpointe wears gloves as he prepares to check out at Village Market. He says he's been wearing gloves in public since Monday.

Kroger announced this weekend it's shortening hours at its grocery store locations beginning Sunday, saying workers need time to clean and restock in response to coronavirus hysteria. Store hours shifted to 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., a difference of three hours. They had been 6 a.m. to midnight.

The shopping boom has pushed grocers to intensify cleaning efforts as they see thousands flock to their stores in preparation for possible quarantine and unable to make it to the store. 

"We put almost six employees out to go around and wipe everything down from carts to baskets to tables," Garmo said. "We have put gloves all over the store for people to use. I think people are doing the right thing by protecting their families by stocking up."

Garmo has noticed an increased amount of Instacart shoppers shopping for people who don't want to venture out at his store.

Hand sanitizer, vitamins, powdered milk, face masks and canned goods are the top five searchable items on Instacart. The company recently widely rolled out a new option that allows customers to ask for groceries to be left at their door. 

"We’re continuing to see a surge in demand across the Instacart platform as consumers increasingly turn to our service to get the fresh groceries and household essentials they need," Instacart said in a statement to The Detroit News.

Garmo has also seen a "massive increase" in home delivery requests.

"We can’t keep up with home deliveries at the moment," Garmo said on Friday. "I didn’t get out of here until 11 p.m. last night, and I got back at 5 a.m. this morning."

Extra cleaning also goes for all Krogers, Busch's Fresh Food Markets, Plum Market and Honey Bee in southwest Detroit.

People are still able to bag their own produce, but, as always, "when you get produce, you should take it home and clean it," said Todd Robinson, vice president of marketing for Busch's.

“We strive to be clean to begin with, but this is extra everything," Honey Bee Manager Jim Garrison said. "It’s multiple times a day. The buggies, the baskets, the surfaces everybody is touching. The belts on the checkout lanes. The pads for the credit cards. The terminals themselves — that’s something we probably wouldn’t do (ordinarily) during the day.”

Maria Hinojosa, 69, of Livonia said she traveled from Livonia to Honey Bee on Sunday because she couldn’t find tortillas anywhere else. 

“It’s been terrible. It’s like a zoo. The stores are packed and the shelves are empty,” Hinojosa said.

Luna Terauchi, 22, of Southwest Detroit, also shopped at Honey Bee on Sunday.

"I didn’t hoard like I know many people are doing right now. ... I found more success in finding foods at smaller shops than at like Kroger or Meijer.”

Plum Market CEO Matthew Jonna sent a note to customers Friday detailing the precautions the grocer is taking at all of its locations. The steps include using a disinfectant approved by the Federal Drug Administration for use against the spread of coronavirus.

Meanwhile, stores must also deal with the high demand and lowering supplies, Jonna wrote in his note to customers: "We have contacted our suppliers and are doing everything in our power to obtain additional products which are in high demand."

Kroger is also working closely with suppliers to replenish products quickly, the company said. Garmo is ordering double or triple of everything he needs.

The Kroger in Grosse Pointe Woods had been nearly depleted of all its meat this weekend.

Busch's has more trucks out on the road bringing in additional product than they normally would, Robinson said: "We are working to make sure the shelves are staying stocked as fully as they can."

Honey Bee "is contacting everybody, and over-ordering if we can’t find something from one place and another place has it," Garrison said. “This will pass, I’m sure. The supply chains will get back online.”

Demand for prepared foods also has "skyrocketed," says Busch's Robinson, in part, because of customer concerns about heading out to restaurants. Adds Honey Bee's Garrison: “We’re still cooking.”

Twitter: @bykaleahall

Staff Writers Neal Rubin and Ariana Taylor contributed.