Attention, shoppers: There's plenty of food for everyone; be patient and 'don't panic'
Oak Park — Around 11 a.m. Wednesday, the CVS at the corner of Coolidge and Nine Mile had a completely empty cooler on the end of a long row of them.
Minutes later, it was stocked to the ceiling with gallons of milk, courtesy of the Country Fresh delivery man.
Yes, the food-supply industry is stressed like never before because of the global coronavirus pandemic, but there's no shortage of food — and thus, no reason to freak out that you won't be able to snag that Jack's frozen pizza, or that box of Crunch Berries, or heck, five of each if that's your pleasure.
"There is no food shortage, your food supply is not being disrupted," said Shelie Miller, a professor at the University of Michigan who is an expert in the field of food-supply sustainability.
"There will be plenty of food for everyone who needs it. There really is.
"There's no need to panic or hoard."
The grocery business is a half-trillion-dollar industry in the United States, and worth billions in Michigan, which has hundreds of stores — from the big box down to the small, family-owned markets.
And ever since Gov. Gretchen Whitmer last week announced a partial shutdown, the stores have been overrun with customers, hence all those empty toilet-paper and paper-towel shelves you see all over Twitter. Then, this week, Whitmer extended the shutdown even further, calling for only essential businesses to keep running, grocery stores, of course, among them.
While there's no imminent threat of a food shortage, of course you're seeing some empty shelves, home of varying products, depending on when you shop.
The key, industry folks say, is just to stay patient, and again, don't panic.
"We are working closely with our suppliers to replenish our inventories and our supply is strong," said Rachel Hurst, a spokeswoman for Kroger. "In an effort to meet this unprecedented demand, we are working tirelessly to expand our logistics capabilities.
"Product arriving from our warehouses is being worked to shelves immediately upon arrival. We are asking our customers to be patient, to be kind to one another and our associates, and to shop responsibly and purchase what you need, knowing that we will continue to replenish stores."
Kroger, like Meijer, Walmart and CVS, is expediting the hiring of new staff members to keep up with demand; for the current workers, many companies are giving out bonuses. Many stores also have adjusted their hours to allow for an overnight stocking period, and many are opening an hour early for seniors, the most vulnerable demographic for the coronavirus, to shop by themselves.
Anytime there's an out-of-our-hands threat to disrupting our life — like, say, an incoming snowstorm, or an extended power outage — there's a rush to stock up on the essentials.
But this is different, and nobody was prepared for the trickle-down impact.
One tip, if you want to avoid the crowds (always a good thing in this new age of social distancing) and perhaps find some better-stocked shelves, is to shop at smaller, independently owned stores.
"No one's planning on closing down grocery stores. We haven't seen any problem with the majority of our products. We have plenty of produce, plenty of dairy ... our meat counter is full," said Steve Najjar, who has owned Fresh Farms Market in Grosse Pointe for 23 years. "The problem lies where everyone panics and buys it all at one point."
Like the toilet paper — for some as-yet unexplained reason.
"I don't understand it," said Najjar, while noting that his store now is providing delivery service for seniors.
Easier to explain is the lack of paper towel and cleaning supplies, especially hand sanitizer and just about anything that includes bleach.
Now, it's simple to say that if everyone just continued to shop at their normal pace, there'd be no issue.
But that's tricky, Miller said, and that's not entirely possible, given that with so many restaurants closed, fewer people are eating out, and thus need to have more food at home.
Also, with all K-12 schools moving to online earning, kids are home, and need to be fed; cafeteria pizza and chicken nuggets aren't an option now.
"People are needing to accommodate for various things," Miller said. "Some of the increased volume is due to people actually needing more food at home to accommodate for changes in lifestyle."
In other words, when you'd normally buy a pound of turkey, maybe three is necessary now. Still, Miller said, buying only what you need and plan to eat is key; keeping in mind how much storage space you have for food also is important.
Miller said while the food supply is strong and she doesn't see that changing for months, if at all — with the possible exception of processed foods — the temporary shortages in stores aren't easily fixable, given regional distribution centers, which supply many of the big-box stores, weren't prepared for this.
For example, Miller said, there are only so many trucks, only so many loading docks, only so many stockers to get the food from truck bed to the shelves.
That takes time for the workers, and patience from the shoppers. It's created a "bottleneck," Miller said.
"That system was designed for normal shopping patterns," Miller said. "We're not shopping normally."
Need a meal?
Gleaners Community Food Bank announced Wednesday it will start handing out groceries to those in need. Here are the details:
►Roberto Clemente Recreation Center: Every other Wednesday, starting this week, 2:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
►Butzel Family Recreation Center: Every other Thursday, starting this week, 2:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
►Hellmann Recreation Center: Every other Thursday, starting this week, 2:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
►Coleman A. Young Recreation Center: Every other Saturday, starting this week, 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Note: Forgotten Harvest is also distributing food, and if you are in need, visit forgottenharvest.org.