Last Friday–March 20, which is of note in this ever-evolving world of things as we know it right now—I went to the grocery store. Like other times I have done this seemingly basic errand at my local Lunds & Byerlys, I was armed with my shopping list and reusable bags*, but this time an unusual thing also came with me—uncertainty.
Like so many people during this coronavirus pandemic, there is the fear that we won’t be able to get the things, the very basic necessities, we are so used to being able to get without even a thought. I was stocking up on staples and other items and preparing to cook more at home while my husband and I work there and our second- and sixth-grade sons—who are always hungry—are out of school. I knew I would need plenty…within reason. As the youngest of eight kids of parents from The Greatest Generation, I had grown up accustomed to large-scale shopping trips and a well-stocked pantry so that wasn’t something new.
But a lot of other people have also been stocking up, of course, which can make a trip to the grocery store even more worrisome. When I spoke with Lunds & Byerlys Senior Communications Manager Aaron Sorenson he described having seen “holiday-like buying” levels recently.
But is it getting better? “We are already seeing stock-up buying slow down,” he says, noting the suppliers and stores can then regroup and they are seeing supplies getting back to normal, citing cereal as one example.
With regard to product supply, Lunds & Byerlys, for one, is continuing to find more ways to get high-demand products to all of their stores. This includes working with existing suppliers to ship product directly to stores or facilities, when possible, to get it to customers sooner. They are also partnering with suppliers who have primarily serviced the restaurant industry, which can help those businesses while also getting these products to the stores. They work with local seafood distributors, The Fish Guys, so they can keep products at a high level, says Sorenson. Through their deli connections, they have reliable sources for produce, bread and meat at the deli. “We are good in meat and seafood…we have a really good supply of ground beef.” And something on my mind and presumably others: What about the supply chain for milk, eggs, meat and other foods? At this time he hasn’t heard about fear for product availability from suppliers.
High-demand products such as toilet paper, hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies are coming in but, “As quick as they are in the store they are purchased within a few hours,” says Sorenson.”
With every new government announcement surrounding our situation could come changes in customer behavior, I imagine, but hopefully people are adjusting to our temporary “new normal.” And hopefully people who might have stockpiles of toilet paper at home can hold off on purchases so others who really are in need right now can access. (I say this as my dwindling supply of now six rolls will hopefully be replenished before any issues arise.)
Grocery stores will remain open for business after the stay-at-home order begins March 28, so you will still be able to go out for necessities.
Changes in the Aisles
What changes might you see as you walk the aisles? On my trip to Lunds & Byerlys last week, after I found my usual brands of bread loaves in stock, I noticed some changes in the store in response to the health safety measures. The area of the bakery that usually houses self-serve doughnuts and pastries was filled with the same treats, but in clear, sealed clam-shell packages. They were still available in single-serve units so you could select your favorites one-by-one or get a multi-doughnut package. At the olive bar, rather than grabbing a spoon and scooping up my favorite savory delights, I found they were prepackaged in the plastic containers that are usually stacked off to the side and were placed in their respective bins. (I still found the Mediterranean mix of feta cheese and green and black olives in seasoned olive oil; yum.) The deli was still staffed for custom-sliced orders—and at this time the plan is to remain so—but the meat counter had prepackaged meats, a change Sorenson says was based on current demand for more of those items rather than individual meat-counter purchases. The staff could then focus on getting the prepackaged products out.
Like all stores, Lunds & Byerlys has implemented changes to cleaning processes. “We take a tremendous amount of pride in cleanliness of the stores [on a normal basis],” says Sorenson, “and there will likely be some new normals—certainly when it comes to cleanliness we have gone up another level.”
Some recent changes include cleaning high touch areas—every checkout area, including self-checkouts—after every transaction with food-safe cleaners. To encourage social distancing, there are signs and floor decals—spaced six feet apart—near the checkout lanes. They will be installing shields at the registers in some stores during the next few days with plans to install them at all stores in the coming days if they don’t interfere with their ability to serve customers.
*And beginning March 28, they are temporarily suspending the use of reusable bags in their stores as another way to help reduce the spread of COVID-19.
At this time, they are asking customers to respect their request of having the opening hour of 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. each day reserved for those shoppers who are at a higher risk of severe illness by COVID-19, which includes older adults and those who have compromised immune systems. The intent is to provide an opportunity for those individuals to be the first to shop after the overnight cleaning and stocking so they have increased access to essential products.
Online + Delivery
If you prefer to order online for pick up or delivery, you can access the same products available in store. Their online shopping is like having a personal shopper walking the aisles just like you would and you can add details like your preferred banana ripeness, for example. This service, of course, has increased demand. This varies by store, but Sorenson estimates demand at two to three times a normal level and sometimes even five times what their stores would see on a typical day.
“Very feverishly over the last two weeks we have been ramping up,” says Sorenson. The company has added more vehicles for delivery, temporary staff to fulfill orders and technology to help handle the increased demand. As soon as delivery slots are available or the capacity of the system expands the slots are filled again.
In a recent press conference when Gov. Tim Walz acknowledged the role grocery stores and their staff play in our community, Sorenson says that recognition was greatly appreciated.
“We have all had to adjust and we value the role we play in the community and are grateful to the staff as we adjust to a new temporary normal,” says Sorenson, wishing thanks to, well, everybody.
I, too, appreciate all that the grocery stores and their staff are doing during this unprecedented time. On that shopping trip I found everything I needed in terms of food, though, as expected, the toilet paper had been snapped up earlier that day. I did get a few boxes of generic facial tissue. When my husband stopped back to the store midweek for milk and to replenish a few items, he returned without flour. It seems baking is quite popular right now. But we’ll just give them a little time to restock. In the meantime there are those delicious doughnuts.
I can’t help but wonder if some of our temporary “new normal” might end up just being “normal” as we look to get back to our usual way of life. Will the frequently touched tongs and spoons of self-serve bakeries, olive bars, hot-food service areas and bulk items be a thing of the past? Might there be a greater appreciation for our favorite products and the people who make them? When I push aside that first end crust of bread to get to the perfect piece, I always think about how my parents wouldn’t have thought of throwing that away. Maybe I should try toasting it? Top with a little butter and jelly? (And that’s a future post to Save the Food.)
As you are armed with all of your staples—not to mention fresh produce, meat and seafood—now is a perfect time to try some new recipes on our site here and at Lunds & Byerlys. (If you like Indian food, I made this Slow Cooker Chicken Tikka Masala the other week and it was tasty.) Stay well and happy cooking!