With chicken, eggs, tissues, toilet paper and bleach flying off the shelves as soon as grocers can restock them, state and local leaders and corporate retailers have a message for shoppers panicked by the coronavirus outbreak: Take a deep breath, buy only what your family needs and leave some for your neighbors.
The global pandemic has set off a chain of events with little comparison in the nation’s history, with schools, concerts, sporting events, travel plans and practically any gathering of 50 or more canceled.
While large grocers like H-E-B and Brookshire Brothers have emergency plans in place, they say up until now, they have dealt with more regional scenarios, such as hurricanes. While grocers expressed confidence Monday in their abilities to wade through the COVID-19 storm, they say they have not dealt with a situation on this scale.
In response, H-E-B and Brookshire Brothers have placed limits on how much customers can buy of certain items, while H-E-B has cut back its store hours so employees can have more time to clean and restock the rapidly depleted inventories.
H-E-B stores are open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., while Brookshire Brothers in Lorena is open from 7 a.m. until 9 p.m. All area Walmart locations are open for 6 a.m. until 11 p.m. until further notice.
“We definitely are asking our customers to be mindful of things we have put limits on,” said H-E-B spokeswoman Chelsea Thompson. “If a customer walks up to the check stand with too much of an item, our cashiers have been trained to have that conversation and to remind them that this is a community effort. Our customers have been pretty understanding and we remain pretty strong on purchase limits that we have implemented. So far, we haven’t had any incidents, and I think our customers agree we are all in this together.”
McLennan County Judge Scott Felton said the runs on grocery stores and other retailers appears to be “an overreaction by the public.”
“I think a lot of fear is running rampant because people aren’t checking into the facts as much as listening to rumors,” Felton said. “I like to keep a full pantry. There’s no question about that. But I wouldn’t think it would be necessary to build up a lot of home inventory. Even though there have been restrictions on the size of crowds and things like that, people can still move freely. So again, I think it is an overreaction.”
While some people are being inconvenienced by those “who are in a panic stage,” Felton urges the public to calm down and evaluate their individual needs.
“This will eventually be over, and hopefully, it won’t be very long,” he said.
Jeremy Everett, executive director of Baylor Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty, also urges residents to exercise restraint at the grocery stores and to buy only what they need for their families.
“Panicking only ensures that you are putting people in harm’s way,” he said. “If the goal or your intent is to put people in harm’s way, then panic all you want. We are all nervous. We are not saying you shouldn’t be nervous and to be sure your family has what it needs.
“But any time you hoard, you are taking important resources away from other people, and from what I know of our community, we are better than that. This is the time to really show our compassion. We are one family among a community of people,” Everett said.
Sally Alvis, spokeswoman for Brookshire Brothers, which has grocery stores in 115 Texas and Louisiana locations, said their stores placed limits on purchases on Friday. None of their stores are more than five hours away from the chain’s distribution center in Lufkin, she said, praising employees and truck drivers for trying to stay on top of demand.
“We are just continuing to encourage folks to take what they need and leave food and supplies for others,” she said. “This is a long-haul, not a short-haul situation. We are just asking people to please take what they need and be mindful of others’ needs.”
Despite those efforts, shoppers are still filling the stores regularly.
The H-E-B on Wooded Acres Drive in Waco was fully stocked on Monday morning, but a long line of people were waiting to shop before the doors opened at 8 a.m. By 2 p.m. Monday, the store was out of fresh chicken, except for necks and livers, and most of the pork cuts and ground beef were gone.
Supplies of paper towels, tissues or toilet paper were almost exhausted, along with most bleach and disinfectant products. Cereal, bottled water, cooking oil and some produce, especially apples, were in short supply, also.
With 350 stores in Texas and about 30 in Mexico, H-E-B is putting its emergency preparedness department through its paces, Thompson said.
“Our emergency preparedness department is one of the best I have ever seen and we have been talking about what we were going to do for about a month now,” she said. “While the crisis has become huge in weeks, days really, a lot of what we were discussing is in relation to hurricane crisis, which effects a certain region or area, not necessarily worldwide. It is definitely new to all of us, but it is something we are getting through and we will have it under our belt once this is all passed us.”
While chicken is flying off grocery store shelves and there appears to be a supply shortage at times, officials at Sanderson Farms, which has a processing plant in Waco, said in a news release Monday that their plants continue normal operations.
“With so much uncertainty surrounding the novel coronavirus, and the changes we face in our daily lives, Sanderson Farms wants to reassure our customers, consumers and communities that we will continue to process and ship high-quality, safe and affordable poultry products,” said Joe F. Sanderson, chairman and chief executive officer of Sanderson Farms, Inc. “Currently, all 12 of the company’s poultry processing complexes and our prepared chicken plant, as well as our corporate headquarters, are operating normally. The company has not experienced any supply chain disruptions, and our logistics team continues to meet delivery needs and schedules.”
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