Grocery stores have continued to serve the community with restrictions and shortages of paper goods, meat and cleaning supplies during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The panic buy was tough because our suppliers had to scramble to get what we needed,” said Pat Tapee, Russ’s Market Store Manager. “We’re still having a hard time getting a few items like cleaning supplies. The paper goods are beginning to be restocked, but it’s still difficult. We had to go to outside vendors, not just our main suppliers, but to independents to try and get what we needed for our customers.
“This was the first Fourth of July without Fairbury Hotdogs. It’s just a weird time. There are some things we never got, like canning supplies.
Tapee said that the store made some physical changes with the guards in front of the clerks, as well as sanitizing as required. All employees are required to wear a mask and it is recommended that customers wear a mask.
“I see some of the sanitation continuing after COVID restrictions,” Tapee said. “It’s a good habit to get into and it’s just become an everyday thing to us now.
Mary Oblinger, a clerk at Russ’s Market, said she didn’t think this has been a bad time to work in the grocery store.
“I do like that we have the plastic in front of us and the masks. I just feel safer,” said Oblinger. “I had pneumonia last year and if I caught COVID, my doctor told me that it could be serious.”
Meredith M. Gremel, Vice President, Corporate Affairs & Communications with SpartanNash, owner of Sunmart Foods, said that her company values the front line workers in every community.
“As a company we are so proud of our essential workers, the pandemic has emphasized the important role that they play in our communities,” said Gremel. “We are so grateful for their commitment. They each were a vital part of a great purpose.
“We’ve had to be very nimble as we worked with the changes that the pandemic created. Safety has always been our most important factor. Our task force immediately started searching for personal protective equipment for our associates in the beginning. It was hard to find, but we are happy to say that our numbers of COVID positives have been extremely low.”
Gremel said the biggest challenge has been labor shortages. With 19 distribution sites throughout the United States it has been difficult to deal with increased need for product, increased safety and cleaning standards and shortages in workers.
“Every community is a little different, but prior to the pandemic, approximately 40% of people received their food away from home,” Gremel said. “With restaurants closing and people being home, the need for food at home significantly increased. At the same time, there were problems in production and distribution. It took time for manufacturers to catch up and some needed to increase their production.”
Gremel added toilet paper is an example of a product that was in high demand during the pandemic.
“Manufacturers had previously supplied commercial buildings, schools, and restaurants, but needed to shift their supply quickly to people that were home,” said Gremel. “The pandemic has created a shift in our communities and our families, but again, our frontline workers have worked hard in providing what is needed in their communities.”