When customers call the main number for Carlie C’s IGA in Eutaw Shopping Center, they are told in a prerecorded message to shop on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays for the best selection of bathroom tissue, paper towels, bleach and disinfectant sprays.
“We also have a great selection available of hand sanitizers and face masks for you to choose from,” says the message, which has greeted callers since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in North Carolina in March.
“That particular bit of information is in relation to when the deliveries come in. The night prior is when we receive our deliveries,” store manager Jason Buechner said Monday.
“Most of those commodities are not in short supply,” he said.
But the supermarket has opted not to remove the message.
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Grocery retailers and their partners in the supply chain in large part are better prepared now as they’ve experienced the spikes in demand that came in the spring, Dudlicek said.
On Tuesday afternoon, Sheila McLaughlin, 53, of Fayetteville, did some shopping with her 18-year-old daughter at the Food Lion in Sycamore Square shopping center off Bragg Boulevard.
McLaughlin said she has seen shortages on items such as paper towels, Lysol and other cleaning products and, for some reason, rice.
“It’s always gone. You have to go store to store,” she said in the supermarket’s parking lot.
“My main concern with the spike of COVID going up,” she said from behind a face mask, “we need the cleaning supplies — especially Lysol — to keep everything clean so the virus won’t spread as much.”
Inside the store, plenty of paper products were on the shelves. But Lysol products along with other name-brand disinfectants and disinfectant wipes were temporarily out of stock.
A small sign informed shoppers of just that.
Susan Blanton, 52, of Fayetteville, said she has noticed that the supply of some of the essentials on the shelves has dwindled as coronavirus cases have increased.
“Do I think the coronavirus is a hoax? Absolutely not,” Blanton said. “I don’t think we’re over the hump yet. We’ve got a lot of flu and everything coming up.”
Buechner, the manager at Carlie C’s IGA, said panic buying on supplies months ago included toilet paper, disinfectant products, wipes, hand sanitizer, rubbing alcohol, cleaning products, aerosols and hydrogen peroxide.
Store shelves stocked with those items were cleaned out.
Shoppers often were forced to hunt down these products at other retail outlets.
When they could, they stocked up on the notion that there would come a time when they would not be able to find these essentials for daily living. Initially, those fears included a belief that grocery stores might even be shut down with the rest of the economy to encourage people to remain safe at home.
“That slowly seeped over into paper towel products,” Buechner recalled of the shortages that started to occur in April and May. “The toilet paper became completely out of stock.”
Buechner said the shortages could be blamed on a mixture of factors, including the unfounded fear that these types of products are going to run short in the marketplace.
“They only did because people were buying in large quantities, and we had to put up limits,” he said. “Manufacturers were not able to produce at such a high volume. Most of those commodities have recovered since then except for a few that remain in short supply.
“We’re not quite back to normal,” Buechner said, “but mostly back to normal.”
He said the Carlie C’s IGA corporate office is not overly concerned about coming up short again. He said he doesn’t see it with competitors, either.
That said, the store is limiting purchases of disinfectant sprays and seeing shortages of Clorox disinfectant products.
“So we do limit two canisters per person,” he said.
Buechner said Carlie C’s IGA — billed as the fastest-growing independent grocery store chain in North Carolina — has compiled a bunch of stock in its distribution warehouse in the company’s Dunn headquarters.
“The supermarket chain also ordered heavy on those items in the springtime,” he added, while maintaining stock in the warehouse to ensure the stores would not run out again.
As for grocers nationwide, Dudlicek said, “They’ve already prepared for the traditional increased demands of the holiday season and continue to take extra steps to ensure high-demand products remain available despite pandemic-related pressures, including new vendors, more local products, and redirection of foodservice and institutional products repackaged for retail.”
He said many grocers are using social media to provide updates on stock for in-demand products.
Sixty-year-old James Pigue of Fayetteville said he has noticed that grocery shelves on the whole and the fruit and vegetable sections aren’t as well-stocked as they used to be at Food Lion, where he regularly shops. He said he had not yet seen a new shortage of paper products and cleaning supplies.
In fact, his grocery bags included a bottle of mold and mildew cleaner.
For 12 years, Travis Kinlaw has been manager of the meat department at Kinlaw’s Supermarket on Sapona Road in Fayetteville.
Obviously, meats are his focus, and he said the store has not had any shortages of meat like many supermarkets did in April and May.
With a laugh, he added, “That’s why we’re called the ‘Meat Store.'”
As for the grocery side of his store, Kinlaw said, “It’s been hit and miss on paper towels and toilet paper. You might order one week, but it might be two weeks before you get it in. Canned vegetables have come back around.”
Regular shipments of Lysol and other cleaning sprays can be erratic, he said.
“When you’ve got 50 states needing that stuff, that’s why we’ve got so many items marked out. It’s not like one or two stores,” he said. “Everybody’s out of it.”
Yet, Kinlaw said, the store has never put limits on purchases of meats or other items.
“We never did any of that since the whole pandemic. Everybody’s got different needs. We told people from the get-go … that there’s not going to be any limits here. As long as we get it in.”
As an independent grocery store, Kinlaw’s does not receive shipments from a single corporate distribution center. Although the business has a main distributor based in Lumberton, he said he’s able to order meats or general grocery products from various vendors.
“The paper towels and toilet paper — that’s a hot commodity. I haven’t been able to get any diapers,” he said.
When ordering some paper products, he cannot be brand-specific. So instead of requesting Brawny or Bounty paper towels by order, the companies send whatever they’ve got.
“It might be (one case of) Bounty towels,” he said, “and the others might be generic brand.”
Managers and store associates with Target, Publix, Food Lion and Sprouts Farmers Market and two of the Walmart locations in Fayetteville said they could not talk with a reporter. They referred questions to their corporate offices.
“As we would normally do during periods of high demand, we are working through our best-in-class supply chain to replenish items as quickly as possible,” Walmart said in a prepared statement. “Our efforts include diverting products to areas as needed, coordinating supplier deliveries directly to stores and taking several other measures to help us meet the needs of our customers.”
The German-based discount grocer Lidl does not provide phone numbers for its local stores.
A product availability post on the Food Lion website states:
“The availability of some items in the store is impacted nationally. We are in daily contact with our suppliers to address availability, and we are committed to getting supply onto our store shelves as quickly as we can. To serve as many customers as possible based on our supply, we have limited purchase amounts on some products.”
Jeanine Gale remembers what it was like in the spring, trying to keep the shelves of Roses Discount Store in Westwood Shopping Center fully stocked with paper products and cleaning supplies.
Gale is the store manager.
“In the beginning, we were getting short,” she said. “Low supplies on toilet paper and paper towels. That was only because right in the beginning, it was in the news. We were running out. Everybody was buying cases of it.”
Buyers for Roses chain are having to purchase generic products from suppliers. That’s because the more popular brand-name toilet paper companies, such as Charmin and Angel Soft, are unable to produce enough at this time, according to Gale.
This applies to paper towels and cleaning chemicals, too. Those include Lysol disinfectant sprays.
Shortages, she said Monday, started to occur again about a week ago.
“Probably about two months ago,” said Gale, “we were getting good supplies back in. But again, it was not brand names coming in. I don’t know if Walmart monopolized that but they can’t keep up with production. We’ve been told buyers are doing the best they can to get everything back in stock.
“But if people start panicking. If (President-elect Joe) Biden shuts the economy down when he comes in, people will start stocking up. If everybody would buy what they normally buy, we would have enough. But if they start hoarding, we won’t have enough.”
A Biden transition official told NBC News that a shutdown of the economy “is not in line with the president-elect’s thinking.”
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Staff writer Michael Futch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 910-486-3529.