Sonoma County grocers open but shortening hours as consumer demand spikes
Luann Capps of east Santa Rosa pushed her shopping cart past several shelves at Oliver’s Market in Montecito Shopping Center where toilet paper and cleaning supplies typically can be found.
The shelves were bare Tuesday - the result of a week of shoppers panic-buying amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“I probably should’ve worn a mask,” said Capps, 90. “I’m old and I do have health problems, but I’m doing the best I can do, and that’s what I’ll do.”
Many people’s inclination to “immediately freak out” and hoard food and paper products is concerning, said Capps, as she looked down the narrow, partially empty aisle. She usually comes to this local market twice a week and doesn’t intend on changing her routine.
She won’t join the ongoing rush to stock up on consumer staples that could surge even more because Sonoma County officials upended daily life and activities by ordering most residents starting Wednesday to primarily stay at home except for running essential errands like food shopping.
However, many area supermarkets and grocers are shortening their daily operating hours and suspending hot food and salad bars, and many are temporarily out of certain products - good luck finding hand sanitizer - amid the run of panic-shopping by residents now bracing for a three-week slog mainly hunkered down at home.
The supply chain from food producers to consumers remains strong, but has been strained here and nationwide by “an onslaught of customers coming in and buying more than they really need to,” said Dave Heylen, a spokesman for the California Grocers Association, who urged people to stick to normal buying habits.
“The amount of product that was available prior to all of this is still in the chain, either at the distribution center or manufacturers,” Heylen said.
“The issue that we’re having right now is overbuying by consumers. That is just wreaking havoc.”
Oliver’s Market just had its biggest seven-day stretch since the Sonoma County-based independent grocer was founded 32 ?years ago, said Eric Meuse, general manager of operations.
Stocking perishable food hasn’t been an issue, he said. It’s the stockpiling of toilet paper and other items that’s made it harder to replenish the shelves at Oliver’s locations and other area food stores.
“If people bought what they needed for a week, 10 days instead of the next six months, as a community we’d be able to keep up with what people need,” Meuse said.
Food orders from grocers and eateries for Petaluma-based Mike Hudson Distributors, which primarily delivers deli meats and specialty cheeses to independent markets, including Oliver’s and pizza parlors and sandwich shops across Northern California, have spiked 15% to 20%, owner and president George Parisi said.
“The supply chain is still there,” Parisi said. “What I think everyone is being careful about is that we don’t end up with a whole bunch of over-ordering.”
Benjamin Taylor, 45, of Petaluma, a video-editing freelancer, bought fish and salad greens on his weekly visit to the Petaluma East Side Farmer’s Market, this time wearing a breathing mask.
The market opened Tuesday morning as scheduled, encouraging shoppers to grab and go in an effort to maintain its foothold as a reliable source of healthier food options. Food sampling there was banned, however. The market also was offering a curbside pickup service for customers who wanted to call ahead and avoid in-person shopping.
“I have all kinds of concerns - some are rational, some probably are not,” Taylor said. “There’s so many things on the internet. I think the important thing is not to panic. That’s when you can get in trouble.”
Safeway, which operates a dozen supermarkets in Sonoma County, asked shoppers to honor quantity limits on high-demand items like hand sanitizers and household cleaners. Vivek Sankaran, CEO of Albertsons, which owns the supermarket chain, said food and pharmacy delivery and drive-and-go options are still available with staffers now following contact-free policies.
Whole Foods plans to suspend its hot food and salad bars and in-store dining options by Wednesday.
Takeout options and prepackaged items would be expanded to meet the growing need, the company said.
Senior discounts at Oliver’s have been expanded from Tuesday through Thursday every week until April, the company said. Self-serve food options have been suspended, and the taproom inside the Windsor store will only serve coffee.
Rob Neenan, president of the California League of Food Producers, emphasized that farmers and food manufacturers produce “a tremendous amount of food,” much of which is sitting in cold storage or already in cans.
“I don’t think anyone expects there’s going to be any sort of food shortage, and the growing season is coming up pretty soon,” Neenan said.
You can reach Staff Writer Will Schmitt at 707-521-5207 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @wsreports. You can reach Staff Writer Yousef Baig at 707-521-5390 or email@example.com. On Twitter @YousefBaig.
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