Another wave of the pandemic has shoppers wondering if we’re in for round two of empty shelves, limits on basics and lines out the door due to social distancing.
Local supermarket leaders weren’t seeing that happen to a significant degree last week, but that could change under new stay-at-home orders. Chicago implemented a stay-at-home advisory a week ago, causing an uptick of demand at local supermarkets and discounters.
But stocking up for Thanksgiving in a pandemic hasn’t risen to a level of panic buying. At least not yet.
“I’m not aware of any holiday items that we will be short of,” said Mike Stigers, chief executive at Cub Foods. “Every once in a while we’re stressed on paper towels but we’re in pretty good shape.”
National grocery store chains such as Kroger, H-E-B Giant and Wegman’s began instituting limits on some paper products and disinfecting wipes more than a week ago. Target and Hy-Vee stores had limits of one package on toilet paper and paper towels last week.
In other local supermarkets, Kowalski’s added limits on paper plates and napkins more than a week ago and toilet paper and paper towels several weeks ago. Last Wednesday, Lunds & Byerlys instituted a limit of one paper product per person per category for toilet paper, paper towels, napkins and facial tissue. Also on Wednesday, Coborn’s Inc. imposed limits on toilet paper, paper towels, napkins, aluminum foil and liquid hand soap. Aldi is limiting shoppers to two cans of pumpkin and one package of toilet paper on some but not all brands.
At the end of last week Cub and most Walmarts were the only major supermarkets in the Twin Cities without limits on purchases.
No one is predicting a shortage of holiday favorites turkey and ham, but smaller turkeys or hams may be harder to find due to demand. With many supermarkets placing frozen turkey orders before the pandemic, it was difficult to pivot at the last minute.
Small orders from local turkey suppliers were placed in May or June. “Back in May people thought COVID would be nearly gone by Thanksgiving, but by June we anticipated somewhat smaller gatherings,” said Mike Oase, chief operating officer at Kowalski’s.
Supermarkets are making adjustments to assortments for smaller gatherings. Many are increasing supplies of turkey breasts.
“We’ll load up on brined turkeys and turkey breasts,” said Curt Funk, senior vice president of merchandising for Lunds & Byerlys.
Kowalski’s plans on increasing its supply of fresh turkey breasts as families downsize their Thanksgiving dinners. Sam’s Club is selling holiday hams in a trio of smaller sizes — 4 pounds, 7 pounds and 10 pounds. Even its yeast roll package has shrunk from 36 each to a dozen.
Hy-Vee said Easter prepared the supermarket for downsized holidays. “Our popular meal packs now include serving sizes from two to 12 to accommodate smaller gatherings this year,” said spokeswoman Tina Potthoff.
Trent Hannack of Minneapolis said he hasn’t noticed any staples for his Thanksgiving dinner missing from the shelves. “I already bought my turkey at Target and everything else I wanted today was there,” he said as he loaded his trunk with groceries in the Aldi parking lot in Minneapolis near Minnehaha Avenue.
The key to avoiding disappointment is flexibility, grocers say. Supplies of items that have not appeared on out-of-stock lists before may be tight during the holidays, such as certain spices, aluminum foil, canned pumpkin and pineapple and cranberries.
“Spices are struggling now — cinnamon and nutmeg but also sage, thyme and rosemary. We’re bringing in more fresh spice options to pick up the slack,” said Funk. Lunds & Byerlys has also searched for new suppliers of canned pumpkin in Costa Rica and brought in more fresh pineapple if canned supplies get low.
Consumers left without staples or a favorite ingredient may want to check co-ops. During the first wave of panic buying, co-ops were among the last to run out of paper products and some foods.
“We’re in good shape on most things,” said C.E. Pugh, chief executive at National Co-op Grocers, an advisory group for more than 140 co-ops nationwide. “People are getting used to it and developing a greater sense of what they need.