COVID-19

Can your grocery store restock shelves quickly? It depends where you shop.

Kristin Schwab Mar 12, 2020
HTML EMBED:
COPY
A shopper walks past empty shelves normally stocked with soap, sanitizer, paper towels and toilet paper at a Smart & Final store in Glendale, California, on March 7. Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

Can your grocery store restock shelves quickly? It depends where you shop.

Kristin Schwab Mar 12, 2020
A shopper walks past empty shelves normally stocked with soap, sanitizer, paper towels and toilet paper at a Smart & Final store in Glendale, California, on March 7. Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

COVID-19 has consumers clearing out grocery stores’ stock of pasta, rice and toilet paper. That has some grocers scrambling to keep up with demand.

Abel Almonte is feeling conflicted about the empty shelves at his grocery store in Queens.

“It’s fair to say that yes, we’re happy with the increase in business, but at the same time it’s kind of difficult keeping it stocked,” Almonte said. He gets truck deliveries twice a week, and the last one was missing almost a third of what he ordered. To keep shelves full, he goes shopping. He bought rubbing alcohol from a medical supply store.

“I’ve even had to buy some cases of stuff from Walmart,” Almonte said. “That’s how bad it’s gotten.”

Almonte and Walmart have different supply chains. Almonte uses a middleman. It means a can of soup goes from a factory to a third-party distribution warehouse to his store. Walmart has more than 150 of its own distribution centers.

“Self-distribution works brilliantly, particularly in crises,” said Burt Flickinger, managing director at Strategic Resource Group. “Like Albertsons, like Kroger, like BJs, like Costco. They all can go from one truck a day to several trucks a day, seven days a week, and restock the stores around the clock.”

Big stores have 24/7 access to inventory and their own fleet of trucks. And Ananth Iyer, who teaches operations management at Purdue University, said they have something else the little guys lack: lots of cash.

“But if you’re a small player, do you have the financial wherewithal to go get the supply ahead of the demand?” Iyer said.

If Almonte in Queens has to keep using Walmart to stock his shelves, it’s going to eat into his profits. But he said he’s not going raise prices. He hopes that keeps people coming to his store instead of competitors down the street.

Additional reporting by Lukas Southard.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Millions of Americans are unemployed, but businesses say they are having trouble hiring. Why?

This economic crisis is unusual compared to traditional recessions, according to Daniel Zhao, senior economist with Glassdoor. “Many workers are still sitting out of the labor force because of health concerns or child care needs, and that makes it tough to find workers regardless of what you’re doing with wages or benefits,” Zhao said. “An extra dollar an hour isn’t going to make a cashier with preexisting conditions feel that it’s safe to return to work.” This can be seen in the restaurant industry: Some workers have quit or are reluctant to apply because of COVID-19 concerns, low pay, meager benefits and the stress that comes with a fast-paced, demanding job. Restaurants have been willing to offer signing bonuses and temporary wage increases. One McDonald’s is even paying people $50 just to interview.

Could waiving patents increase the global supply of COVID-19 vaccines?

India and South Africa have introduced a proposal to temporarily suspend patents on COVID-19 vaccines. Backers of the plan say it would increase the supply of vaccines around the world by allowing more countries to produce them. Skeptics say it’s not that simple. There’s now enough supply in the U.S that any adult who wants a shot should be able to get one soon. That reality is years away for most other countries. More than 100 countries have backed the proposal to temporarily waive COVID-19 vaccine patents. The U.S isn’t one of them, but the White House has said it’s considering the idea.

Can businesses deny you entry if you don’t have a vaccine passport?

As more Americans get vaccinated against COVID-19 and the economy begins reopening, some businesses are requiring proof of vaccination to enter their premises. The concept of a vaccine passport has raised ethical questions about data privacy and potential discrimination against the unvaccinated. However, legal experts say businesses have the right to deny entrance to those who can’t show proof.

Read More

Collapse

We’re here to help you navigate this changed world and economy.

Our mission at Marketplace is to raise the economic intelligence of the country. It’s a tough task, but it’s never been more important.

In the past year, we’ve seen record unemployment, stimulus bills, and reddit users influencing the stock market. Marketplace helps you understand it all, will fact-based, approachable, and unbiased reporting.

Generous support from listeners and readers is what powers our nonprofit news—and your donation today will help provide this essential service. For just $5/month, you can sustain independent journalism that keeps you and thousands of others informed.