Americans rush to stock up on essentials, retailers scramble to keep up
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[March 14, 2020]
By Barbara Goldberg and Laila Kearney
NEW YORK (Reuters) - From Jersey City on
the East Coast to Los Angeles on the West Coast, American shoppers
picked grocery store shelves clean on products ranging from
disinfectants to rice, causing retailers to race to restock their stores
as the worsening coronavirus crisis stoked fears of shortages.
As shoppers swarmed stores, President Donald Trump on Friday afternoon
declared a national emergency aimed at slowing the spread of the novel
virus, which has killed at least 47 people in the United States.
Daily routines have been upended as businesses including Amazon.com <AMZN.O>
urge employees to work from home, schools and universities close, and
sporting events and church services are paused across the country. In
response to the run on certain items, major retailers have imposed some
The chief executive of Walmart Inc <WMT.N>, Doug McMillon, at a news
conference with Trump on Friday, said the retailer was having trouble
keeping up with demand for products like hand sanitizer Purell, cleaning
supplies and paper goods.
"Hand sanitizer is going to be very difficult to have 100% in stock for
some time," McMillon said. "We're still replenishing it ... but as soon
as it hits the stores it's going. The same thing is true for the other
categories I mentioned."
In Hanover, New Jersey, about 40 customers had lined up to get into a
Wegmans grocery store before it opened on Friday morning. A few hours
later, shelves were stripped bare of sanitizing wipes, bulk rice and
dried beans. The store posted signs announcing limits on the purchase of
hand sanitizer and bottled water.
"An abundance of caution - semper paratus, like the Coast Guard motto
that means 'always ready,'" shopper Marlene Russell, 69, told a reporter
after packing groceries into her car.
At a Fairway Market on Manhattan's Upper West Side, shelves normally
full of pasta, Oreo cookies, pasta sauce, crackers and toilet paper were
depleted on Thursday evening. On the West Coast, grocery stores
including Ralphs, Pavilions and Trader Joe's had sold out of products
ranging from eggs to Lysol cleaning wipes.
Johnson & Johnson <JNJ.N> is accelerating production of over-the-counter
pain killer Tylenol to ease any spot inventory crunches.
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Shelves previously filled with pasta and canned food are seen empty
at a Trader Joe's grocery store as shoppers gather supplies with
coronavirus fears spreading in Encinitas, California, U.S., March
12, 2020. REUTERS/Mike Blake
J&J, which also makes Listerine mouthwash, said it was shipping
stocks of products in a controlled manner. It was increasing
production of other consumer products to ensure retailers were well
supplied, it said, adding it did not expect any shortages.
Pharmacy chain Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc <WBA.O> and supermarket
chain Kroger Co <KR.N> instituted purchase limits to stabilize
Kroger, the largest U.S. grocery store operator, limited the number
of cold, flu and sanitary products per visit, while Walgreens said
it was limiting disinfectant wipes and cleaners, face masks, hand
sanitizers, thermometers and gloves to four per customer.
John Terry, 33, went to a Whole Foods in Manhattan to pick up
chicken and other items his wife was unable to get at grocery stores
near their Jersey City home, in New Jersey across the Hudson River
"It was insanity," he said about his local stores. "She went to
Costco and there was a line down the block. At another one, the
shelves were picked clean."
Phil Lempert, editor of SupermarketGuru, said labor shortages due to
everything from school closures to illness could cause business
disruptions that last several months.
"It's a lot more than stockpiling toilet paper or Purell. This is
going to have implications on our food supply and supply chain for
months to come," Lempert said.
(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg and Laila Kearney; Additional
reporting by Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles; Writing by Anna Driver;
Editing by Rosalba O'Brien, David Gregorio and Leslie Adler)
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