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Retailers work to meet holiday shopping demand during COVID surge

Customers buying more due to holiday, COVID shopping

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich — Michigan's newest COVID-19 restrictions go into effect one week before Thanksgiving, which happens to be the busiest time of the year for many retailers, especially grocers.

Currently, many stores are seeing customers buy certain items, like disinfectant and paper products in large quantities. While reluctant to describe the behavior as stockpiling, it is reminiscent of shopping patterns during the previous height of the pandemic. That has store owners and managers asking customers to be thoughtful and practical when shopping.

"While we are experiencing some challenges with a limited number of products like spices, our supply chain has recovered from initial shortages," says Meredith Gremel, vice president for corporate affairs & communications for SpartanNash.  "My advice would be to just be mindful of your neighbors and rest assured that the supply chain is stable, and there will be products for you, when you come back to the store next week and the weeks following."

SpartanNash has more than 155 retail stores and distributes to more than 2100 independent retail locations throughout the country, as well as those on military bases. Larger chains, like SpartanNash, as well as smaller independent stores like Kingma's Market are all saying the same thing... plan don't panic, when it comes to making purchases.

Across Michigan, stores like Costco, Sam's Club and Kroger have sold out of toilet paper and paper towels. Smaller turkeys are also flying off shelves, as consumers scale down the size of Thanksgiving Day dinner celebrations.

"As we give thanks this holiday season, we salute our frontline team members and ask those we serve to please purchase according to their short term needs. Stockpiling will limit our ability to restock the shelves for others, and we're all in this pandemic together," says Gremel.

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"You know, I think, you know, the customer is a little more educated in terms of what's happening. I think a lot of folks are heartened by the fact there's some vaccine upside, potentially in the near future," says Alan Hartline, owner of Kingma's Market. "So, I wouldn't characterize it as panic buying and I'm painting it with a broad brush. I mean, certainly there are some customers coming in, that are concerned."

Hartline says many manufacturers and suppliers have adapted to the new run rate, when it comes to volume. So, even if stores sell out of a certain product, it shouldn't take too long before they can restock the shelves.

"Unless there's some meaningful changes, we feel really confident that we're going to have product, you know, to satisfy our customers," he said.

Kingma's Market, like SpartanNash, Meijer and others are also increasing resources to allow more customers to do curbside pickup and home delivery. 

Gremel says this will help to maintain safe environments for their workers and customers, as well as comply with the latest restrictions. Retail stores are permitted to remain open during the duration of the 3-week public health order. However, they must operate at 30% capacity.

"We don't want people to be worried about having to wait in line to go into the store. When we had 50% capacity, just so you know, we didn't have any issues," said Gremel.

"And, we're certainly asking folks to honor the mask mandate that's out there," Hartline added. "We're creating solutions by offering masks or shields to people that don't have them. So, we've been able to diffuse a lot of that. And, we've been fortunate that the community's been understanding and it's sort of the new normal, if you will. So, it's not this contentious situation, that perhaps it was a few months back."

Both Gremel and Hartline want customers to feel confident they will be able to purchase necessities, and to focus on what's really important, their safety and that of others.

"And, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I would say, you know, be grateful for what you do have and for those who are out there on the front lines, from our health care, to our first responders, to our grocery workers, and to our truck drivers, those who are making sure they can bring you the holiday you hope to have this year."

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