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Grocery stores, food manufacturers prepare for winter amid COVID-19

Posted at 8:42 AM, Oct 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-06 12:14:52-04

Food flew off the shelves in March when the national emergency for COVID-19 was announced. Now, grocers and food manufacturers are working to make sure that doesn’t happen again this winter.

“We are a specialty market focusing on the meats and protein,” said Mike Silvestri, general manager at one of three Tony’s Meats & Market locations.

Like many grocery stores, both big and small, Tony’s Meats & Market saw the disruption in the supply chain back in March.

“What really screwed up a lot of things in this pandemic was people were buying way more than they normally do, not necessarily here, but in the grocery sector in general,” Silvestri said.

It's something he is trying to avoid moving forward.

“We don’t need to panic buy. I think you buy what you need for the week like you're normally shopping,” he said. “So, just remain calm.”

As U.S. coronavirus cases continue to rise--paired with flu season, holidays, and other factors--experts are once again concerned about what the impact on the supply chain might be. So, grocers and food manufacturers are preparing for whatever may come with the winter season, many resorting to stockpiling themselves to avoid running out.

“On one side, they're building up inventory to make sure they're ready for it. But on the other side inventory is additional costs,” Jack Buffington, a supply chain expert and professor at the University of Denver, said. “Their concern is the weeks of inventory they had before the pandemic hit was not sufficient for them to run out of supplies. So, particularly for big events like Thanksgiving, to make sure they have ample supply because that's a big moneymaker for them.”

For large chain grocery stores, stockpiling in large warehouses is a viable option. For smaller grocers like Tony’s, they only have so much space.

“We do have a warehouse. It’s not as monstrous as most people would imagine,” Silvestri said.

The company has already prepared by buying pallets of food items to keep at their warehouse to get through the season.

“What we would call necessities like pastas, ground beef, pasta sauces, canned items, things like that,” he said.

A buyer for Tony’s told us even with the gap of up to three months in June to start getting stuff back in stock, they’ve been stockpiling staple items since March for this winter.

“Christmas has begun October 1,” Buffington said. “The entire supply chain is moving things forward. For one reason due to the risk of supply and demand.”

“We all had to be on the ball a little bit early this year. Obviously, we start pretty early as it is but because of all the COVID-19 stuff we’ve had to really be mindful of how much we’re looking to shoot over,” Silvestri said.

Silvestri said he sees everyone getting concerned about not having enough supply or demand, due to uncertainty.

“COVID-19 was a complete catalyst of what you're seeing as a redefinition of the supply chain and the economy,” Buffington said. “I think everybody’s getting scared of not having enough supply and not having enough demand.”

As Silvestri and the rest of the crew at Tony's prepare for an uncertain Thanksgiving and Christmas, he says they feel ready.

“The pace since COVID-19 started has really been a holiday pace anyway,” he said.