Despite the empty shelves shoppers are sometimes finding in grocery stores, food industry sources say there’s no need to worry, the food supply chain is well stocked.
While supplies at the retail level have been taxed at times by all the stockpiling panicked customers are doing during the coronavirus pandemic, area grocery stores are continuing to restock regularly from their normal supply lines, even as new suppliers become available.
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) website there are no nationwide shortages of food, though inventory of some foods might be temporarily low before stores can restock. The FDA also says there are no disruptions been reported in the supply chain.
But consumers should be aware that there will be still be some hiccups in the weeks to come.
Both Meijer and Kroger said they are working diligently with suppliers to get in-demand items in stores. In some cases, with those high demand items, such as toilet paper, they are limiting quantities.
“We are using all of our local and national resources to procure increased product on items consumers are buying most,” said Kroger spokeswoman Rachel Hurst. “This includes both current suppliers and new suppliers. We have several sources providing us with extra beef and pork currently.”
The National Grocers Association says the current demand is unprecedented and has increased store traffic both in stores and online.
“Food supplies are plentiful throughout the supply chain and are being replenished continuously to meet the demand,” said Laura Strange of the National Grocers Association. “While consumers might find supply of some products low or temporarily out of stock at their stores, grocers are coordinating very closely with their suppliers and partners throughout the supply chain and are working around-the-clock to keep shelves stocked.”
Mark Shamber, executive vice president and CFO of Grand Rapids-based SpartNash, said the food supply chain is healthy but stressed right now.
More: Grocery stores are making changes to restock shelves, protect shoppers and workers
More: 7 ways to get groceries delivered to your door during coronavirus pandemic
“It’s more of a function of the sudden demand than there is a scenario for any one product or group of products,” Shamber said. “Typically, the distributors, we might carry 30 days of product in a store. … What we’ve seen in the last 8-9 days, is we’ve seen the demand double.”
For example, stores, Shamber said, may have 30 days of stock on hand depending on what sells and what doesn’t.
“When you have 20 times the demand, you’re out in 2 days,” Shamber said.
The stockpiling, along with the move to more home cooking as restaurants were ordered closed, led to short term out-of-stock, Shamber said
Meanwhile, companies whose main business was supplying restaurants are switching to retail customers and providing grocers with new supply lines.
“We have started to pivot and working with some of the food service companies that have fresh product available because they are not selling to restaurants,” Shamber said. “We will catch up, it takes time to do it.”
Changing from food service to consumer-packaged products is no small task, especially when you consider that restaurants normally provide 51% of meals consumed daily, John McNamara, vice president of government affairs at the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association, said in a news release from the Michigan Farm Bureau.
McNamara added that Michigan is home to 16,543 eating and drinking establishments, with $17.9 billion in estimated sales, according to the National Restaurant Association.
At Dearborn Sausage Company, Todd Meier, executive vice president, agrees there’s plenty of food.
Meier said they’ve talked to all suppliers, including Detroit’s Butcher and Packer and nationwide food supply giants Tyson Foods and JBS (a producer of beef, pork and prepared foods).
“It’s all out there in the pipeline,” Meier said. “It’s just a matter of getting it to the stores.”
But the iconic sausage company has made some transitions based on retail demand to offset losses from customers in the restaurant industry.
“Retail has exploded and food service has gone down to nothing,” Meier said.
Easter is coming up and spiral sliced ham is Meier’s No. 1 product. Grocers have put in their orders and appear to be stocking up as normal, Meier said
Sales of everything from hot dogs to kielbasa to bratwurst are up right now.
“They’ve called and asked how much you have and bought all we had,” Meier said. “We have stock, we are in pretty good shape right now.”
Most of what Wolverine Packing Co., a meat supplier located in Detroit’s Eastern Market district, goes to restaurants and independent stores.
“So far I think it’s true and people don’t have to worry,” said Wolverine Packing CEO Jay Bonahoom. “There’s plenty of food out there. “
Wolverine’s restaurant business is down since Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered restaurants shuttered to patrons, limiting services to carryout and delivery only.
Now, Bonahoom said they’ve begun converting those products normally headed to restaurants, to be sold at the retail level.
“We have a tremendous amount of high-quality hamburgers and steak that we are working on to get in the hands of retailers,” Bonahoom said.
All the buying, Bonahoom said, is driving intense sales and Wolverine is keeping up with it because restaurant sales are down.
When you see the product at stores, Bonahoom said, it will be vacuum packaging and will be bigger quantity that what people are used too.
“We are busy as ever and have plenty of food coming in,” Bonahoom said. “Farmers are really unaffected and distributors are going to have issues … there’s a lot of people out of work due to restaurants.”
The food supply chain industry is stressing that people should not to stockpile and over buy, but to be mindful and have confidence there’s enough food out there.
“If you don’t need the extra quantities this week, leave some for your neighbor,” Shamber said.
Contact Susan Selasky at 313-222-6872 or email@example.com. Follow @SusanMariecooks on Twitter.