Grocery stores are working quickly to keep up as shoppers clear out numerous shelves

Posted at 10:57 PM, Mar 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-14 01:10:37-04

DENVER -- It’s a story that played out in one grocery store after another all across the Denver metro area: Long lines and empty shelves.

Colorado is no stranger to stores running out of items as people prepare for a bad snowstorm. This time, though, the sun was shining Friday; it wasn’t the cold but fear of the coronavirus that sent people on a mad dash to the stores to stock up.

“At this point, I’m just getting food for in case I get sick because there’s like nothing, there’s no hand sanitizer, there’s no cleaner or anything like that,” said Kishori Mahulikar.

For the past few days, she has tried to get some hand sanitizer or disinfectant but hasn’t had any luck. She was able to nab a humidifier and some frozen food. Many other items were out.

“There’s no carts, there’s no medicine, there’s no paper towels or toilet paper,” she said. “I think he can’t get away from it. It’s in the media all the time and you just want to think about something else and it just comes up in the media again, so I mean, we have to do what we have to do just to take precautions.”

Mahulikar said she is planning on staying indoors for the better part of the weekend and was able to convince her parents to call off a trip they had planned just to be safe. She isn’t as worried about her own health as she is about others who are more susceptible to sickness.

Other shoppers like Wayne Swanson said he isn’t stocking up, just doing weekly shopping and trying not to worry about the hype.

“I think people are panicking because it’s spreading so fast,” Swanson said.

Coronavirus in Colorado: COVID-19 latest updates across the state

Grocery retailers, meanwhile are working fast to try to restock store shelves. In a statement, King Soopers said it started taking precautionary steps on March 2 to limit the number of cold, flu and sanitary products per order so everyone can have access to the items they need.

“That’s why our supply chain teams are working to ensure that the food, medicine and cleaning supplies our customers need are reaching our stores as quickly as possible and are available through our pickup, delivery and ship services,” the statement read.

The chain is also hosting a statewide hiring event Saturday from 11 a.m. - 4 p.m. to bring in even more personnel.

Target, meanwhile, says it has also decided to place limits on key items like hand sanitizer, toilet paper and antibacterial wipes. Target’s statement to the public said its team is working around the clock to restock shelves and it is staffing up its order pickup and drive up services but pausing others like Restock and Express.

Walmart is also working to reassure customers of the health and safety steps it is taking to keep customers and employees safe like sanitizing heavily trafficked areas in the stores and replenishing items.

“We will work to keep our stores stocked and prices fair. As one would expect, paper products, cleaning supplies and other items are in high demand as customers prepare for the possible impact of COVID-19. We are working to replenish those items quickly, including diverting products to areas of the country where they are needed most and routing deliveries directly to stores,” a statement from the company read.

Whole Foods also put together a list of steps it is taking to try to help customers and staff. It is making some modifications to the way it does business, like not allowing people to use personal, reusable containers at smoothie and coffee bars, for instance. It has also stopped all of its sampling services and installed more hand sanitizing stations in stores.

For people who don’t want to come into the stores, Whole Foods says it is working to expand the capacity of its delivery services through Amazon Prime. The store is also offering pay for employees who are quarantined or sick.

While many stores are experiencing higher volumes, Chris Howes, president of the Colorado Retail Council, told Denver7’s media partners at the Denver Post that the supply chain isn’t broken, so customers should buy only what they need and wait for the rest.

Howes said stores will restock but that it might take a few weeks, so he encourages people not to hoard.

Still, the rush of shoppers is causing stores to run out of many items, even if it is temporary.

“I mean everything is off the shelf, even like normal stuff like beef. I was looking for a neck bone for some French onion soup and I’m like, 'Why can’t I find this item? It didn’t really seem like one of those high commodity items, but everything is gone,” said shopper Nikki Vargas.

Vargas was in the army and says she’s traveled all over in the past but hasn’t really ever experienced anything like this before, so she is taking some precautionary measures for her family. However, Vargas says she’s not convinced all of this hype is worth it.

“I don’t really think this type of alarm and sweeping everything off the shelves is necessary,” she said.

Most importantly, Vargas said while she is trying to buy some items, she doesn’t want to overstock because she realizes there are others who likely need the grocery items more than her.

“I’m not I’m just doing normal stuff I just don’t want to add to the chaos,” she said.

During a Friday evening news conference, Gov. Jared Polis also encouraged people to find out if their elderly neighbors need anything from the store and offer to get it for them while they are out running normal errands in order to lessen the exposure of more vulnerable populations.