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How grocery stores restock shelves in the age of coronavirus

March 20, 2020. Summarized by summa-bot.

Americans are panic buying because of the global coronavirus pandemic, clearing supermarkets across the country of essential items. But our food system doesn't need to rapidly increase supply. It just has to relearn how to distribute it.

"Saturday was really, really busy," Leonard, the CEO and president of Stew Leonard's, a grocery store chain with seven locations across New York, Connecticut and New Jersey, said.

Food demand in retail locations is at "unprecedented levels," said Morris Cohen, a professor of operations, information and decisions at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton business school.

Our food system can deal with the current demand; it just has to relearn how to distribute the supply.

As long as farmers can keep farming, truckers can keep driving, packaging can be made and supplied and grocery stores can stay open, the empty shelves should be just a temporary inconvenience.

The current surge in demand may be unprecedented, but supply chains are built to react to disruptions.

Major supermarket chains and retailers have networks that stretch into suppliers all over the world, Cohen said.

Though Stew Leonard's is a fraction of the size of national grocery chains like Publix or others, Leonard also relies on a network for his products.

Greg Ferrara, president and CEO of the National Grocers Association, which represents about 21,000 independently-owned grocery stores in the United States, said that his members have seen an "astronomical" surge in demand.

The supply chain in this country is very efficient and it's very effective. "

As people rush to buy canned food and other nonperishable items, big consumer goods companies are trying to meet demand without needlessly ratcheting up production.

Bumble Bee Foods, which sells canned fish, "has seen a spike in demand," President and CEO Jan Tharp told CNN Business in an email.

"Up until this point, the supply chain has been working remarkably well," CEO Jeff Harmening said during a discussion of the company's third quarter financial results Wednesday.

"Everybody who works in supply chain just rues the day when this bullwhip effect gets started," he said.

Facing the surge in demand, grocery stores and retailers are limiting sales of certain items to try to prevent panic shopping and hoarding, and give them a chance to restock shelves.

Walmart said that some items, including cleaning supplies and paper products, are in high demand.

The chain has instructed store managers to limit sales on high-demand items at their discretion.

In a message to customers, CEO Rodney McMullen said that the company's supply chain teams are trying to make sure that items are available as soon as possible.

So far, our fresh food supply has avoided major disruptions.

"Dairy supplies aren't experiencing production interruptions at this time," he said in a statement Monday.

"The US food-supply chain is more than capable of meeting demand. "

"There's no crisis in the food supply right now," he told CNN Business.

If farmers get sick or have to significantly alter the way they work because of safety measures, the food supply could take a hit.

If transportation systems break down, or if truckers are unable to deliver products, our access to the food those farmers grow could be threatened.

"The supplies are there," Newton said.

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