Grocery stores busy restocking, sanitizing after big crowds

Grocery stores are busy re-stocking today after a wave of customers Thursday and Friday swept shelves clean of staple items such as toilet paper, milk and cleaning products. The stores also are stepping up their sanitation safeguards and gearing up for a potential surge in delivery requests in response to the COVID-19 coronavirus threat.

Kroger, the region’s largest grocery-store chain, took the precautionary step on March 2 to limit the number of cold, flu and sanitary products per order to try to ensure as many customers as possible had access to them. Officials with the Cincinnati-based grocer said Tuesday that their 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.”

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Meijer, which operates more than a dozen stores in the broader Miami Valley region, also acknowledged to customers that it was seeing “a significant increase in demand on key products you need to keep you and your families safe.

“Our team members are working to address any inventory issues that arise as a result of this virus,” Meijer officials said. “We’re working to secure additional quantities of items that families need most at this time, and we appreciate your patience as we do our best to keep our shelves stocked for you and your families.”

The scene shortly before noon on Friday inside the Meijer store at East Stroop Road and Wilmington Pike in Kettering showed that the previous 24 hours had been anything but routine. And the run on groceries hadn’t ended. Long lines of customers, many with grocery carts filled to overflowing, snaked through the aisles.

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Shelves that usually hold a full complement of staples such as sugar, flour, drinking water and laundry detergent were nearly empty. Display cases of packaged meat and poultry had large gaps in product.

But it was the toilet-paper aisle that attracted the most customer interest. There, no packages of toilet paper remained on the shelf, until a Meijer employee rolled out a few precious cases of Cottonelle and Charmin and started to place individual packages on the shelf.

Four customers immediately gathered around him, prompting a flurry of conversation.

“Can I take a package right out of the box? It’ll save you from restocking.”

“Sure, go ahead.”

“Did the price go up?”

“No, the price has not changed. We did not raise the price.”

One customer, package of Cottonelle in hand, held it up, admired it, and said to the employee who was stocking the shelf, "This one's going on e-Bay." They both chuckled.

Even as employees are focusing on replenishing vacant shelves, grocery stores are simultaneously focusing on making their stores cleaner and more sanitary to help protect the health of their employees and customers.

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Dorothy Lane Market has discontinued for now its self-sampling stations, and is not currently filling personal cups and travel mugs at its coffee bar. DLM officials also told customers in an email that they are devoting additional resources “to cleaning and sanitizing repeatedly throughout the day. We are concentrating on high-use surfaces such as shopping carts, seating areas, countertops, restrooms, self-serve stations (and) credit card readers.”

Kroger and Meijer officials also said they are boosting sanitation efforts at high-traffic areas and high-use surfaces.

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As for grocery-store employees, Meijer said it was “reinforcing with our team members that they should stay home if they aren’t feeling well, and we have plans in place to ensure they feel supported and confident to do so.”

Kroger said it was “asking our associates to stay home if they, or someone in their household, are sick,” and is “providing financial support from our Helping Hands fund – a company-sponsored employee assistance fund – to associates who may be directly affected.”

Dorothy Lane Market officials said they have “reminded our associates of the importance of staying home when sick, in addition to sick leave options available to them.”

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Kroger also suspended business air travel for its employees through March 31.

This story will be updated with new information.

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