Shoppers Stock Up as Lockdowns Loom

U.S. grocery stores reinstate limits on high-demand products.

November 19, 2020

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—As the number of coronavirus cases increase, officials are discussing—or actually imposing—lockdown measures, and grocers are taking steps to avoid the empty shelves that consumers encountered early in the pandemic, reports

Some supermarket chains, including Kroger, Publix and H-E-B, are again limiting in-store and online purchases of popular products, such as toilet paper, cleaning supplies and paper towels.

“What we are trying to do is to make sure that we don’t have hoarding," said Scott McClelland, president, H-E-B Food and Drug. “One of the things that we found in particular with the recent run on paper goods is that we want to be able to spread it as far as we can, among as many shoppers as possible.”

Tops Friendly Markets and Wegmans have added new items to their “limit list.” Wegmans is limiting the napkins and facial tissues customers can purchase in a single shopping experience, while Tops is rationing trash bags, freezer bags and paper plates.

After a weekend of panic shopping in the state of Washington, consumers are being urged to avoid hoarding. Toilet paper and paper towels were completely sold out at a Walmart in Spokane, reports the Spokesman. Grocery store shelves have again emptied in parts of the state as new coronavirus restrictions took effect Tuesday. But grocers say they’re better positioned to keep store shelves stocked than they were in the spring.

If customers refrain from “panic buying” and purchase only what they need, there will not be an issue with the supply chain, said Jeff Philipps, president and CEO of Rosauers Supermarkets. “Our food supply chain is still intact, and there’s no issues there if people plan for normal purchasing behaviors.”

However, Safeway and Albertsons stores are playing it safe and limiting paper and cleaning products to two per customer transaction. Dish soap is limited to four per customer. Both retailers also have ramped up curbside and delivery options to meet a surge in business.

H-E-B’s McClelland said that parts of the supply chain are "stressed by components that just haven't been available, including things like aluminum and cans packaging," but grocery stores are better prepared this time around.

“We’re nervous about spices, and we’re nervous about stuffing. So, I urge everyone that if you're going to host a Thanksgiving feast, you might want to go to the store sooner rather than later,” McClelland added. “And if you can't get everything today, you can come back again next week because the supply chain will continue to bring products in.”

The NACS Crack the Code Experience, which runs through Dec. 4, the education session “From Last Mile to Cashless: Trends Accelerated by COVID-19,” will focus on trends pushed to the forefront of consumers’ minds due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Register now and get access to this session, along with 50+ education sessions, virtual showrooms and online networking within the convenience and fuel retailing industries.

Coronavirus Resources

NACS has compiled resources to help the convenience retail community navigate the COVID-19 crisis. For news updates and guidance, visit our coronavirus resources page.