Retailers are bracing themselves for a potential surge in food stockpiling as the always busy holiday season ramps up alongside California’s fight against the coronavirus.

While it’s not uncommon to find a few empty shelves and a lack of turkeys at the grocery store around Thanksgiving, Raley’s grocery stores are prepping themselves for any potential panic buying as the holiday season nears.

The store, along with many others, were caught off guard when a panic buying wave left grocery store shelves picked to the bone.

“The stockpiling was definitely not something that we anticipated,” said Chelsea Minor, spokesperson for Raley’s. “We knew that, of course, the demand would increase, but not to the degree which it did.”

With a Bloomberg report citing a 3,400% spike in demand for pantry goods and anticipation for a significant holiday surge, the store doesn’t intend on getting caught flat-footed again.

“The manufacturers are doing a great job of increasing their production lines knowing that they have some hindsight into what the demand will look like,” Minor said.

She added that manufacturers of dry goods like pasta, rice, and other pantry staples have been ramping up production, and that, on the retailer side of things, Raley’s is looking to round up that inventory and keep it on the shelves.

One of the big factors that played into the shortages earlier in the year was fear, according to Minor. She said people started buying items up because they didn’t know if they’d be able to find it the next time they went.

The end result was empty shelves and limitations on items like chicken.

“It was quite a unique situation actually…,” said Bill Mattos, president of the California Poultry Federation. “Chickens got wiped out off the shelves, especially California chickens because people are looking for those first. There was a shortage in some supermarkets because we couldn’t fill them up fast enough with the hoarding that was going on.”

Despite some bone-dry chicken departments during the panic buying wave, Mattos said that it’s something the industry hasn’t been too worried about heading into the holidays.

“We do think turkey supplies will be good nationwide, but we still think that California-grown turkey will go first,” he said, noting that the fresh, natural, and organic brands tend to be favored among Californians.

He said the industry learned to pick up on clues earlier in order to mitigate panic buy, but, in the end, the industry might not have much maneuverability if another wave happens.

“I’m not sure what the industry can do if there is panic buying because, right now, we’re producing the amount of turkeys we need to produce for Thanksgiving, and you can’t up that production,” Mattos said. “We’re going to have to just hope that people go in get the amount of turkeys they want for the holidays and get ready to buy them again early in the year.”

The key theme this year is to be flexible while you’re shopping because the supply chain will be tested yet again, Minor said. Raley’s will also be reminding people to avoid stockpiling during this time.

“I will say they (shortages) will not be as significant as the time before, so the real motto of the game right now is be flexible,” Minor said. “Be willing to try a different product. Realize that you probably won’t have the amount of choice you had a year ago, but you’ll still have plenty of options at the grocery store.”

Raley’s increased allocations to their private label, which means you’ll see more of their store brand products alongside the other brands.

They’ve also anticipated some changes to usual Thanksgiving traditions due to COVID-19 looming over the holidays. Specifically, they’re expecting smaller settings and demand for meals fit for smaller numbers of people.

Minor said they’ve expanded their supply chain to meet those individuals’ needs, and that they’ll be prepared.

As far as turkeys, Mattos said the poultry industry is considering potential changes as well.

“You won’t see as really large birds as you have in the past,” he said. “They’ll probably be a little lighter weights, and I think that’s something the industry is looking at.”

With fresh turkeys likely to be the first birds snatched up by consumers, flexibility is again the key theme. Mattos said you can feel comfortable buying a frozen turkey because they were likely raised this year.

“If you cook them properly, a lot of people probably won’t tell the difference because frozen turkeys are very good,” he said, noting that the industry in California makes a lot of fresh turkeys because that’s typically what their customers want.

As the holiday season nears, Minor suggested that customers make shopping lists to avoid second trips and look into options like e-commerce or delivery for their groceries.

She said the grocery store is expecting their usual surge in foot traffic, and with traditionally long lines during the season and social distancing efforts, being prepared will go a long way in mitigating long lines and moving people in and out of the store.

Source: ABC 10 Sacramento