Do Lowcountry grocery stores have a supply chain problem?

in Business/Community/Coronavirus by

Bathroom tissue, bleach, Tylenol and rice among items consistently out at area stores

By Mindy Lucas

Who’s got toilet paper?

While it may seem like a trivial question given the current public health crisis, it continues to be a burning question among shoppers as they venture out to refurbish pantries with not only bathroom tissue but other items that have become scarce as well.

It’s been nearly a month since the first wave of shelf shortages occurred, and hoarding or stockpiling was cited as the culprit, and yet many items such as paper products, bleach and even rice continue to run low at area stores – even with limits placed on the number of items shoppers can purchase.

So why do shortages persist? When will the supply chain rebound? And is there something about the Lowcountry’s geography in particular that has exacerbated an already unprecedented situation.

For answers to these questions, The Island News contacted several of the area’s major grocery stores including Bi-Lo in Beaufort, Piggly Wiggly in Port Royal, and Publix, Walmart and Food Lion on Lady’s Island.

Visits to check the frequency of shortages were also made to these stores and feedback was collected from other newspaper staff members and readers who had visited stores to restock their own pantries.

On one such visit, all five grocery stores were out of toilet paper, napkins and paper towels as well as bleach, disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer.

Other items such as facial tissue, rice, eggs and Tylenol were few in number while such items as meat and canned goods also appeared to be running low, but only at certain stores.

Another visit made five days later showed many of the same items that were initially out continued to be out or continued to remain low.

Store managers at four stores declined to comment, referring calls to corporate offices instead. Lou Sherman, owner of the Port Royal Piggly Wiggly, declined to comment altogether.

Of the remaining four stores, only Publix, Bi-Lo and Food Lion replied after numerous calls and emails, but would only answer questions via email. A representative from Bi-Lo had not responded to those questions as of press time.

Representatives from Publix and Food Lion said, while supply shortages continued to impact customers on a local level, they were continuing to occur nationally or across the supply chain that services grocery stores.

“Our supply chain serves our entire network of stores across our full footprint, not just stores in your area. Thus, the availability of products impacts our entire store network,” said Emma Inman, Director of External Communications for Food Lion, in an email.

“We are in daily contact with our vendors and suppliers and doing everything we can to get products to our stores to serve our customers during this difficult time,” she went on to say.

Publix also stated that “every retailer across the country” is experiencing shortages of products.

“These products are in high demand and the industry needs time to recover from stockpiling and over-purchasing. This is why you will note limits in place throughout our stores,” said Maria Brous, Director of Communications for Publix in an email.

Asked about the frequency of delivery trucks to these specific stores to restock items and how long products such as toilet paper or bleach were staying on the shelf, Brous said deliveries were made daily and shelf time varied.

“But by in large, as quickly as the items are stocked, customers are purchasing these items with imposed limits,” she said.

Food Lion had a similar reply stating that as soon as “high-demand items” such as paper products were on shelves, those products sold out.

“I can’t share with you any specifics on the truck delivery schedules for the stores in your area, but Food Lion is committed to continuing to serve our customers on Lady’s Island and across our 10-state footprint through this unprecedented time of demand,” said Inman.

For additional insight as to how the process for resupplying stores works, Brous said that Publix’ purchasing department worked with suppliers to manage orders and expectations. Unlike weather-related events, the pandemic is affecting the entire country at the same time for an extended period of time, she said.

Still, how long it will take for the country’s supply chain to bounce back and stores to once again return to pre-pandemic levels remains to be seen. None of the stores contacted could provide long-term projections or further insight as to a recovery period.

 

Want to help us keep track?

The Island News is tracking and compiling data collected on item shortages at various stores. In addition, we’d like to hear from you on how many trips you make to find supplies or how often you’ve had to venture out for certain items. To let us know what you are seeing, message us on Facebook or email mindy@yourislandnews.com.