As the COVID-19 outbreak continues to spread in the U.S., over half of Americans say they have stocked up on food, medical, or cleaning supplies as a safeguard from coronavirus disruption. As a result, retailers have struggled to keep their shelves stocked. As Kim Brackett of Brackett’s Market IGA in Bath, Maine, says, “It's been difficult because you want your shelves to be stocked with everything everyone needs."
But demand is catching up, with pantry preparations reaching a plateau. As IGA CEO John Ross says, "The American food industry is a marvel of modern logistics, but panic buying is ironically the leading contributor to those shortages." The supply chain just needs time to catch up, he says.
In the meantime, independent retailers are at a distinct advantage, as they can fill in any holes from the supply chain with help from local farmers, restaurants, and even restaurant supply stores to keep store shelves filled. With many restaurants closed or their operations reduced to take-out and delivery, they and the local farms who supply them have an excess of produce, dairy, and other products that need to be sold.
See how these local partnerships—some forged or expanded out of need—are helping IGA retailers better serve shoppers and community businesses, and will continue to benefit both long after the crisis is over.
Go beyond produce
Even in cool weather, many local farms have high-value items that stores are short on right now. Brackett says that a friend has been mobbed with people visiting his farmstand for dried beans, and she has reached out to another farm for more eggs. “We’ve been able to call up the local egg farm, tell them we need more eggs, and they say, ‘Come and get ‘em!’” Then the grocery manager, Dan Stanton, loads up his sedan with the eggs for the store.
Just as restaurants and farms have product to offload, so do other local stores. Kishman’s IGA in Minerva, Ohio is helping the local flower shop by selling potted plants after the shop was hit with Easter event cancellations.
And don’t forget alcohol. With hand sanitizer in short supply, West Foods IGA in Edison, Georgia is offering 12-ounce bottles made by the nearby Still Pond Vineyard, Winery & Distillery.
Strengthen local ties
While Brackett has long had a relationship with local growers and producers, it’s never too late to forge new local partnerships that can continue after the outbreak slows. It’s no secret that shoppers love to support local. As Brackett says, “The people of Maine love Maine products. They’re proud of their local farms and farmers.”
For Brackett, that means taking “anything local that we can get our hands on,” including flour, jelly, butter, beef, potatoes, and even take-out—they offer grab-and-go meals in-store from local Asian restaurant Chow Maine. These partnerships benefit everyone: the store, the producer, and the shopper. Once a retailer invests in local partnerships, “local comes to you and you can go to them,” as Brackett says.
Update your shoppers
Of course, we always recommend highlighting your local products with Local Equals Fresh signage, but don’t stop there. Especially in the current climate, share local procurements with your shoppers on social media.
Geissler’s Supermarket (six locations in Connecticut and one in Maine) is sharing photos of their local pick-ups, like this one from Janik Sausage Company, and this drop-off from Bell & Evans. With real-time communication, shoppers see the post, know you have the (local) supplies they need, and can head over right away. When it’s hard to keep items on shelves, this is one way shoppers can ensure they get what they need!
With shoppers and local businesses wanting to help each other out during this pandemic, IGA retailers offering local products made from businesses in and around town are doing their part to keep the community strong. Reach out to any nearby businesses who might be closed or operating in limited capacity right now to see if they have extra products that might benefit your shoppers. Everyone wins when we support each other!