Jefferson City grocery stores appear to be weathering COVID-19 shopping surges


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There are some bare shelves in isolated areas of local grocery stores for specific products, but overall, stores appear to be well-stocked, despite increased demand from shoppers as the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19 — and fear of it — has continued to spread.

“It’s been crazy,” Carl Dudenhoeffer said Saturday. Dudenhoeffer is assistant manager at Schultes Fresh Foods at 1904 Southwest Blvd.

As elsewhere, Dudenhoeffer said toilet paper is sold out.

While not completely sold out, other areas of the store also showed there’s been increased demand for products such as pasta and rice.

Hy-Vee Inc. declined to allow management at the Jefferson City store to speak with the News Tribune, and a corporate representative who could speak for Gerbes did not immediately return a request for comment. However, a walk through the aisles Saturday at the Hy-Vee at 3721 West Truman Blvd. and the Gerbes Super Market at 2805 West Truman Blvd. showed similar patterns of shoppers’ behavior.

Items such as fresh produce and bread were well-stocked, but what shoppers have clearly gone for are non-perishable items, including canned vegetables, pre-packaged rice and noodle meals, broths and soups, pasta — especially store-brand, which tends to cost less — pasta sauce, tortillas, flour and off-brand bulk bags of cereal.

There’s no need for shoppers to panic, however, even if they do see some empty shelves, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The FDA has said “There are no nationwide shortages of food, although in some cases the inventory of certain foods at your grocery store might be temporarily low before stores can restock. Food production and manufacturing are widely dispersed throughout the United States, and no widespread disruptions have been reported in the supply chain.

“FDA is closely monitoring the food supply chain for any shortages in collaboration with industry and our federal and state partners. We are in regular contact with food manufacturers and grocery stores.”

There have also been and will continue to be some other noticeable changes to local shoppers’ experiences.

At Gerbes, signs on the door indicated returns have been temporarily suspended, effective March 17, though fresh produce, meat, seafood or deli products that don’t meet freshness standards would still be eligible for replacement or a refund. Another sign informed customers of limits on quantities that could be purchased for certain items.

At Hy-Vee, a waiting attendant sanitized shopping carts as they were returned inside. While hot food continued to be available for carryout, dining areas and the salad bar were closed. In what also was an unfamiliar practice, each doughnut in the display case by the bakery was individually packaged in a snap-shut plastic container.

Since Friday, Hy-Vee has been temporarily banning customers from using reusable shopping bags, and in the same news release last week, the store announced temporary window panels were to be installed at checkouts, as protection for customers and employees.

In terms of shoppers’ safety at any grocery store in these times, the FDA has said “Currently, there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19,” though typical food safety guidelines should be followed — “clean, separate, cook and chill.”

However, people can become infected via droplets released by a cough or sneeze within about 6 feet, and it also may be possible to be infected by touching a surface that those droplets have landed and deposited virus on and then touching one’s face.

Dr. Randall Williams, director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, said Saturday that shoppers should practice good washing and use hand sanitizer after using checkout machines.

More information about Gerbes’ and Hy-Vee’s responses to COVID-19, including changed store hours, is available at www.gerbes.com/i/coronavirus-update, and www.hy-vee.com/corporate/news-events/news-press-releases/hyvees-response-to-coronavirus-covid19.

Given the increased demand, the local Gerbes and Hy-Vee are also hiring.

Open positions at Gerbes are available at jobs.kroger.com/.

Hy-Vee Inc. announced Friday it’s seeking temporary, part-time hourly employees in its stores — and two Iowa distribution centers — to help with restocking, cleaning and sanitizing, due to the recent surge in demand for groceries. Applicants can visit www.hy-vee.com/careers to view available positions in the area, or text “SMILES” to 97211.

“In addition, those who may have temporarily lost their job due to the current pandemic, are out of school, want to make additional money, or simply want to help during this time are welcome to apply at Hy-Vee,” the company added.

Dudenhoeffer said he’s also been doing some hiring at Schultes, but it’s also difficult to find the time nowadays.

He credited customers in the recent rush with being polite: “Everyone’s been really kind.”