Local supermarkets are reporting increased foot traffic and demand for cleaning and bathroom supplies as COVID-19 cases spike in the Valley.
Surplus Outlet Vice President Justin Michaels said the Northumberland-based market has seen an increased demand for toilet paper, paper towels, bottle water and cleaning supplies since the end of last week. When cases first started appearing in the United States in early 2020, customers flocked to stores and started stockpiling toilet paper, paper towels and cleaning supplies.
"We're seeing it right now, but the suppliers are more prepared for it," said Michaels. "We're not going into it blindsided like the industry was in March. For now, the channels are open and the product is available."
Toilet paper and bottled water is limited at Surplus Outlet. Customers are permitted 10 cases of water at a time and 24 rolls of toilet paper.
Brian Lubold, of Sunbury, came out to Surplus Outlet on Friday afternoon with his father Gary Lubold, of Dornsife. They were sure to pick up one 12-pack of toilet paper with their groceries.
"It happened to me in the spring," said Brian Lubold. "Everywhere we went, nobody had anything for months. I was a little angry."
Dennis Curtin, the spokesman for Weis, said the stores are seeing an increased demand for paper towels, surface cleaners and wipes and bath tissue.
"It started earlier this week," said Curtin about the increased demand. "We believe we are in a better position this time since we’ve secured extra product for these categories and are sending regular replenishment ships to our stores. We are also in good shape with Thanksgiving items. Especially turkeys."
Weis has the following limits, according to its corporate website: All disinfectant wipes limited to two total. All disinfectant sprays limited to two total. All six-roll or larger paper towels limited to two total. Tylenol, Excedrin, Top Care No Aspirin (all items which contain Acetaminophen) limited to two total.
Ashley Flower, the public relations manager for Giant, said the supply chain remains challenged for select products. The limits are as follows for all The GIANT Company stores (including MARTIN’S): limit one on all six packs and larger of toilet paper and paper towels; limit four on all four packs and smaller of toilet paper and paper towels, including single rolls. These limits were put in place Oct. 29. No other products have limits.
"To be clear, we are seeing little evidence of stockpiling, and there is no need to create panic," said Flower. "Stores receive deliveries throughout the day and team members are working around the clock to restock shelves and online fulfillment centers. In addition, we’re in frequent contact with local and national supplier partners to ensure the products customers are looking for get on store shelves as quickly as possible."
Matt Nonnemacher, the store manager at Boyer's Food Market in Elysburg, said the last week or so has seen an uptick in customer demand for paper towels, toilet paper and cleaning supplies.
"As of right now, we do not have limits, but that will vary by location," said Nonnemacher. "We have enough in stock that we don't feel like we have to put restrictions. I have a large variety of paper in house that we don't have to limit. That could change. If we have trouble getting it from the warehouse, we might have to restrict in the future. I hope not, but it's a possibility."
Aside from the normal holiday business, there's been more customers in the store, he said.
"I wouldn't say we're nervous," said Nonnemacher. "We're aware that things could go that way again. We are better prepared now that we know what to look for and know what our shoppers might want."
Hannah Brunsen, a spokesperson for Aldi, said the health and well-being of their customers and employees is, has been and will continue to be their highest priority.
"Regardless of how supply, demand and markets shift, ALDI will always deliver on our promise to provide shoppers the lowest possible prices on everyday essentials, no matter what," said Brunsen. "We’ve remained flexible, adjusting measures such as purchase limits, as the COVID-19 pandemic – and our shoppers’ needs – have rapidly evolved. Our employees are working hard to keep our shelves stocked, and, like other retailers, we have implemented some product limits where necessary to ensure all customers have access to what they need."
Lingle's Neighborhood Market Store manager Ian Boyle, in Watsontown, said the store is experiencing increases.
"It was like it was at the beginning of the pandemic," he said.
Walmart said Tuesday it's having trouble keeping up with the demand for cleaning supplies in some stores. Supermarket chains Kroger and Publix are limiting how much toilet paper and paper towels shoppers can buy after demand spiked recently. And Amazon is sold out of most disinfectant wipes and paper towels, according to The Associated Press.
“As we would normally do during periods of high demand, we are working through our best-in-class supply chain to replenish items as quickly as possible," said Walmart spokesperson Casey Staheli. "Our efforts include diverting products to areas as needed, coordinating supplier deliveries directly to stores and taking several other measures to help us meet the needs of our customers.”
Staheli added, “We are seeing pockets of lower than normal availability in some communities on bath tissue and cleaning supplies, depending on what’s happening in the local area. We will continue to keep a close eye on product availability and work with our supply chain to help meet customer demand. As is normal during periods of fluctuating demand, store managers have the discretion to implement item limits based on their specific store experience to help sustain product availability.”
Geoff Freeman, president and CEO of the Consumer Brands Association, formerly the Grocery Manufacturers Association, told the AP that he doesn’t expect things to be as bad this go-around since lockdowns are being handled on a regional basis and everyone is better prepared.
“A more informed consumer combined with a more informed manufacturer and a more informed retailer should provide all of us with a greater sense of ease and ensure we can meet this growing demand, “ Freeman said.
The biggest supply issue seems to be paper products: 21 percent of shelves that stock paper towels and toilet paper are empty, the highest level in at least a month, according to market research company IRI. Cleaning supplies have remained level at 16 percent. Before the pandemic, 5 to 7 percent of consumer goods were typically out of stock, IRI said.
Contributing to the problem is the fact that roughly 10 percent of the workforce at manufacturing plants where the products are made are calling out sick, mainly because they’ve been in contact with others who were tested positive to COVID-19, Freeman said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.