COVID-related panic buying spurs Yk Co-Op to ration food

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The Yellowknife Co-Op supermarket is rationing basic food items as panic-buying related to the COVID-19 pandemic has reduced its stock.

Flour, sugar, bread, rice, milk and ground beef have all been limited to one item per household, store manager Justin Nelson told NNSL Media.

A notice on the door of the Co-Op lists some of the products limited to one item per household. Blair McBride/NNSL photo

“In the last 10 days things have gotten pretty insane with shopping. People are scared and they come to the store and buy as much food as they possibly can and we’ve been seeing that every single day,” Nelson said. “That’s across Canada. Our supply line has been pretty decimated. Most stores are putting limits on products because we want to be fair to everybody.”

The limits also apply to toilet paper, facial tissues, paper towels, and disinfectants, though Nelson said the restrictions on some disinfectants would be lifted this week.

His store hasn’t been able to obtain hand sanitizers at all and any kind of sanitary wipe the Co-Op receives is used for store staff.

Supply chain woes

Compounding the shortages are late truck deliveries. Nelson said most trucks have been 12 to 36 hours late in arriving at the Co-Op.

“The supply chain warehouses have so much work to do. They’re working around the clock. They have to get product in and that’s hard to do. The warehouse workers and truckers are key to our success,” he said. “Most of the truckers coming here are working six to seven days a week and they’re working overtime to make sure we get our food on the dinner table. It’s pretty nuts.”

To alleviate the shortages, Nelson wants people to stop hoarding and shop in the store just once a week.

“Everybody should have a 14-day supply of food by now, I would hope,” he said, referencing the advice from the NWT’s chief public health officer Kami Kandola, who said that people should stock up on food and medication in case the virus spreads.

In late February, Kandola advised the public: “You don’t want to run out and be unable to find what you’re looking for in case people make a mad dash and all the shelves are empty. We’re in a remote, isolated community. It’s more important for people in northern rural areas to think ahead.”

Nelson added that if people obey government advisories to stay home, avoid public gatherings and not hoard supplies then food shortages could be resolved in three or four weeks.

“(But) if there’s an issue at a store or a warehouse where they all of a sudden have to quarantine their staff, that could also be a big factor. That’s why it’s important we all do what the government or Health Canada wants us to do,” he said.

Lineups outside stores

Glen’s and Trevor’s Independent grocery stores have introduced measures to manage customers.

Over the weekend, both were having customers line up before they could enter the store, apparently so that there weren’t too many in the supermarket at the same time.

Shoppers line up to enter Trevor’s Independent Grocer on Saturday afternoon as store staff staggered incoming shoppers to limit the risk of virus transmission. Nick Pearce/NNSL photo

On Monday at Glen’s, an employee with a clipboard was seen taking tallies of customer numbers.

Glen Meek, manager of the supermarket, said NNSL Media inquiries should be directed to the Loblaws head office. He wouldn’t comment on product rationing.

Though that store didn’t post the same product limit advisories that Co-Op has, its inventories of pasta, flour, sugar and sanitary products were seen to be running low as of Sunday evening.

Glen’s had posted a message notifying shoppers that its hours of operation had been reduced.

“To make sure our stores are well stocked and sanitized, and to give our employees a well-deserved break, we’re adjusting our hours to 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.” the notice read.

Another message stated that tape had been laid down on the floor to facilitate social distancing.

Customers at Glen’s Independent were made to form a queue at the entrance. Craig Gilbert/NNSL photo

Employees deserve credit

Independent’s parent company Loblaws announced a series of safeguards in response to COVID-19 last week, including a 15 per cent pay raise for store and distribution centre employees, according to a statement from CEO Galen Weston on Saturday.

For Nelson, he credits his staff for their hard work amid the difficult situation facing the NWT.

“Everybody has really pitched in to do the best we can,” he said. “It’s really good to see the support from the community for our employees.”

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