Local grocers reassure shoppers on stock, safety

SOUTHWEST MICHIGAN — As grocery stores implement intensive cleaning protocols, and with stocks of certain items leaving shelves faster than the deliveries arrive, grocers are working to reassure the public that the supply chain is stable.

Though photos and murmurs have circulated after items like meat and toilet paper are snatched up by shoppers, representatives from Shelton’s Farm Market, Martin’s Super Markets, and Martin’s parent company, SpartanNash, reassure shoppers that there is stock to shop.

“I would say that for every customer that is panic buying, the same amount of customers, or more, are in just doing their regular shopping,” said Nick Shelton, Shelton’s Farm Market fruit peddler and mayor of Niles. “I would say everybody wants meat, which is not uncommon. This whole thing has shaken up the supply chain, so we are working closely with many of our suppliers to make sure that we have product.”

Shelton’s Farm Market has implemented some limitations on specific items to ensure that as many shoppers as possible have access to what they need.

The market has also shifted to new procedures to help expedite service.

“We’ve systematized the way that we work with customers in our meat department to get them in and out as efficiently as possible, and to take care of as many people as possible,” Shelton said.

The market is also now offering items that were previously made most available to restaurant customers, including larger quantities of salad blends, lettuces and broccoli crowns.

In addition to making changes to ensure product gets to their shoppers, Shelton’s Farm Market has made changes to keep its employees safe.

“We are trying to keep distance between our own employees, both in retail and in the wholesale end,” Shelton said. “We’ve implemented so many more hourly, and throughout the day, cleaning schedules that we are doing everything we can to keep our facility as germ free as possible.”

Employees are wiping down carts as they are brought in and making sure surfaces are continually wiped down.

A short drive down the road, regional grocery giant Martin’s Super Market is working on its own response to the new normal created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Martin’s, and its parent company SpartanNash, have made many changes to previously normal routines.

“We have been responding to the increased demands,” said Madeline Catanzarite, media specialist with Martin’s Super Markets. “SpartanNash [corporate owner of Martin’s Super Markets] is working with new partners across the supply chain network to increase capacity and get product to store as quickly as possible.”

In addition to owning Martin’s, SpartNash operates more than 150 stores in nine states, under the banners of Family Fare, D&W Fresh Market, VG’s Grocery, Dan’s Supermarket, SunMart, Family Fresh Market, ValuLand, Supermercado Nuestra Familia, No Frills, Forest Hills Foods, Ada Fresh Market, Econofoods, Pick’n Save and Dillonvale IGA.

SpartanNash stores in the Michiana region have been working with Stanz Food Service to stay supplied.

“Martin’s was already a Stanz customer, primarily for products used by the Martin’s delis,” Catanzarite said. “This was a natural fit and win-win for both companies.”

Meredeith M. Gremel, vice president of corporate affairs and communications with SpartanNash, agreed with Catanzarite.

While the stores run by SpartanNash have seen their sales increase by two to three times in relation to the COVID-19 virus, Gremel reassured shoppers.

“The supply chain is strong,” she said. “The store shelf being empty is due to the rapid increase of volume. We’re an industry that predicts volume, since we are in perishable food.”

Gremel said the industry is adjusting to the new, historic demands. Spikes, like the ones she is seeing now, are similar to what has occurred after natural disasters.

“It takes a little bit of time to get everything adjusted,” Gremel said.

The Martin’s stores have implemented measures that have changed the landscape indoors a bit. All self-serve areas such as the salad bars and donut cases have been removed. In its place are now prepackaged versions of those offerings. Stores will also be getting plexiglass sneeze guards installed at cashier stations, deli counters, pharmacy counters, customer service centers and fuel center check outs.

Workers are required to take their temperatures before showing up to work on-site at either Martin’s Super Markets or SpartanNash locations, to ensure their health. Those who come back with a temperature more than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit are required to stay home.

Both Shelton’s Farm Market and Martin’s Super Markets have set aside shopping times for those at increased risk of infection from COVID-19.

Shelton’s Farm Market announced on Thursday it would be opening 30 minutes early on Tuesday, March 31, and Thursday, April 2, to set aside 8 to 9 a.m. for shoppers over the age of 60 and individuals with “increased risks.”

Martin’s Super Markets has reserved the hours of 7 to 9 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays for seniors, pregnant women and immunocompromised shoppers.

The companies are both grateful for their shoppers and employees, and hope to continue to serve them, representatives said.

“I’m so proud of our team and our workers,” Shelton said. “They have all really stepped up. They recognize that they are essential. We need to feed people, that’s our job. We couldn’t be more proud of our team.”

Shelton included that the shop’s team of employees will be receiving bonuses as a gesture of appreciation of how they have stepped in.

Gremel said SpartanNash’s priorities include both employees and their shoppers.

“SpartanNash has two top priorities: the well-being and safety of our family of associates, customers and communities, and supporting health officials and government leaders to contain the virus,” she said.