Berkeley grocery stores respond to increased demand in wake of COVID-19 pandemic

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Empty shelves can be seen across grocery stores as these businesses continue to respond to the high demand for products, such as food and sanitizing items.

Due to the recent spread of COVID-19, colloquially known as the coronavirus, members of the public have been “panic buying,” or stocking up on supplies. This has impacted local grocery stores in Berkeley, as these stores have found it difficult to keep up with the increased demand.

“Our sales have gone way up in our grocery stores and down in the Annex except for our wine/beer sales which have also gone up,” said Jennifer Sandkuhler, general manager of Natural Grocery Company, which has locations in El Cerrito and Berkeley, in an email. “The Annex is a café, deli, wine/beer and floral shop.”

The shelves at Natural Grocery have been empty and the store has had to shift its hours from 8:30 a.m-8:30 p.m. to 10 a.m.-6 p.m. so that its shelves can be stocked without overworking employees, according to Sandkuhler.

Berkeley Bowl Marketplace, another local grocery store, has also experienced similar issues in managing the supply of items.

“We have been working overtime to manage and keep up with our stock to ensure our customers can buy what they need,” said Steve Tsujimoto, general manager of Berkeley Bowl Marketplace, in an email.

According to Tsujimoto, Berkeley Bowl has been running out of products such as sanitizers, disinfectant wipes and aloe vera gel, while Sandkuhler said Natural Grocery has been experiencing shortages of various products across the store.

Both general managers said they are uncertain about the future.

“We are in uncharted waters at this point. We are learning as the crisis continues and have taken many steps to keep our employees and customers safe,” Tsujimoto said in the email. “Once we can get the COVID-19 under control, we should be able to get back to normal. What we learn from this experience we can use for future events.”

Both stores are taking new measures, like following the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to protect customers and employees and to limit the spread of the virus.

Sandkuhler added that Natural Grocery is limiting the number of people in the store in a single time period.

“Customers have been great and have thanked the employees for all their hard work,” Sandkuhler said in the email. “The community has been wonderful and supportive in understanding that we are doing the best we can to keep our shelves full. I have never seen such calm customers.”

While grocery stores have seen a surge in purchases, other businesses could possibly shut down because of a lack of business due to the recent spread of COVID-19, according to UC Berkeley economics professor Roger Craine.

Craine said this includes entertainment businesses and schools, adding that pay would be affected.

“This is like a giant tornado–fast moving wiping out everything in its path,” Craine said in an email. “The short term impact will be huge.”

Sabrina Dong contributed to this report.

Contact Robson Swift at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @swift_robson.