Not all heroes wear capes. Some wear Hawaiian shirts.
Along with many American supermarket chains, Trader Joe's has seen a surge in business as shoppers flock to stores amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. But, according to many workers, the call to keep going is just part of the job.
“There’s a sense of honor and pride because we’re on the front lines,” a San Diego-based Trader Joe's crew member, who requested his name be withheld citing job security concerns, told TODAY Food. But it's not just Trader Joe's that's saving the day as coronavirus forces more restaurants to close.
From national chains to member-owned co-ops and independently-owned markets, grocery store staff members across the country are working harder than ever to restock shelves and, just as importantly, keep them sanitized.
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TODAY Food recently talked to several industry insiders who deal with shoppers on a daily basis. Here are seven things they want you to know about shopping for food right now.
1. Please do not panic buy
"Shopping like you would normally will allow others to do the same," Micah Bell, assistant store director at the Portland, Oregon-based Zupan’s Markets, said. According to Bell, buyers should try not to get caught up in the fervor of panic buying because it has a ripple effect.
"When you stick to your routine, you will feel more normal," he explained, before adding that when customers are calm, it's easier for his employees to also remain calm and do their jobs. Not buying too much will also ensure that shelves remain adequately stocked and cut down on food waste.
2. Be flexible when shopping these days
"Have a plan going into the store and go in for specific categories, not items," recommended Mike Geller, who owns and operates the register at Mike's Organic, a grocery store in Stamford, Connecticut. Instead of shopping for only one type of pasta or a certain cut of meat, he said it's important to be flexible.
"Make up a rough menu ahead of time and get in and get out," advised Geller, who described working in a grocery store right now as "meaningful, intense and surreal."
3. Deliveries are still coming in
"There is plenty of food for everyone," said New Jersey-based Stop & Shop store manager Tome Rebele. Suppliers are still making multiple deliveries each day, it's just that more people are flooding the stores.
He said the most popular question he's been asked lately is, "When is the toilet paper arriving?" His answer? Keep checking back, but the rolls are coming!
This is also true at Trader Joe's. "There’s no food shortage," said the Trader Joe's crew member. "It just takes time getting the food from the warehouse to the stores.”
4. We take sanitization efforts seriously
If you've shopped at a Trader Joe's recently, you may have had a crew member pump hand sanitizer into your hand as you waited in line (standing 6 feet away from your neighbors) outside.
"When you walk in the door, you should feel safe," said the Trader Joe's crew member, who added that they're sanitizing every cart and basket that leaves and re-enters the store.
Many other chains, like Costco, have adopted more rigorous cleaning practices (and are closing earlier to allow workers more time to implement these changes) and have also stopped serving food samples.
5. Lines outside aren't a bad thing
To encourage social distancing, many stores are limiting the number of people who can be inside at any given time, so you can expect to see lines outside. Don't freak out, say grocery store workers.
Said the Trader Joe's crew member, "People who regularly come on Sundays, our busiest days, were there last Sunday and were like, 'Wow, this is how it should be every Sunday.'" The reason? Even though you might have to wait in line for 20 minutes, once you get inside the store it won't be a madhouse.
Just coming in for one or two items? Some stores may help you out. If you're outside at Trader Joe's, let the employee at the door know. "We'll run inside and (check) that we have them in stock for you," said the crew member. "We don’t want you to wait in line if we don’t have what you came for."
6. Shopping local may be easier
Big-box retailers may carry larger-than-life goods and offer great discounts on certain items, but you may be able to save time (and have a better chance of finding what you need) at a smaller store.
"We have shorter supply chains that are less vulnerable to shoppers buying too much at once," said Jon Roesser, the general manager at Weavers Way Co-Op in Philadelphia. His member-owned store, which is open to the public, is currently adding new suppliers.
He added, "We're supporting local farmers that normally supply to restaurants to help keep them afloat."
7. We always appreciate your thanks
"It's not easy to work in a grocery store, as you're always interacting with people and on your feet," explained Roesser. "And when people have heightened anxiety, as they do these days, grocery store employees experience and have to manage that anxiety."
Still, the added stress has brought out a new level of appreciation from many customers. According to Roesser, more people are showing their gratitude to his staff.
Rebele has experienced something similar at Stop & Shop, telling TODAY, "We've seen a lot of appreciation from our customers, more so than when all this started, so I'd say things are getting better."