How grocery stores are preparing for the next wave of COVID-19 panic buying

Retailers want to reassure shoppers that they'll be able to get the supplies they need amid rising coronavirus cases.
/ Source: TODAY

In the spring, the coronavirus pandemic triggered a wave of panic buying that left store shelves empty. Toilet paper, bottled water and paper towels were out of stock around the country, while shortages of eggs, meat and produce sent some prices skyrocketing.

Some things, like disinfectants, are still out of stock, but food makers and retailers told NBC News investigative correspondent Vicky Nguyen that they're prepared for increased demand as coronavirus cases continue to surge.

"We're working directly with our manufacturers to ensure that we do have adequate supply," said Chelsea Minor, the corporate director of public affairs for Raley's, a West Coast-based grocery chain. "There is plenty of food to go around, you may not have the exact products that you're looking for, but there will be options, so be flexible."

Jeff Harmening, the CEO of General Mills, said that the company has spent "tens of millions of dollars" to shore up their supply chain and add production lines for everything from cereal to soup to pet food.

"The supply chain is better than it has ever been," he told Nguyen. "We ramped up production on all the things that have sold out and we're highly confident that there will be product on the shelf available for consumers."

Despite reassurances, the majority of shoppers are still concerned. 57% of shoppers surveyed nationwide said they are stocking up, and another 54% plan on creating a permanent stockpile.

"There's clearly shortages," one shopper told Nguyen. "Things aren't coming through, I see this with all types of things."

Another shopper said that if other people are stockpiling, she might start doing the same to avoid "running out of things."

Some surprising items have become more popular over the past few months: Shoppers are looking to buy more frozen dinners, pasta products, snacks and cleaning products. Meanwhile, stock in Tupperware is up 35%, which Nguyen said could be the result of more people cooking and storing leftovers at home.

Albertsons, a grocery chain, said that they still have some difficulties in getting high-demand items like cleaning sprays or wipes or baking staples like flour, but are "incredibly well-prepared" for the coming months.

If you are worried about getting what you need, there are some things you can do now. According to Nguyen, experts recommend making a list now and knowing what you need. Shop early, but avoid hoarding. To find items that sell out quickly, sign up at websites like NowInStock.net, BrickSeek.com, or ZooAlert.com. The companies will send you an alert when hard-to-find items are back in stock, and also offer deals or discounts on other products.

Nguyen recommends communicating with your local store as well. Check with your retailer about delivery and restocking dates, and ask clerks at the register if they have wipes and disinfectants, which they may store separately to limit the amount one person can buy. Try shopping earlier in the day, and partner with friends to work together to get what everyone needs.

Don't forget about food banks, either: Nguyen recommends making a donation if you can, especially as we approach the holidays.