Retailers, officials insist the food supply is strong as grocery stores are emptied

A recent surge of demand has emptied some grocery store shelves of staples, as shoppers concerned about the spread of the novel coronavirus prepare to self-isolate at home. But the U.S. has plenty of food and Americans should not panic, urged food retailers, producers, and the federal government over the weekend.

President Trump discussed the stability of the nation’s grocery supply chain with 30 food-retail executives on a call Sunday. “The President reminded the participants that this is an all-of-America approach and each of their stores and the stores they support can help Americans feel calm and safe when shelves are stocked with the items they need,” said White House spokesman Judd Deere in a statement. “Supply chains in the United States are strong, and it is unnecessary for the American public to hoard daily essentials.”

Participants in the call included the top executives of some of the nation’s largest food sellers and producers, such as Target, General Mills, Whole Foods, Sysco, Walmart, and Albertson’s.

“We want to ensure that all Americans know the government is working closely with all stakeholders across the food and consumer products supply chain to ensure that stores can stay open and stocked with the products consumers need through this emergency,” said Leslie Sarasin, president and CEO of FMI, a food industry trade group, in a statement released after the call.

If shoppers do encounter empty shelves, it is more a product of retailers struggling to keep up with heightened demand than any indication that there isn’t enough food in the country to go around.

“Our stores are getting stocked every day,” said Ron Vachris, chief operating officer of Costco, according to a report in the New York Times. “Transportation is functioning, our suppliers are working around the clock and the flow of goods is strong.”

But customers may continue to confront empty grocery shelves as the supply chain struggles to keep up with spikes in demand. To adapt, some stores, like Walmart and Stop & Shop, are cutting their hours to give employees time to restock shelves. And experts say there could be more spells of panic-buying if and when cases of Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, continue to spread and cause the closure of businesses, schools, and workplaces.