VANISHING ACT

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Many products’ supply can’t meet customers’ demands

  • Ingles
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All toilet paper was gone Saturday, April 11, at Ingles in Spruce Pine. Company officials and consumer analysts say stores selling our of certain products is the result of “panic buying” due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (MNJ/Juliana Walker)

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The coronavirus crisis has caused a recent surge in “panic buying” at grocery stores. Toilet paper, hand sanitizer and aerosol disinfectants have seen a significant rise in demand. 

Hand sanitizer increased 470 percent, aerosol disinfectants increased 385 percent and bath and shower wipes increased 180 percent from the same period this past year, according to Nielsen data. 

Pantry staples have also seen a notable rise from the same time this past year. Powdered milk products increased 162 percent, dried beans increased 62 percent and rice increased 57 percent.

Ingles Chief Financial Officer Ronald Freeman said stores have been experiencing the same difficulties as every other grocery store.  

“Shortages of paper, sanitary and cleaning products have been well-documented and it’s no different for us,” he said in an email to the News-Journal. “There have been occasional shortages of other products and we’ve had to limit purchase quantities.”

Both Ingles and Walmart have implemented restrictions on certain items that have seen higher demand. For example, at Ingles, there is a limit of one pack of toilet paper, two packs of ground beef and one bag of flour per customer.

Now that many people have stocked up on food and household essentials, though, they are turning to other products. 

In an interview with the Today Show, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon noted many people are now turning toward entertainment, such as puzzles and video games, and beauty products.

“People are starting to need a haircut,” McMillon said. “You see more beard trimmers and hair color and things like that. It’s interesting to watch the dynamic play out.”

According to Nielsen, sales of hair clippers increased 166 percent and hair-coloring products rose 23 percent from the same period last year.

Products that people are buying fewer of are mostly perishables, like fresh produce. Celery has decreased 18 percent and apples have decreased 3 percent, according to Nielsen.

Ingles and Walmart have both implemented plexiglass shields and social distance markers at checkout locations to protect both employees and customers. Employees have been offered masks and gloves for their protection, as well. 

While Walmart had already limited the number of people allowed in their stores, an executive order went into effect on Monday, April 13, that requires all retail stores to regulate the number of people inside. Only five people per 1,000 square feet of retail space or 20 percent of fire marshal posted occupancy limits.