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Food City's Smith: Don't hoard during COVID-19 outbreak

Hank Hayes • Apr 7, 2020 at 8:00 PM

ABINGDON — Food City President and CEO Steve Smith again is asking the shopping public not to be hoarding certain items during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Shop as you need the items,” Smith said in a Tuesday online news conference with reporters. “Don’t hoard the items. Please shop for your weekly shopping needs and it will leave more for other folks.”

Smith said Food City will continue to have in-store deals on certain items, but the safety of customers and associates is the company’s primary focus.

Store hours have been reduced to allow associates to sanitize stores, and carts, in particular, are being sanitized, said Smith. Plexiglass shields have also been installed at checkout stands and customer service. The company, said Smith, is also in the process of securing face masks for associates to use as they desire. He added there are currently no plans to limit the number of people in a store.

Smith reiterated that there’s no evidence of food or food packaging being involved in the transmission of COVID-19.

“Stores are going to remain open seven days a week, and groceries are going to be on the shelf,” he stressed.

Still, Smith noted that customers will see “Item temporarily not available from manufacturer” signs.

“To be alarmed about shortages is human nature. Again, we are getting most products we need to carry into our stores,” he noted.

The company also has seen a “huge spike” in its GoCart and Instacart services for curbside pickup and home delivery.

Gas prices, added Smith, could go below $1.50 if customers have a Food City ValuCard.

Smith also addressed these questions:

What’s going on with pricing during this pandemic?

“It certainly is a very sensitive question right now to consumers because people are sensitive to prices that change, and obviously there are some supply and demand issues that have gone on during this. I’ll use one that is a pretty good example and that’s eggs. There’s been a shortage of eggs. Our eggs are up 50-60%. The chickens, unfortunately, are laying the same amount of eggs ... and the price has gone up. That’s what happens in supply and demand. And while we’ve had to push a little bit of that on to the consumer, it’s much less than the price has gone up. The same way with ground beef. Our meat sales last week were up 90%. That makes ground beef short, so that drives a little bit of the price up.”

Where are sales going off the chart?

“Our toilet paper sales are up 80% compared to last year. Our paper towel sales are up 101%. We’ve sold twice as many paper towels this year as we did last year. Ramen noodles are up 132%. Soup is up 88%. Household cleaners, another item that people say they can’t find a lot of, are up 132%.”

What’s going on with the supply chain?

“The supply chain in the United States has been severely tested during these four weeks. The first week, we shipped over a million, three hundred thousand cases, and we received just over a million cases. I’m proud to say that last week we turned that around some. We shipped a million, four hundred thousand cases, and we received a million, seven hundred and thirty-five thousand cases.”

Have the bonuses gone out to employees?

“We wanted to recognize the hard work our team did over the last couple of weeks of this pandemic. It was very challenging for everybody. Our folks stepped up and did a heck of a job, and we wanted to reward them — our hourly and part-time and our salaried folks, the whole Food City team.”

Are some employees staying home?

“If they have family members that have had something that put them at a little higher risk. We’re working with these folks to let them have personal leave. With the supplemental hires, we’re fully staffed and ready to take care of folks.”

Are you hiring now?

“(The process of new hires) is pretty much complete. We set a goal of 2,500 new associates to bring into our company, and I have to say we did a great job of bringing them on board.”

Food City locations will close at 4 p.m. on Easter Sunday.

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