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Grocers face down supply and demand challenges

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New normal: staff at Miles Market are coping with the added challenges of the crisis (Photograph supplied)

There may be long grocery store lines during Covid-19, but shopkeepers say they aren’t necessarily making a killing.“The demand for products has increased, but so have our costs,” said Vernon Hassell, The MarketPlace vice-president of purchasing and procurement. New costs for local grocery stores include protective gear for staff, barriers, signage, website updates, security guards for crowd control and new cleaning staff.Mr Hassell said The MarketPlace has hired 15 new people to deal with their online ordering and pick-up service.They have also given staff an extra $2 per hour. “We recognise that our employees are on the front line,” Mr Hassell said. “They are doing everything they can do to take care of our customers.”He said, at the moment, they are more focused on meeting community need, than on profit. “In serving a community need, we have to be socially responsible to make sure we don’t do price gouging,” he said. “We have to make sure fair pricing is there at all times. “He is proud that The MarketPlace has managed to keep 90 per cent of their commodities in stock.Grocery store managers said they’ve had to be creative to keep up their stock, making orders more frequently, and searching for niche providers of hard-to-source products. William Cox is president of The Waterfront at Pitts Bay which runs Miles Market in Hamilton. He said when the crisis started his biggest fear was about the shipping connection between Bermuda and New York with the Oleander container ship. “The shipping line has been working superbly,” he said. “It is the supply chain that is the bigger concern.”The Smithfield Foods pork processing plant in South Dakota recently closed down when over 700 employees became infected with Covid-19.“Four per cent of pork production in the United States comes from that one Smithfield plant,” Mr Cox said. “Tyson just shut a plant down yesterday. The production of beef has dropped by 170 million pounds over the last two weeks. I am not trying to create panic, but you are going to start to see prices rise.”He said Miles Market’s relationship with their American distributors has always been strong, and they are working hard to help Bermuda.“The good thing about Bermuda is we are not huge, so getting product to us is a lot easier than getting it to a major chain of stores in the US that are going to centralised warehousing,” Mr Cox said.Miles has had to find different suppliers for many of its meats, cheeses and yoghurts, normally flown in from Britain and Europe on British Airways. “Wine isn’t impacted,” he said. “That is shipped in. But you might have to readjust your palate as we bring in different products from the United States.”He was proud that out of the Waterfront Group’s 150 employees, no one has been laid off.“We have had to redeploy a lot of people,” he said. “A lot of new leaders have come out during this crisis. They have already been promoted.”Zach Moniz at Lindo’s Family Foods said one of their challenges is staffing. “Many of our packing staff have chosen to protect themselves and stay home,” Mr Moniz said. “This increases the time it takes to check out a customer, which, in turn, increases how long people wait to get into the store.”He said the untold cost for his staff was stress and fatigue. No one at his store is working a normal shift.“Many employees have worked 60 plus hours per week for weeks on end in order for residents of Bermuda to obtain the groceries they need,” he said. “Most of our staff continue to come to work knowing that they have a greater chance of contracting the virus than almost anyone else, other than medical and frontline workers.”He said he was proud that Lindo’s was helping to meet a need in the community during this critical time. During the pandemic demand for online grocery ordering and pick-up in the community has increased dramatically.Miles, Lindo’s and The MarketPlace have online ordering, kerbside pick-up and delivery programmes. Mr Hassell thinks that after the crisis, demand for online ordering and delivery will continue. “People have grown used to the convenience,” he said. But he doesn’t see an end to bricks-and-mortar stores. “A lot of individuals use it for socialisation,” he said. “A lot of grocery stores are meeting places.”

Staff in the Miles Market butcher department (Photograph supplied)
Staff at The MarketPlace (Photograph supplied)