According to one expert, the grocery store shortages in produce and frozen food are easing already. Canned goods are coming back, but we may just have to learn to live without toilet paper.
OK, he didn’t say the last thing. That’s just me trying to sell newspapers. But he did say the toilet paper problem may be the toughest one to resolve.
Gary Huddleston, an independent consultant to the Texas Retailers Association, told me Monday that the stores will stay open and employees will continue to restock the shelves.
Huddleston said paper products in general and toilet paper in particular are still evaporating from the shelves as fast as the store stockers can put out the product: “That’s one reason Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins and the Texas Retailers decided it was a good idea for him to make an order saying there would be a limit of one (package).”
I called Huddleston because Judge Jenkins told me to. I had texted Jenkins to ask if anybody in Texas has a bird’s-eye view of the grocery store supply chain. He texted back two words in two seconds: Gary Huddleston.
Huddleston doesn’t sugar-coat the toilet paper problem: “There certainly are commodities that have been very popular. The big one, of course, is toilet paper and other paper products, Clorox wipes and cleaning supplies.
“From the start of the coronavirus and with all the media attention, they have been extremely popular. I would say, there is product. It’s coming in. But immediately when it hits the shelves it’s selling out.
“I would say other parts of the store are catching up fairly well — fresh produce, milk, eggs. Canned goods are spotty, but certainly they are catching up. Food retailers are doing everything possible to get it on the shelf.”
He said the industry can see the shortages ahead whenever it sees media attention focusing on a single product. “Social media more than traditional media is what dramatically drives the market.
“That’s one reason we saw toilet paper early on in this coronavirus situation just fly off the shelves. Really we haven’t been able to totally catch up on that particular product as well as hand sanitizer and the wipes.”
He doesn’t believe the toilet paper shortage will last. “We have seen on YouTube people that hoard it and have closets and garages full of it and stuff like that. At some point the customer is going to make a determination that they have enough, we think, and not continue to buy more.”
Huddleston said sales volumes obviously are way up in the hoarded commodities, but he said most big retailers are not eager to be viewed as gougers and are trying to hold prices at pre-coronavirus levels.
“I suspect that people like Charmin and Scott Paper have sold more in the first three months of the year than they did all year last year. That’s just speculation on my part.
“The large retailers certainly don’t want to be looked at as price gouging by any means. Price has been kept to pre-corona levels (on most things). Some commodities, milk, for example, certainly has gone up a little bit. Based on the volume, I wouldn’t say it’s dramatic. Eggs (have gone up) slightly.”
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He said the main thing people need to grasp is that the shelter-in-place orders are not stopping anyone from going to buy groceries: “The message we want to send is that the orders of Judge Jenkins and Gov. Abbott always say that the stores are going to remain open in the future.”
I asked him what the shelves will look like three weeks from now.
“It’s hard to say. I would say produce, dairy, frozen, even canned goods will see much better stock levels. I am still reluctant to put a deadline on toilet paper.”
In very weird times, that’s maybe the weirdest part.