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Grocery Retailers Mobilize for Hurricane Florence

High demand for staples ahead of major storm
water shelves
Photograph courtesy of Target

A major hurricane hurtling toward the East Coast this week is testing area food retailers that are experiencing high spikes in demand for items such as bread, water, milk and batteries ahead of anticipated closures and evacuations—and the potential for major damage to physical plants.

Hurricane Florence as of midday Tuesday was considered a Category 4 storm capable of “life-threatening” storm surges, rains and wind, according to the National Hurricane Center. Forecasters said the storm could hit the coasts of North Carolina and Virginia as early as late Wednesday.

Food retailers with stores on the Carolina and Virginia coasts were already announcing scheduled store closures Tuesday.

Retailers in the Southeast spent much of the week receiving extra shipments.

Target, which has 130 stores in the path of the storm, said a cross-functional “Green Team” was supporting stores and distribution centers by monitoring weather conditions, coordinating efforts to take care of employees, shipping much-needed products to the area and putting plans in place to maintain and protect people, facilities and operations.

“In preparation for landfall, we identified the 1,500 products our guests need most, and in the past few days, we loaded and shipped as many extra trailers of those products as possible to our stores before the storm hits,” the company said in a release. “This week alone, we've shipped more than 1 million bottles of water, along with food, flashlights, batteries, phone chargers, cleaning supplies and more. As guests stock up, we know some of these items are selling out, but we’re working around the clock to restock them as long as we safely can.”

Extreme weather events can be a boon for supermarkets that can stock and restock—provided they can also avoid lengthy shutdowns, employee shortages and physical damage that storms can also bring. Local news photos illustrated the scene in a Virginia Beach Harris Teeter store in a tweet Tuesday:

For many stores, it can also be an opportunity to make a strong impression. BJ’s Wholesale Club said it was inviting residents of South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia to stock up there without requiring a membership fee. Residents who sign up for a free three-month trial will also have the option to join BJ’s Wholesale Club for $25—more than 50% off the annual fee, the Westborough, Mass.-based club said.

For details on how the convenience industry is preparing for Hurricane Florence, click here for a report by our sister publication CSP. And for details on how the foodservice industry is preparing, click here for a report by Restaurant Business.

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