Community Facebook groups have doubled as online grocery forums this month, with users providing frequent status reports about stores in Northwest Houston. They’re letting neighbors know about the length of lines and availability of products such as bottled water, fresh meat and produce, canned goods, frozen foods, hand soap and toilet paper.
With people stocking up and staying home amidst concerns about the spread of COVID-19, the upper-respiratory disease caused by the new strain of coronavirus, grocery stores all around the area have been slammed and struggling to keep up with demand. Residents have shared photos of crowds outside stores and empty shelves at supermarket staples such as H-E-B, Kroger and Whole Foods 365.
“It’ll be 30 years (Tuesday) with H-E-B,” company president Scott McClelland said Monday during a news conference in Houston. “I’ve never seen anything like this month.”
McClelland joined executives from Kroger and Randall’s as well as Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, who assured the public earlier this week that Houston’s food supply is strong. They encouraged citizens to refrain from stockpiling goods while announcing measures aimed at curbing that trend.
Texas-based H-E-B, which has locations at 2300 N. Shepherd Dr. and 3663 Washington Ave., changed its Houston-area store hours to 8 a.m.-8 p.m. starting last Saturday. The same hours apply to Joe V’s Smart Shop, Mi Tienda and Central Market locations, and McClelland said the purpose of the modified hours is to allow those stores an opportunity to replenish their shelves.
McClelland also said H-E-B is dispatching 1,300 trucks per day that deliver products to its stores all over the state. The company is expanding its curbside services as well.
“So there will be food,” McClelland said. “There’s not a reason to stock up. Just come back tomorrow.”
Joe Kelley of Kroger, which has adopted new hours of 7 a.m.-10 p.m., said the company also is well-positioned to meet demand but is struggling to put products back on shelves before they are scooped up. Kroger has for locations in the area – 1035 N. Shepherd Dr., 1440 Studemont St., 1352 W. 43rd St. and 239 W. 20th St.
A spokesperson for German grocery chain ALDI, which opened a Garden Oaks location last year at 3938 N. Shepherd Dr., said all of its United States stores have changed their hours to 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Some locations may need to temporarily close during the day to restock.
“Now more than ever, our service to the community is critical,” the spokesperson said.
With government and health officials asking Americans to stay at home as often as possible and avoid public gatherings of 10 people or more, the grocery stores also are taking precautions to keep their buildings clean and implementing measures aimed at promoting social distancing. McClelland said H-E-B is sanitizing its stores twice per day, restricting the flow of customers and installing clear windows between customers and cashiers.
As the Houston area copes with the COVID-19 pandemic in the coming weeks and months, and stores such as H-E-B try to respond to increased demand, McClelland said customers could eventually see a decrease in the assortment of products.
“How do we simplify our business so that more people can have access to those things they need the most, and keep them safe while they do it?” McClelland asked.
Spokespersons for ALDI, H-E-B and Kroger did not answer emailed questions about their sales in recent weeks, but the crowded stores and depleted shelves suggest their revenues have spiked. All three companies, along with Randall’s, said they are hiring.
So along with providing food to the community, the grocery chains might also provide jobs at a time when other businesses figure to downsize or shutter.
“We’re working hard to serve our community,” Kelley said. “We would love anyone in need of a job to join our team.”