Nelson grocers: ‘We’re not going to run out of food’

Ari Derfel, general manager at the Kootenay Co-op says he and the other three managers of large grocery stores in Nelson have been communicating with each other to make sure customers are fed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Bill Metcalfe
Shane Warman, manager of Save-On Foods in Nelson. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

The managers of the four major Nelson grocery stores all say some of their shelves are emptier than usual, with hordes of shoppers over the past week, but they don’t call it panic buying.

“The energy has not been panic,” says the Kootenay Co-op’s general manager Ari Derfel.

“The energy has been, ‘Hey, I normally shop here four or five times a week, but I am going to try to do it all at once this week to minimize how many times I need to be in the store.’”

The managers of Safeway and the Wholesale Club also say they see none of the desperation evident in media portrayals from the larger urban centres, although they do admit to a shortage of toilet paper.

Save-on Foods manager Shane Warman says most shoppers are simply getting ready for the possibility of a more isolated life for a while in the near future.

“They are trying to be prepared if they do have to self-quarantine, making sure that they have got enough food and supplies in the house.”

Warman and Derfel report that their sales over the past week have been up about 80 per cent.

“We had our largest sales day in store history on Friday and had similar days Saturday and Monday too,” Derfel says.

The list of the most-bought items at the Co-op in the past week, according to Derfel, is “pretty balanced: fruits and vegetables, bread, a ton of bulk shopping items like rice and oats, pasta and pasta sauces, lots of immune supplements, chicken.”

Derfel said his store has closed its hot food bar and cafe, increased home delivery, and will be reducing its hours. They are now open for one hour (9 to 10 a.m.) exclusively for seniors and health-compromised people. Save-On is running a similar hour for seniors between 7 to 8 a.m.

Co-op bulk sales will no longer be self-serve. The store will soon begin limiting the number of customers e at any given time, and Save-On’s Warman says his store is contemplating doing this also.

Warman says he and the managers of the other three stores have been communicating about community food supply.

“Even though we might think of ourselves as competitors we need to collaborate to serve our community,” says Derfel. “We have been sharing various measures we have been taking.”

Warman says this will help the four stores collaborate in rationing supplies if this is needed.

“We are keeping each other in the loop as far as how things are going,” he says. “If things get worse before they get better, we will have a plan, to make sure everybody gets a shot at what’s available.”

But they don’t think this will happen. All four managers say they they are getting deliveries frequently, they are confident in their supply chains, and there will not be shortages.

Warman says he’s watching for people trying to do serious hoarding.

“If I see somebody with three carts of meat, that is not going to fly with me. I’m keeping an eye out.”

Safeway manager Jamie Simpson says some of the increased sales, in addition to people stocking up, is a result of people staying away from restaurants and doing more of their cooking at home. Also, some people have cancelled their spring break holiday plans and have been supplying themselves for their unexpected local holiday.

He said Safeway runs out of toilet paper every day and gets a new shipment every day. His next most in-demand item is canned goods.

“We are going to do our best to keep our community fed,” he says. “There are temporary shortages of some things but not to the point where there will be no food.”

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