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National Grocers Assoc. Says Stores Are Keeping Up With Demand

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

By now, many of us have seen those empty shelves at grocery stores. Panic buying has been spreading. But do those empty shelves reflect the supply chain in the United States?

Greg Ferrara is with us. He is the president and CEO of the National Grocers Association. That's the organization representing more than 8,000 stores across the country. And he's a good person to have on with - in this moment to answer that question. Thanks so much for being with us.

GREG FERRARA: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: So this is the obvious question. But should listeners be worried with the empty shelves? I mean, are there real shortages out there?

FERRARA: Absolutely not. We're obviously dealing with an unprecedented demand in our grocery stores today, one that we really haven't ever seen before. However, our country is fortunate. We have the most efficient and effective supply chain, really, in the world. And that supply chain is cranking at 100% to get stores refilled. And that is happening on a daily or even more frequent basis.

If you see empty shelves, the chances that a couple hours later or by the next morning, that shelf is going to be full. Now, you might not see the exact brand or the exact flavor of product you're looking for, but you're going to have product on the shelves. The supply chain is cranking, and trucks are getting to stores, for sure.

MARTIN: All right. So if your kid can't get their favorite form of string cheese, that's just an allowance that he's going to have to make (laughter). We know, though, that many of the ports have slowed down in terms of traffic and that truckers are saying they can't get containers from the ships to transport. So I mean, we don't want to be all gloom and doom here. But can we expect things to get worse?

FERRARA: The reality is, for the vast majority of the products in the supermarkets, they are produced here domestically. So we're not really talking about product coming in to the ports. We're talking about product that is produced domestically, often regionally or locally. And that product is getting to stores. So whether we're talking about fresh meat, we're talking about produce - some of which does come from Mexico and other South American countries but is coming in to the United States - or we're talking about paper products, for example toilet paper. It's produced here domestically, and it's fairly easy to produce.

The supply chain is cranked up. Manufacturers are humming along, and those products are getting produced. They're getting to our distribution centers, and they are getting to store shelves. We are just seeing an extraordinary demand right now that we really haven't seen before.

MARTIN: All right. So if you go in and a shelf is empty, don't panic. Just come back in a couple of days, and those stocks will likely be refilled.

What about the workers? What about the employees, though? They're at great risk of exposure, aren't they? How are you protecting them?

FERRARA: First - and let me say about our employees - and we represent our members, over 1 million workers across the country - these are really the unsung heroes of the crisis we are dealing with today. We are so proud of the work that our front-line associates are doing. And if you go into a store, take a moment and thank a grocer or a worker. They're just doing an amazing job.

But yes, we are taking protections to make sure they are protected. Our stores are following CDC, state and local health official guidelines. The stores are doing extra sanitation, extra wipe downs. Some employees are wearing gloves. If an employee is sick, they are told do not come to work. And the same, by the way, would go for a customer. If you're not feeling well, you're sick, do not come into the store. That is very important.

And we'll take everything one day at a time. But right now, things are going well, and associates are just doing a tremendous job.

MARTIN: All right. So the bottom line there - don't panic buy, the stocks will be refilled, and thank the workers that you see at those grocery stores. Very, very good advice.

Greg Ferrara, president and CEO of the National Grocers Association. We so much appreciate your time. Thank you.

FERRARA: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.