Bethel grocers ‘significantly’ increase shipments to stores, anticipate another big shopping week

Swanson’s employees stock shelves in Bethel on March 23, 2020. (Katie Basile / KYUK)

Grocery stores in Bethel are expecting another large run on goods this week, and have substantially increased the size of their shipments into Bethel to prepare. 

In early March, stores saw customers empty shelves as mounting news of the coronavirus pandemic spurred people to stock their homes with emergency supplies for “hunkering down.” The beginning of the month brings paychecks and supplemental federal income, and stores anticipate that another big shopping week lies ahead.

To prepare, the Alaska Commercial Co. sent its largest shipment of goods ever to Bethel. AC General Manager Walter Pickett says that the company’s stores across the state have roughly doubled their inventory since mid-March. They are now being asked to carry four weeks of inventory on all shelf-stable food items. AC has seen the largest demand for the same items that across the nation have become hard to find: canned and boxed food, rice, sugar, flour, paper products, disinfectants, and pain medications.

For social distancing, AC has not limited the number of customers that can enter its Bethel stores at one time, but is asking customers keep a 6-foot distance from each other at the registers, customer service counter, and deli. AC also asks that customers limit their trips to the store, have one person per household do the shopping, avoid using cash when possible, and bag their own groceries if they bring their own bags.

Swanson’s in Bethel is also gearing up for a surge in customers. General Manager David Hicks says that he’s increased shipments into Bethel “significantly,” but like store owners across the country, he’s having difficulty finding high-demand items. “Some products are just sporadically available and in limited supply,” Hicks said. These items include Tylenol, toilet paper, paper towels, hand sanitizer, sanitizing wipes, baby wipes, diapers, noodles, rice, and other shelf stable foods.

While workers in other sectors are able to work from home, grocery store employees are interacting daily with the public. Swanson’s is taking precautions to protect their workers. On March 10, employees began wearing hospital-grade Nitrile gloves during their shifts. During designated Elder shopping hours, they also wear N-95 masks. Following recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, employees do not re-use masks.

“We are providing our customers and employees with all the prophylactic gear that’s recommended by the CDC,” Hicks said. However, he says, these items, including gloves, masks, hand sanitizer, and antibacterial wipes, will only last as long as they’re in stock.

Swanson’s is not limiting the number of people in its store, and is asking people to stand 6 feet apart at the register. Stripes of blue painters tape on the floor indicate the appropriate distance. Hicks says that the store has had no need to lay off or hire extra employees since the pandemic began.

Both Swanson’s and AC have designated Elder shopping hours and are offering free delivery to Elders’ homes. AC is offering this free delivery when possible, and Swanson’s is providing this free delivery on orders over $50. Swanson’s is also offering Elders a 10 percent discount on purchases during Elder hours.