WASHINGTON — American supply chains continue to function, and there are no apparent food shortages and food outlets will remain open during efforts to flatten the curve of coronavirus infection, US President Donald Trump said March 15.
Those assurances and a request — that Americans fight the urge to overbuy or hoard supplies — were drawn from the president’s conference call with two dozen top leaders in the food and retail sectors. Among those speaking Sunday with the president were the chief executive officers of General Mills, Tyson Foods, Target, Cargill, Costco and Walmart.
“All of them are working hand-in-hand with the federal government as well as the state and local leaders to ensure food and essentials are constantly available,” President Trump said. “We had a long conversation with them and they’re going to work 24 hours around the clock, keeping their store stocked.”
As Americans were increasingly urged by White House and other officials to remain at home when possible, some consumers have sharply ramped up purchasing at offline and online retailers.
Amazon was out of stock on some listings, such as bottled water and toilet paper, and posted notice atop its marketplace site that “inventory and delivery may be temporarily unavailable due to increased demand.” Amazon products and features such as Prime Now and Amazon Fresh grocery delivery services noted limited availability or were suspended in some areas.
Some brick-and-mortar food outlets were taking measures to better serve more customers during the era of self-quarantines and limited gatherings. San Antonio-based grocery chain H-E-B and Rochester, NY-based Wegmans, for example, were limiting per-purchase quantities on such items as chicken, ground beef, bottled water, eggs, pastas and sauces, rice, beans, cereal, bread, milk, frozen vegetables and prepared foods, as well as many canned goods.
But food industry leaders in the March 15 call with the president offered assurances that there weren’t any food shortages at present. Still, the president said, they urged consumers, some of whom “are buying anywhere from three to five times what they would normally buy” to resume a normal pace of grocery expenditures.
“There are no shortages,” President Trump said. “But you don’t have to buy so much. Take it easy. Just relax. People are going in and they’re buying more.”
President Trump recounted one CEO’s estimation that consumers were “buying more than they buy at Christmas.”
Food companies planned to go “around the clock if they have to and they’re committed to the communities where they’re serving and which they serve so beautifully and have for a long time,” President Trump said. “But again, they actually have asked me to say, ‘Could you buy a little bit less please?’ I thought I’d never hear that from a retailer.”
Meanwhile, the Consumer Brands Association appealed to the federal government to exempt manufacturing facilities from these gathering limits being instituted in some municipalities in an effort to flatten the coronavirus curve.
Bryan Zumwalt, executive vice president of public affairs at the CBA, said while the group “appreciates the critical nature of containing the coronavirus as quickly as possible,” it sought facility exemptions “provided they follow worker safety guidelines put forward by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
According to President Trump, the following food industry leaders took part in Sunday’s tele-meeting:
- Don Clark, VP of procurement, Whole Foods.
- Mark Clouse, CEO of Campbell Soup Company.
- Brian Cornell, CEO of Target,
- Randy Edeker, chairman, president and CEO of Hy-Vee,
- Jeff Harmening, CEO of General Mills
- Kevin Hourican, president and CEO of Sysco
- Craig Jelinek, CEO of Costco
- Todd Jones, CEO of Publix Supermarkets
- Donnie King, president of Tyson Foods
- David MacLennan, Chairman and CEO of Cargill
- Rodney McMullen, CEO, Chairman of Kroger
- Doug McMillon, CEO of Walmart
- Todd Vasos, CEO of Dollar General Corporation
- Vivek Sankaran, president and CEO of Albertson’s.