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Grocery industry is there for consumers amid coronavirus crisis, say FMI and NGA

By: Russell Redman

As the nation locks down to slow the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), supermarket trade groups FMI-The Food Industry Association and the National Grocers Association (NGA) said they’re working closely with federal, state and local officials to ensure ready access to grocery stores and the safety of the food supply chain.

FMI, NGA and grocery retail and manufacturing executives yesterday participated in a call with President Donald Trump and other White House officials aimed at assuring consumers that retailers are working around the clock to keep their stores stocked and there’s no reason to panic by crowding stores and hoarding supplies.

FMI participated on a White House call today with the nation’s food retailers, wholesalers and suppliers of the food and consumer products they sell. FMI and its members offered to stand ready with the President of the United States and his Administration to ensure the viability of the supply chain and the availability of safe, affordable food and consumer products for our customers.

“We want to ensure that all Americans know the government is working closely with all stakeholders across the food and consumer products supply chain to ensure that stores can stay open and stocked with the products consumers need through this emergency,” FMI President and CEO Leslie Sarasin said in a statement. “We stand with the president, the vice president and the administration as we work, serve and feed the nation.

 “We are resilient; our industry is working 24 hours a day to replenish and restock while ensuring the cleanliness of our stores and facilities. We are seeking to be sensitive to the needs of all our customers and partners, including our WIC and SNAP shoppers and the food banks our stores support,” Sarasin noted. “This fortitude is strengthened by our strong public-private partnerships with government agencies to ensure our supply chain remains resilient, nimble and effective.”

She also credited grocery industry retailers and suppliers for going the extra mile for their customers and employees as the United States grapples with the still unfolding coronavirus crisis. “I am grateful for the leadership demonstrated by FMI’s member companies and the commitment of their dedicated workforce along with all food industry participants and stakeholders during this national emergency,” she said.

Greg Ferrara, president and CEO of NGA, which represents independent grocers, pointed out that the White House’s Sunday afternoon call underscored the administration’s recognition of the food industry’s importance in helping Americans navigate through the COVID-10 pandemic. Among the officials taking part in the call along with Trump were Vice President Mike Pence, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.

“NGA applauds President Trump, Vice President Pence and administration officials for taking the time to speak to the food industry regarding the impact of the ongoing public health crisis and providing an update on the national response. I appreciated the opportunity to share with President Trump the important work that NGA’s nearly 9,000 members, and their close to 1 million team members, are doing to support and feed their communities during this challenging time. America has the most efficient and effective supply chain in the world, and stores continue to be restocked consistently,” Ferrara stated.

“While local, independent grocers are currently experiencing an unprecedented demand in store traffic and for product and goods, we continue to work closely with the president and our federal, state and local officials nationwide to ensure the resilience of both the food supply chain and our local economies,” he explained. “Our industry has faced emergencies before from hurricanes to earthquakes, and fires to floods. Grocers are experienced and prepared to continue serving their communities and employees, as our members do each and every day. Our nation’s food supply and supply chain are very strong, well-stocked and will continue to work at the highest capacity to supply stores.”

Among the food retailers and distributors participating in the call with the White House on Sunday were Doug McMillon, president and CEO of Walmart; Rodney McMullen, chairman and CEO of The Kroger Co.; Craig Jelinek, president and CEO of Costco Wholesale; Brian Cornell, chairman and CEO of Target; Vivek Sankaran, president and CEO of Albertsons Cos.; Todd Jones, CEO of Publix Super Markets; Dave Clark, senior vice president of worldwide operations for Amazon (including Whole Foods Market); Randy Edeker, chairman and CEO of Hy-Vee; Steven Spinner, chairman and CEO of United Natural Foods Inc. (UNFI); Todd Vasos, CEO of Dollar General; and Kevin Hourican, president and CEO of Sysco.

Steven L. Spinner, chairman and CEO of United Natural Foods (UNFI) took part in the discussion and reaffirmed the company's commitment to working tirelessly to meet the needs of customers and consumers across the country.

“It is important for all Americans to know that they can continue to count on companies like ours to keep stores well-stocked with a variety of food and wellness products during this critical period,” Spinner (left) said in a statement on Monday, following up on the White House call. “In addition to having business continuity and safety plans in place to help keep America fed, UNFI is supplementing its coordination with federal, state and local government agencies by now collaborating directly with the White House and industry peers. We firmly believe that increased levels of public-private collaboration can further enhance UNFI's around-the-clock efforts to meet our customers current and future needs.”

Spinner called the U.S. food supply chain “the best in the world,” citing its strong infrastructure, flexibility and resiliency. “To keep the supply chain that strong, we have asked the administration’s help in encouraging responsible consumer purchasing, keeping essential and healthy associates at work, and ensuring highways and roads remain open to cargo trucks,” he said.

In remarks yesterday following the call, Trump urged consumers that food, groceries and other essentials will be readily available not to panic by buying more than they need.

“You don’t have to buy so much. Take it easy. Just relax. People are going in and they’re buying more. During the conversation, Doug [McMillon] of Walmart said that they’re buying more than they buy at Christmas. Relax. We’re doing great. It all will pass,” Trump said.

“The [companies] that we spoke to, they’ve done a fantastic job. They’re going to meet the needs of the public. They’re going around the clock, if they have to. And they’re committed to the communities they’re serving,” the president added.

The U.S. has “the most efficient and effective supply chain in the world” for food and groceries, and it’s “working just fine,” commented Vice President Pence, who’s serving as the adminstration’s point man on the nation’s coronavirus response.

“As the president mentioned today, he spoke to leaders in the grocery store industry and where people buy our food,” Pence said. “He received a commitment from those grocery store executives that stores will stay open throughout the days that lie ahead. We were told that hours may be reduced to allow for cleaning and to resupply. But American families can be confident your local grocery store is going to be open; it’s going to be well-supplied. And they specifically asked us to encourage Americans: Just buy your weekly needs and grocery, because the grocery stores will remain open.”

Echoing the president’s message, the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) also called on consumers to shop responsibly during the coronavirus pandemic, emphasizing that the retail supply chain is functioning and customers don’t need to resort to hoarding products.

“Retailers – particularly grocery providers – are working with manufacturers, suppliers and government agencies to make certain essential products and services remain readily available to customers. Retail supply chains remain strong, and retail employees are working around the clock to meet consumer demand,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay and RILA President Brian Dodge said in a joint statement released Sunday.

“If you don’t need an item in the next two weeks, leave it for someone who does. Hoarding and stockpiling creates unnecessary gaps between the time that someone who truly needs a product can find it back on retailers’ shelves. This is particularly important for our most vulnerable neighbors – the elderly and those who are struggling with other health issues,” Shay and Dodge said.  

“We know this is a challenging time for everyone,” they added. “But by partnering against fear and doubt, shopping responsibly and following important instructions on how we can help stop the spread of this virus, we will successfully face this challenge.”

Reprinted from: https://www.supermarketnews.com/retail-financial/grocery-industry-there-consumers-amid-coronavirus-crisis-say-fmi-and-nga

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