If you’re getting what you want at the grocery store these days, it’s no thanks to people like me.
Two weeks ago, I had my biggest bill ever at Market Basket, going heavy on toilet paper and canned goods. A few days later, I spent nearly as much at Stop & Shop, after just ducking in to buy some coffee.
But Chris Flynn, the head of the Massachusetts Food Association, which represents the state’s supermarkets, said that after a wave of panic buying emptied the shelves, the industry is stabilizing.
"It just needed a period time for orders to be placed, and for trucks to get on the road, and for it to get to the store and then get restocked," Flynn said.
He’s quick with a caveat, however.
"They’re not all the items," Flynn acknowledged. "And there may be selective items, based on what the store can get and what’s available."
They may also be more expensive than usual, according to Arthur Ackles, the vice president of merchandising, buying, and marketing at Roche Bros.
"We’re already starting to see cost increases in certain areas," Ackles said. "For example, eggs went up 65 percent over the last two days in cost [to us].
"We are hearing that the meat market is trying to push some significant increases out right now. I think the entire industry is fighting it."
Also, Ackles acknowledged, some of the items you still can’t get are the items people want most right now.
"Toilet paper and paper products and sanitizer and Lysol wipes are still a problem," he said. "But from what I’m hearing, the manufacturers have ramped up their production."
On the other end of the supply chain, the coronavirus crisis has some local food producers crossing their fingers.
Mark Duffy runs Great Brook Farm in Carlisle and is an owner in the Cabot Dairy cooperative. At his operation, Duffy said, there’s not much room for disruption. For example: What if the driver who loads the milk from Great Brook’s cattle into an insulated truck can’t make the trip?
"It’s a pretty specialized job," Duffy said. "And we've got to make sure they can come every two days."
Then again, other small farmers say the crisis has been a boon for business. Among them: Julie Rawson of Many Hands Organic Farm in Barre, northwest of Worcester.
"Sales are up tremendously right now," she said. "They’re cleaning out our freezer. I think people are feeling very vulnerable right now, and they want to make connections with their local farmers."
Still, for those of us who tend to shop at grocery stores, a big question lingers: Is the equilibrium they’ve regained here to last — or could it be disrupted once again? Ackles, of Roche Brothers, is guardedly optimistic the industry is back on track. But he admits that the future is hard to predict.
"As more and more towns put stay-in-place mandates on their people that live in their areas," he said, "will that force some manufacturers to close down, and will that create some problems with production?
"I guess that’s a possibility. But I don’t know if that’s where we’re going or not."
In the meantime, as we all try to keep our pantries full and our sanity intact, Ackles has a couple favors to ask.
First: Don’t hoard. It means someone else won’t be able to get whatever you've decided to stockpile.
And second: Give the people keeping the stores up and running some help.
"You know, help with social distancing," Ackles said. "There’s only so much we can do.
"Literally every minute, we’re changing something to make it safer for our customers and for our associates. But if we could get the customers to also do their part too to stay six feet away, think about how they’re shopping, it’ll keep all our customers and our associates safe, as safe as we can. Because I worry about them every day."
In other words, as with everything else these days, we're all in it together.