How retailers are responding to coronavirus

David Salazar
Managing Editor
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COVID-19 has hit the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has seen 60 confirmed cases of coronavirus and six deaths from the illness. 

COVID-19 stems from a member of the coronavirus family that is similar to SARS and MERS, which have seen outbreaks in the past. With experts noting that regularly washing hands or using an alcohol-based sanitizer can help prevent the spread of the disease, preparedness supplies are seeing serious movement at retail. 

Nielsen reported that for the four weeks ended Feb. 22, hand sanitizer sales were up 73% over the prior-year period. Additionally, despite Surgeon General Jerome Adams taking to the airwaves and Twitter to highlight the fact that masks should be used by those experiencing symptoms to prevent spread of the disease, rather than healthy individuals looking to prevent getting sick, medical mask sales saw a 319% percent boost, household maintenance mask sales increased by 262% in the four weeks ended Feb. 22. 

For retailers, this presents supply-and-demand challenges that reach into the supply chain. CVS, Walmart and even Amazon's private brand Solimo have been reportedly low on hand sanitizer stock. For their part though, retailers are working to ensure stock. 

“We have been seeing greater demand for certain products, such as face masks and hand sanitizers, in many of our stores,” a Walgreens spokesperson told Store Brands. “We’re continually and closely monitoring the situation, and continue to work with our supplier partners to best meet the needs of our customers.”

Click here to go to FMI's resource guide.

Elsewhere in the industry, FMI — the Food Industry Association has created a resource for retailers called “Coronavirus and Pandemic Preparedness for the Food Industry." It highlights the various ways that retailers could be impacted if the illness reaches pandemic levels. The organization suggests developing an infectious disease prevention strategy, identifying and working with local health and agriculture officials and developing an infectious disease prevention strategy. The full resource can be found here

“FMI understands that a pandemic, if it develops, will necessitate engagement across a host of areas, including health care, store operations, supply chain, food safety, workforce, emergency management and media,” the Arlington, Va.-based trade organization said. “We want to make you aware of FMI resources available around crisis planning, and the steps we’re taking to ensure the food supply chain is actively engaged with key government agencies.”

The United Fresh Produce Association also created a landing page with resources and information.

Additionally, retail-based events have been postponed, impacting the store brands industry, including Expo West, which was scheduled for March 3-7 and the International Housewares Show in Chicago, scheduled for March 14-17. The Seafood Expo has been moved, it was set for March 15 in Boston, and ShopTalk in Las Vegas has been moved to September.