CHICAGO — Relief hit the convenience-store industry March 18 when the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) reported that the foodservice supply chain remains strong amid the coronavirus pandemic.
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But convenience stores are more than a foodservice outlet—they sell everything from automotive fluids and sunglasses to paper towels and dish soap. This raises the question of how the rest of the c-store supply chain is enduring the pandemic.
Communication between c-store operators and suppliers has been excellent, Kevin Smartt, CEO of Kwik Chek Food Stores, Bonham, Texas, told CSP Daily News. Once the pandemic forced most U.S. businesses to alter their plans, Kwik Chek’s suppliers immediately reached out to discuss operational changes, such as reallocating certain products to avoid overstocking and keeping SKUs evenly distributed, he said.
Still, solid communication and action plans don’t solve everything.
“If somebody said there's not [any challenges], I think they're kidding you,” Smartt said.
Distribution scheduling has struggled during the pandemic, Barry Margolis, president of Cooper Booth Wholesale Co., Mountville, Pa., told CSP Daily News.
“Some stores have altered their hours, and this affects our delivery times and truck routes,” he said.
Mass demand for “essential” items such as cleaning supplies and eggs has been a roadblock, Smartt said. And while this demand has placed pressure on operators and suppliers, it hasn’t broken them. “We’re finding [the products] in very limited quantities, but we're still able to source them,” Smartt said.
Consumer demand for toilet paper and cigarettes has skyrocketed due to consumers panicking that stores will run out, said Margolis.
“The demand for toilet paper has been the strangest thing about this whole emergency,” he said. “And in many cases, customers are buying an entire carton of cigarettes instead of one pack at a time.”
Some manufacturers have stopped making multiple versions of one product to focus on efficiency. For example, wholesale distributor Chamber & Owen Inc., Janesville, Wis., recently received a letter that Kraft Heinz had stopped making variations of its Kraft Singles during the pandemic and is sticking to one format, Chad Owen, vice president of businesses affairs for Chamber & Owen, told CSP Daily News. Owen did not comment on whether this was for Kraft Singles’ flavors or packaging varieties.
“You’ll see more distributors following suit as [the pandemic] continues,” he said.
Some suppliers have allowed their c-store partners to source from other distributors regardless of contractual obligations. This has helped operators immensely during the pandemic, Smartt said. “There has been an openness for everyone to source from wherever they can,” he said. “There hasn’t been a restriction on, ‘Hey, we have a contract with you, so you can only purchase from us.’ ”
Keeping the c-store supply chain afloat will require distributors to have COVID-19 response plans in place. For now, this means stockpiling items such as sanitation products and toilet paper, Margolis said.
Most important, suppliers must stick to the basics in fighting the virus. “Look at your operation and make sure you’re doing everything you can to be safe,” he said. “Do the same thing everybody else is doing right now: Be clean and wash your hands.”