Supermarkets have warned customers not to overbuy and that supplies of essential goods will continue. However, after government announced a 24- hour lockdown with two days’ notice last week, residents crowded grocery stores across the territory, including Rite Way (above, last Friday). (Photo: JOEY WALDINGER)

Supermarkets in the territory will be able to restock shelves during
the ongoing lockdown and are not in danger of running out of essentials, according to supermarket personnel and a shipping
company representative.

“We have been fully stocked,” said opposition member Mark Vanterpool, owner of One Mart. “We have containers coming in every week to arrive while we are on lockdown and we have been allowed to prepare the store for [today].”

He explained that some employees had been issued passes that classified them as essential workers, enabling them to receive shipments and keep shelves stocked.

“The main thing that we wanted to make sure we have each time is fresh fruits and vegetables that we can’t stock for long periods,” he added.

Guy Strickland, general manager of RiteWay, confirmed on March 24 that the store was “actually in stock of everything from toilet paper to produce, fresh meat and perishables.”

However, he declined to provide a more recent update.

In recent weeks, he said, the store has seen floods of panicky consumers spooked by the prospect of coronavirus arriving in the Virgin Islands, but he urged them to remain calm.

“Customers are seeing empty shelves around the world on the news and I think this is what created the panic,” said Mr. Strickland, acknowledging that even before the 24-hour lockdown enacted Friday, the company saw depleted store inventories due to overbuying.

Chris Haycraft, managing director of Island Shipping, agreed that “shipping is rolling as normal.”

He confirmed on Tuesday that for essential goods like groceries, shipping is continuing as usual during the lockdown, and consumers can expect to see full store shelves when they arrive to restock when the 24-hour curfew is lifted today.

That doesn’t mean that most ordinary, non-essential cargo is moving quickly out of the port, however, he warned.

“There’s a massive lull happening. … The port is not open to facilitate emptying of containers. But if you’re Rite Way, you’re getting your milk. If you’re [BVI Electricity Corporation], you’re getting your materials.”

Usual schedule

For Rite Way, that means there’s been no change in shipping schedules and that the stores continue to receive shipments twice per week by Tropical Shipping, plus shipments from Puerto Rico and St. Maarten weekly, according to Mr. Strickland.

Mr. Strickland estimated on March 24 that Rite Way had around four months’ supply of food in stock, with 200 containers en route.

Nevertheless, he confirmed that the company has had supplier issues in some cases, causing it to enact a limit on quantities of certain items such as toilet paper and disinfectant wipes. Higher prices have also been a concern recently.

“We are seeing price increases on eggs, potatoes, pork and other items as suppliers run short,” he added.

“We are confident we have and will be able to secure enough product for the territory. I am in daily contact with other major retailers as we work together to ensure a constant flow of goods. We are competitors, but like we did after Irma we are working together for the greater good.”

Mr. Vanterpool said One Mart also had issues keeping hand sanitiser in stock, but noted that there are products available, such as rubbing alcohol, that can work just as well.

“Those who come in on Thursday will find other substitutes,” he said, noting that oranges, ginger and garlic also seem to be moving off shelves quickly.

“We will obviously limit water and things like that as best we can … but we have a good availability of rice, sugar, flour and all fruits and
vegetables.  He added, “Items are moving. There is no need to
panic.”


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