It’s an unspoken tradition among New Englanders: Right before a snowstorm, folks head to the grocery store to stock up on necessities like bread, eggs, batteries, water, and milk. Long lines of carts have been known to snake down the aisles, shelves picked over.
For some customers — rushing to supermarkets Friday ahead of what looks to be a major storm — that last-minute shopping trip may be even more frustrating due to supply chain issues (meaning barer shelves) and labor shortages (potentially longer lines) that have become so prevalent during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Officials at Stop & Shop say they’re monitoring the weather forecast closely and are “working diligently” to make sure there are enough staple items available at their stores. They’re also asking customers to only buy what they need.
“Supply chain and labor challenges as a result of COVID-19 have made product availability more challenging than usual, which is why we ask shoppers to buy what they need and save some for their neighbors,” Stop & Shop officials said in a statement. “We appreciate our customers’ patience and cooperation as we work to keep our shelves stocked — and to keep everyone safe.”
Stop & Shop will be limiting delivery and pickup orders on Saturday, but expanding capacity on Friday before the snow arrives.
“We opened up extra slots to be able to fulfill more customer orders in advance of the storm,” said Caroline Medeiros, a spokeswoman for Stop & Shop.
At Stop & Shop in Mission Hill Thursday morning, some sparse shelves were evident, especially in the pasta aisle where the only two options of Barilla brand were elbow macaroni and mezzi rigatoni.
One shopper, Ruby Hickman, 25, a doctoral candidate at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, noted the shortage in certain staple items.
“I have noticed, both today and previous times that I’ve been here recently, shortages of, like, staple items,” she said. “I just got like the last bag of all-purpose flour from the store brand, and the other day, there was almost no oatmeal.”
While Hickman said it was “a convenient” time for her to go shopping, she also wanted to get to the store ahead of time.
“Instead of going [Friday] or something, I wanted to get in while things were still on the shelves,” she said.
In Brookline, Star Market on Beacon Street had a decent amount of shoppers Thursday, but Matt Donovan, 24, of Brighton, said he expected it to be busier.
“I thought it was gonna be crazy,” said Donovan, who had staples like milk, eggs, and bread in his cart. “I actually am surprised … I thought a lot of shelves would be empty, but it’s surprisingly full.”
Joe Trunk, 80, of Brookline, said the store didn’t seem to have as much variety as usual. He said he noticed empty shelves.
“Whether it’s a shortage of help and everything is in the warehouse, or they’re just not getting stuff in, I don’t know,” he said. “It’s a very popular store, so I would imagine they would keep things stocked if they can.”
A mile down the street at Trader Joe’s in Brookline Thursday afternoon, lines were forming at both ends of the store, and shortages of chicken and some produce like broccoli were evident.
Nina, a 23-year-old nurse from Brookline who declined to provide her last name, said she noticed a shortage of “basics” like crackers, produce, and even wine.
“I’m prepping for the storm,” she said. “And I’m a nurse. I work nights, so I’m prepping for that, too.”
She said that with COVID, items at the grocery store tend to run out a lot quicker, but she thought the incoming storm played a role, too.
“I think it’s somewhat because of the storm,” she said. “In general, I feel like things run out so fast with COVID and everything.”
Shelves were still fairly well stocked but items like yogurt and juice were running low at Whole Foods Market in Cambridge. Ashley Walton, 34, of Cambridge, was conducting a regular grocery store trip and didn’t realize that there was a storm incoming.
“The timing actually just worked out well for me,” she said. But she explained she noticed that the parking lot was a little busier and that there were more people in the store.
Marty Abercrombie, 59, of Cambridge, was shopping for distilled water for a humidifier and some blueberry muffins for his son. He said he was “pleasantly surprised” that there were more items in stock.
“I know there have been shortages in other parts of the country,” he said. “If you see a shortage, it’s usually two days later it’s back in stock — just like distilled water. I couldn’t find any the other day, and today they’re back in stock.”