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Grocers Overcome Challenges Severe Weather Brings

Snow Day

Last updated on June 13th, 2024 at 11:56 am

Terrie Ellerbee, associate editor
Terrie Ellerbee, associate editor

Even the mighty fell—sorta.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. managed to open its headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., on Feb. 9, but employees did not have to report if they couldn’t safely travel to work. A foot of snow had fallen on Northwest Arkansas.

Some parts of Oklahoma saw two feet of snow. In the northeast corner of the state, the village of Jay got 25 inches. Oklahoma had record snow accumulation in parts of the state. Tulsa has had almost 26 inches of snow this winter—breaking a record that had stood since the 1920s.

Oklahoma had record low temperatures, too. Nowata recorded 31 degrees below zero. The previous lowest temperature in the state was 27 below in 1905, and then in 1930.

In Texas, a 106-year-old record fell on Feb. 2 when the temperature at the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport reached just 20 degrees.

Many states got slammed got slammed during the Ground Hog Day Blizzard and then a week later, were hit again. With barely enough time to restock from the first storm, grocery stores were called upon to do the impossible again—stock for the next winter storm, open the doors during the second storm and then restock again.

The second time around most grocers in the Tulsa area stayed opened for business, according to Tulsa World. Guess they were old pros by then.

“What we had last week—it kind of minimizes this snow,” Doyle Krik, VP of grocery operations for Reasor’s Supermarkets told the paper.

On Feb. 1, Reasor’s had this happy Facebook post: “All of our stores are open and ready for business! Our stores will remain open as long as we have the staff to run them. Wishing everyone a safe, warm and happy snow day!”

A friend of Reasor’s replied in one word: “Incredible.”

I second that.

In Wichita Falls, Texas, the Times Record News reported that over nine day period when the weather was at its worst, the hottest items in stores were (you guessed it!) milk, eggs, bread, salt and snow shovels.

The Walmart Supercenter on Lawrence Road ran out of just about everything. It didn’t receive a truck for three days, the paper reports. When deliveries did come they sometimes were half of what they normally would have been.

Guess being really, really big has its drawbacks.

But, at the United Market Street store on Kell Boulevard, the store manager said the store hadn’t missed a single truck delivery—and the store had extra supplies to handle the demand.

Albertsons on Southwest Parkway in Wichita Falls was ready for the second round, too. It based orders on what meteorologists predicted. While some deliveries were delayed slightly, the store never ran out of major supplies and completely caught up before the second storm hit.

All this brings me to recent story I saw in the Cincinnati Enquirer. The Kroger Co. has a command center in Ohio that tracks weather events and natural disasters. (There also are weather command centers in Nashville and Denver.) The paper got an inside look.

Heading up Kroger’s planning efforts is Frank Bruni. His logistics team has two objectives: It must be sure that anything a customer may want is on a shelf in every store and that the safety of any of Kroger’s 334,000 employees isn’t compromised in the process.

In its Systems Control Centers, television screens deliver the latest weather news from around the country. They are paired with a huge map of the United States. Kroger’s 2,461 stores, its 40 food processing plants and 34 distribution centers are plotted on the map, then on top of that images from the latest Doppler radar.

Planning begins several days before a storm, Bruni told the paper, as Kroger merchandisers notify suppliers of the likelihood of increased orders for milk, bread, meat, eggs, rock salt, cereal and shovels. On the local level, division employees check on distribution facilities to make sure they can supply a region’s stores with what customers will need. Larger milk and bread orders may be made to dairies and bakeries in the area.

In the stores, Kroger managers begin reworking schedules to staff up for the day before the storm, when customers typically flock to the grocery.

During a recent snowstorm that shut down parts of Atlanta, Kroger brought in food and products from Louisville and Cincinnati. Extra orders were placed with Kroger suppliers to backfill the distribution centers that came to Atlanta’s aid.

Kroger learns something positive in every situation, Bruni said. He hosts a post-mortem meeting after every event, in which the team discusses customer complaints, loss of product, staffing and procurement. It’s that process that led to a contract with a third-party back-up generator provider and to deliveries of refrigerated trucks or generators in advance of a storm.

“It’s all about planning and executing to a ‘T’ on what you’re planning,” Bruni said. “When everybody doesn’t think they can get it done, we strive to get it done.”

Incredible.

About the author

Shelby Team

The Shelby Report delivers complete grocery news and supermarket insights nationwide through the distribution of five monthly regional print and digital editions. Serving the retail food trade since 1967, The Shelby Report is “Region Wise. Nationwide.”

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