The Truth About Your Local Grocery Store, By Jay M.

I’ve been reading your Blog for a little over a year now and find it very interesting.  Not long ago there was an entry about trying to convince your family about the need to get prepared.  I to have the same issue when trying to get others on board.  They always seem to give me the “RCA dog look” — like I’ve lost my mind.
However, I do have the advantage of some work experience that helps.  I’ve worked for a major grocer / big box retailer for the last 25 years.   In that time things have changed an unbelievable amount.  Twenty or even ten years ago we stored tons of merchandise in the back room and restocked throughout the day.  Now due to the wishes of Wall Street all retailers are required to very closely monitor their inventory levels.  If you want your share price to go up then you had to greatly reduce the amount of inventory you kept in the stores.  This resulted in the Just in Time (JIT) inventory craze.  Basically this means that instead of a store employee knowing what sold when and ordering each day/week to keep the store stocked with what was selling or what they knew would sell based on their experience it is now done by computers.  Now this “computer” knows how long it takes to get each item from the vendor to the store.  Then it takes information from the registers each day based on how much of an item is sold and/or sales trends and orders just enough as not to run out.  The goal is that as a customer is buying the last item off the shelf that a stocker is coming down the aisle with a new case to restock. 

Of course any of you who do any shopping understand this is not a perfect science.  As people go shopping now they take for granted that what they want will be on the shelf.  Most of the time this process does work as planned.  When you consider that most stores carry 70,000 plus items there is a very small percent that are actually out each day. 

The problem occurs when some outside factors come into play.  This can be as little as the weather man predicting a snow or ice store.  If that happens people go nuts buying everything they can get their hands on.  The system is not set up for this.  If the situation only affects a few locations then they can get back in stock within 2-3 days on most of the basic supplies.  However if it affects a large region such as half a state then the warehouses run out fast also.  They are on the JIT program as well and aren’t stocked in a way to restock 100 stores all at once.    Many areas of the country are primed to be affected by an earthquake.  If that were to happen the shelves would be cleaned out within hours and wouldn’t be restocked for who knows how long.  Even if the stores local area wasn’t affected, most likely the roads between the store and the warehouses would have bridges that if not destroyed would certainly be shut down for a time in order for inspectors to clear them as safe before trucks were allowed to cross.

The other factor I explain to folks is that when they shop day in and day out it looks like a ton of merchandise on the shelf.  For example a store may stock 60 propane bottles for camp stoves on a regular basis.  But in an emergency situation whether it has happened or only predicted the customers who get there first to buy some don’t just buy one or two.  They will buy at least 10 so then only the first six customers get any.    Many of the big box and grocery stores you shop in every day average between 3,000 and 6,000 customers a day.  Do the math.

As far as food most stores get 2-to-5 trucks a day of some type of food.   Thus the store you shop at each day/week really only has about 1-½ to 2 days worth of food on the shelf any given day during normal conditions.  If an emergency happens they will be cleaned out in a matter of hours.  Then the question becomes how they will restock.  Remember roads may be closed.  The warehouse workers who normally load the trucks may have situations where they don’t show up to work due to taking care of their own family.  The same would be true with the truck drivers who would bring it to the stores and the folks who stock and run the local store as well.

What I try to make people understand it that they need to have a stock of what they need at their own house or somewhere.  That they can’t just assume the local store will have what they want.  A lot of discussion goes on about food but you can’t just think about food.  Of course that is important for sure but also think about other things you would want.  Such items might be batteries, candles, matches, charcoal, lighter fluid, Coleman fuel, propane, lamp oil, water carriers, and toilet paper (very important), etc.  I also try to keep at least an extra 6-to-8  of such items such as toothpaste, soap, shampoo, paper plates, paper towels, medicine, etc.  Think of things that you use every day but won’t be able to drive to the store and pick up if TSHTF .  

Assuming that you could buy gas or kerosene how many cans to you have to transport it in?  A couple of years ago there was a major ice storm where I live.  The stores were closed for 2-3 days in most cases.  When they did open you couldn’t find a gas can for days.  Due to the storm everyone needed to run chain saws to clear roads, yards, or trees off their house.  However like I said earlier the stores only replenish to rate of sale.  Since a store doesn’t normally sell 100 gas cans a day they don’t keep that many in stock.  Some items that became major needs but were not available that no one ever thinks about were two cycle oil and bar and chain oil for the chain saws, extra chains, files for sharpening, etc.

Another thing to consider is how you will pay of things if you can actually find them.  Many times I’ve seen where some construction company digging a trench 100 miles away cut a fiber optic line and totally shut down all credit / debit card transactions and many check purchases.  How much cash do you have on hand to buy things in an emergency?  Be sure you don’t keep $100 bills.  Keep small bills and maybe some quarters.  Even if the stores are able to stay open or reopen after a few days chances are they won’t be able to get their change orders from the bank as they normally do 5-6 days a week.  Thus if you walk in there with big bills they may not be able to make change.

The next time you go shopping take time to look around and think about what you would do if when you walked in the shelves were empty.  What would you feed your family when you got home if you couldn’t buy what you came to get.  Go home and look at your cabinets.  How long could you feed your family if you couldn’t get to the store?

Many of you go shopping the day after Thanksgiving for the challenge of getting what you want to give for Christmas presents.  Many of you won’t go anywhere near a store that day because of the chaos.  However, think about if you had to fight crowds like that who were fighting for food to feed their kids vs. just presents.  If you had a proper store of supplies that you needed already you would certainly rest better knowing you didn’t have to go and ‘fight’ in this dangerous environment.
I’ve said all this to simply say don’t take for granted that what you run to the store for will always be there in a crisis.  Make plans now and stock up on the basis as you see fit for your family.  Remember to watch the sale ads and take advantage when stores run the items you use on sale.  Also this holiday season is a great time to stock up on basic grocery items.  Many stores have marked down items to attract customers for their holiday cooking needs.  For example many stores have basic cans goods (beans, corn, etc) for 30-50% off their regular prices.

There are tons of list out there of what you need to have.  Be sure to think about what you already use all the time and stock up on that as well.  Life will be much more pleasant if live changes due to a major SHTF situation or even a temporary situation such as an earthquake if you don’t have to drastically modify your life.  Simple things like having your regular shampoo, soap, toothpaste, etc will be appreciated.