"There is not a shortage of product today," said Joe Kelley, the president of Kroger's Houston division, "The real challenge is getting it to the shelves."
H-E-B, Kroger and Randalls are all operating under shortened business hours to allow for more time to restock and actively hiring new employees to meet shelving demands.
"I hit 30 years tomorrow with HEB, and I have never seen anything like this," H-E-B CEO Scott McClelland said.
Part of the challenge with the coronavirus outbreak, McClelland said, is that grocers cannot anticipate how long it will last or how many people will be affected. To plan ahead, McClelland said that H-E-B executives have run several scenarios to anticipate how to continue stocking shelves if 25% to 50% of employees are out sick. They are appealing to other hourly workers who may see a downturn in work to apply for positions with H-E-B and preparing to focus on mass production of fewer products and reduce variety if needed.
"We're looking at how much we can make as quick as we can," McClelland said. "The variety that we’re all used to, you may not get a seeded bun with your hamburger, but you still get a bun, that’s what we need to be willing to do."
To protect shoppers, H-E-B has a new COVID-19 manager at each store responsible for sanitizing the store twice a day, maintaining regular food sanitation efforts and monitoring lines to ensure customers keep safe distances from each other. Cashiers will now serve customers from behind a sneeze guard.
Kroger, Randalls and H-E-B are all working on ways to increase pickup and delivery availability as demand for the services grows.
Mayor Sylvester Turner said the area's food supply chain remains strong and urged customers to not overstock pantries in panic. He said there are no plans to close grocery stores in response to the pandemic.
"Just buy what you need and be sensitive to the needs of others," Turner said. "As it relates to first responders and medical workers, they have to work all kinds of hours and we need to ensure there is food left available for them."