Hurricane Irma leaves supermarkets waiting to reopen, shelves bare

Business


In the wake of Hurricane Irma, Florida residents — or at least those who stuck around — are left scrounging for the items they need most, mainly food and water.

While the Federal Emergency Management Agency is prepared to get some supplies to the storm’s survivors, it will take time for distribution to begin, with roads still closed and curfews in place. Not even a month ago, FEMA nearly ran out of money after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas. But Congress has since signed off on another $15 billion in emergency funding.

In search of essentials, Florida’s residents — nearly 6 million of them without electricity — are waiting to learn when, or if, their local supermarkets will be able to reopen.

The grocers with the biggest presence in Florida include Publix — which is privately held and headquartered in the state — Wal-Mart, Costco, Winn-Dixie, Food Lion — which is a subsidy of Ahold Delhaize — and BJ’s Wholesale.

Amazon-owned Whole Foods, which also has a presence in Florida, tweeted out a list of closed locations across the state.

“The problem becomes you have grocery retailers with a mix of stores … some are heavily damaged, and other stores didn’t suffer any damage but are completely clean of product from their shelves,” Brittain Ladd, a strategy consultant who worked on global expansion for AmazonFresh, told CNBC in an interview.

“Natural disasters upset the equilibrium within the grocers’ supply chain,” Ladd continued. A storm like Hurricane Irma caused a “rush” of shopping at the onset, followed by a period of retailers’ reassessment and figuring out which stores will need inventory most in the aftermath, and how they’re going to get it, he said.

Getting fresh groceries back to stores is a top priority for many retailers. But in the downtime and without power, many are helping out, with their boots on the ground, as much as they can.

Wal-Mart, for example, has plans to deliver 1,700 truckloads of essential supplies to the state. Target has said that when its facilities reopen, teams will push products to affected stores, including some trailers that were loaded before the hurricane hit.

Refrigerated products — milk, yogurt, eggs and meats — will take more time to restock.

“Everybody is trying to mobilize and reopen but you can only do so much, and frankly Irma is still blowing,” Lee Arnold, executive chairman of Colliers International in Florida, told CNBC in an interview. By Monday morning, Arnold had safely vacated the state and was settled in Atlanta, waiting for the storm to subside and communicating with his emergency-response colleagues further south.





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