Grocery Stores Scramble to Meet Customer Demands Amid COVID-19 Panic

Empty shelves at a Malibu grocery store

Grocery stores around Southern California, including in the city of Malibu, are enhancing sanitization protocols during the COVID-19 pandemic while grappling with an influx of anxious, sometimes aggressive customers hoping to stock up on food and supplies before hunkering down at home to help slow the spread of the virus. 

With alarming crowds continuing to clear shelves, stores are struggling to meet high demands and causing stores such as Ralphs, Whole Foods Market and Pavilions, as well as big-box retailers like Costco in Westlake Village, to limit the amount of purchases per customer to ensure more customers have the opportunity to purchase items. 

Malibu City Council Member Jefferson “Zuma Jay” Wagner admonished local shoppers while speaking at the Monday, March 16, Malibu City Council meeting, saying he was “alarmed” by what he saw at Ralphs that morning.

“I’m disappointed at what I saw this morning,” Wagner said. “This is my community. I saw community members behaving in ways I wouldn’t have expected. The sheriff was there; the fire department was there.”

Whole Foods Market store team leader Amy LaBoube said the store is working hard to keep up with increased need. Malibu’s Whole Foods receives several shipments each morning, she said; however, they are limited to what products they have available from suppliers and what they can bring into the store.

“What you see here today is everywhere across America. So the warehouses [are] trying to supply all the stores—it’s a challenge,” LaBoube said. “We’re all doing the best we can here in our community.”

According to the Whole Foods newsroom website, beginning on March 16, all food sampling, hot bars, salad bars and soups bars where guests can build their own salads were temporarily suspended and will offer takeout only; by Tuesday in Malibu, Whole Foods was offering prepackaged sandwiches to grab in the area of its salad bar. Indoor and outdoor seating will be unavailable until further notice. This process will be complete across stores in the U.S., Canada and U.K. by Wednesday, March 18th. 

President and CEO of Albertsons companies (the parent of Vons and Pavilions) Vivek Sankaran said in a press release they are refilling high demand products as quickly as they can. The Pavilions Heathercliff Road shared this press release on its Facebook page.

“In many markets, we are asking customers to respect quantity limits of select, high-demand items, like hand sanitizers and household cleaners to help ensure more of our neighbors can find the products they need,” Sandkaran said in the release. “Our team is also planning to make sure we can serve you if your community becomes impacted in a significant way. From a single case to local community outbreaks or situations, we have plans to keep our stores and pharmacies open and serve our communities.”

Vintage Grocers at Trancas Country Market is taking precautions by installing automatic hand sanitizer around the store and near the self serving salad bars for customers to use.

Vintage Grocers’ management said their priority is to maintain cleanliness and keep their shelves stocked and replenished with essential items, grocery needs and prepared food for their customers.

“At Vintage Grocers, we are always vigilant about our health, safety and cleanliness practices, and now we have only heightened our protocols,” a prepared statement from the store stated. “We in Malibu have certainly been through hard times before, and the strength and kindness of this community has always gotten us through.”

The grocery store also provided vinyl gloves for customers’ convenience and comfort while shopping.