The Saratoga Sun -

Keeping the Valley supplied

Valley Foods, Family Dollar work to keep shelves stocked for local customers amid nationwide panic-buying


March 25, 2020

Joshua Wood

Valley Foods has seen a recent run on toilet paper.

As the Valley continues to cope with the ongoing uncertainty caused by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), the two grocery stores in Saratoga continue to try and meet the needs of their customers despite allocation and shortages on certain items.

At Valley Foods, things changed quickly in less than a week. While manager Adam Clarke had put limitations on toilet paper, hand soap and hand sanitizer to try and make things stretch, his list of allocated items from his warehouse continued to grow. Now, limitations are placed on everything from flour to hamburger.

"The number of (allocation) sheets is growing hourly. It's not even daily or weekly anymore, it's hourly. Allocations on toilet paper changed three times yesterday (March 18)," said Clarke. "They were letting us know when trucks were coming in and I don't know what I'm going to get tomorrow (March 20) for that. It's going to be less and less."

Last Monday, there were more items that weren't on allocation from warehouses than were on that list. In the span of a week, that has changed and the allocation continues to grow.

"Everything right now is a roll of the dice if we order it. You don't know what you're going to get," Clarke said.

Currently, Valley Foods has changed on how it orders things with more emphasis on what they believe they might be able to get in with staples such as beans, rice and pasta. Luxuries, such as candy, are only ordered if it's believed there will be space on the truck.

"Right now, when we're ordering, we're trying to order what we think we can get in. What we think is an essential item, not a luxury item. Things that keep," said Clarke. "I would like to say staples, but I'm not getting any flour tomorrow (March 20). Flour does not really sell and now I can't get it. Maybe a case or two."

According to Clarke, the panic-buying that is occurring nationwide plays a large part in what will go on allocation and what Valley Foods may, or may not, get in on a truck. While last Monday it was toilet paper that was purchased en masse, that trend has moved on to potatoes, flour, sugar, pasta, beans and rice.

"It's like everyday something else just gets wiped," said Clarke. "Putting limits on things is a double-edged sword because if I don't put a limit on it, I could have one person wipe it out or five people wipe it out. If I put a limit on it, everybody grabs one even if they don't need it."

Something else that Clarke struggles with is how the limit on items can affect customers with larger families.

"Do I let them have more than everybody else because they have a large family or do I say, 'Sorry, can you come back tomorrow?' That weighs on you, thinking about a family of six or something," Clarke said. "Five pounds of potatoes can't get them by. A dozen eggs lasts two days, one egg a piece. That's tough to think about."

Down the hill from Valley Foods, Family Dollar has been seeing similar issues. On Thursday night, the same night that Governor Mark Gordon and State Health Officer Alexia Harrist issued an order closing public places, the staff at Family Dollar were working to replenish shelves that had been emptied earlier that day.

Walking through the chain store, an employee pointed out shelves that had been stocked less than an hour before. A six-pack of chicken flavored ramen had only three packages left. Another shelf, this one with vienna sausages and other potted meats, was nearly emptied after being stocked. 

According to employees, there have even been incidents in which they have discovered bottles of water missing from six-packs and toilet paper removed from the employee bathrooms. On the emptied toilet paper shelves, signs are now suggesting a four item limit per customer. Monday morning (March 16) the store had received enough toilet paper to stock their shelves, but were empty by the afternoon.

Employees at Family Dollar stated that a number of customers who are stocking up on everything from toilet paper to ramen aren't from the area. They've seen people from Denver, Colorado to Boise, Idaho come into the store and fill their carts. The employees' concern, however, is the same as that of Valley Foods. They want to try and keep as much on the shelves for their regular customers as possible.

"I never thought I'd put a limit on flour, hamburger, bread, eggs, cleaning supplies," said Clarke. "I don't want to sound like a doomsdayer but there's so much uncertainty. I don't even think my warehouse could keep up on what they're out of because they could get a truck in ... it could be gone in 24 hours right now. They're limiting me more than I'm limiting my customers, by far, on what I can get."

While the employees at Family Dollar have been directed to only order the staples and abstain from luxury items, Valley Foods has been getting calls from untraditional suppliers.

"I'm getting calls from crazy suppliers, like one that does theaters. I looked, there wasn't really anything we needed that they had. Popcorn, candy, soda stuff," Clarke said.

Even restaurant suppliers have been calling Clarke as restaurants are forced to reduce their orders due to dine-in closures or complete closures. As of March 19, Clarke foresaw those calls only lasting a week as other grocery stores likely would get those same calls and take the suppliers up on their offers.

Along with the reduced items that both Valley Foods and Family Dollar receives comes reduced hours. On March 18, Valley Foods announced they would open later and close earlier. A day later, signs on the doors of Family Dollar also announced reduced hours. In both cases, part of the altered hours is to allow employees to clean and stock before opening or after closing.

Joshua Wood

Limits have been placed on certain items.

"Time to stock and clean, get ahead of the day a little better and, in the evening, I didn't want to be open later ... so I could be here more, from open to close if I can," said Clarke. "It was more so I could watch and keep a little better control of what's going on."

Things may seem dire to some at the moment, but Clarke's advice to his customers is the same as it was last week in that they should let him be concerned about what he can bring in and not be concerned about what they'll be able to buy.

"We might not have everything that everybody wants but we'll have something. We'll see what happens," Clarke said. "We have to make choices on what we're going to try and allocate our truck space to and sometimes those aren't easy choices."


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