3 Ways Retailers Can Prepare for Natural Disasters

Advance planning can mitigate impacts during and after storms, earthquakes, fires and more
Panic-Buying in Grocery Store Main Image
When any natural disaster is on the way, whether it’s a storm or a fire, people panic-buy and over-shop for all kinds of products.

With hurricane season officially beginning on June 1, those of us in Florida and other coastal states are already preparing for a potential major storm. Natural disasters can happen all over the United States, however. Earthquakes, tornadoes, forest fires, landslides and catastrophic storms all have the potential to cause power outages, supply chain breakdowns, panic-stricken customers and empty grocery store shelves.

Food retailers and manufacturers can’t completely avoid the impacts of natural disasters. They can plan ahead, however, with the aim of reducing their negative effects and returning to normal as soon as possible after the event.

[Read more: "How Grocery Retailers Can Learn to Thrive in the Face of Change"]

Based on my experience of helping food retailers and manufacturers work through the challenges of natural disasters – including Hurricane Ian, which caused devastation in parts of Florida last September – here are a few tips for how retailers can prepare for the unavoidable.

1. Make Emergency Kits Easy to Assemble

Anywhere a natural disaster may hit, news media and government officials urge residents to be prepared by buying items for their emergency supply kits in advance.

Because disasters often cause power outages, shoppers are eager to buy accessible, shelf-stable foods. These include items like jerky, crackers, canned food, baby food and bottled water. Residents also need to buy nonfood items like batteries, can openers, and paper plates and other disposal table settings.

It’s smart for retailers to have plenty of inventory of the items that people typically buy when preparing for a natural disaster, and to make it easy for customers to find these products in the store.

For example, retailers can organize their stores to streamline shoppers’ disaster preparation. This could mean setting up specialized displays at the front of the store or creating product clusters on shelves featuring items for an emergency kit. By grouping items that a shopper may not think about needing – like water filters, feminine products and matches – retailers can facilitate a smoother experience at a potentially stressful time.

2. Prepare for Panic-Buying and Supply Chain Challenges

As a Southeast grocery broker, we see first-hand that retailers run out of many hurricane kit items when a storm is approaching. When any natural disaster is on the way, whether it’s a storm or a fire, people panic-buy and over-shop for all kinds of products.

Besides panic buying, supply chain challenges due to power outages and infrastructure damage after a disaster pose additional problems with keeping grocery store shelves stocked. If manufacturers can’t get trucks delivered to stores in their normal cadence because of road closures, stores can’t refill that pipeline as quickly.

To help address these issues, retailers and manufacturers should work together to develop disaster preparedness plans. These plans should include how manufacturers might be able to handle larger orders or earlier delivery times on short notice to retailers preparing for a disaster.

Retailers can also work with manufacturers in advance to determine whether the manufacturer can be flexible with logistics and able to react quickly to an emergency, which will help the retailer before and after a disaster strikes.

3. Rely on Your Partners for Guidance and Assistance

An experienced regional retail food broker should have a deep understanding of local needs and shopping patterns. This can make it a great resource for the retailers they serve, as well as manufacturers outside the region that may not fully understand natural disasters common to the area and their potential impacts.

In the case of a natural disaster, a good broker partner can provide support to manufacturers and retailers to get residents the food and goods they need. This could include helping with communication and coordination between manufacturers and retail partners. It could also include providing assistance with logistics, such as identifying alternative means of transportation or helping reroute distributors to avoid clustering and bottlenecks on the road.

Including all partners in disaster preparedness planning, including manufacturer and broker partners, can make for a stronger, more focused effort before and after a disaster that helps retailers best serve their customers during life’s most challenging and unpredictable times.

About the Author

Chris Chatterton

Chris Chatterton is a food industry professional with more than 12 years of experience in account sales, management and operations. He is EVP of Bay Food Brokerage, a regional retail food brokerage business based in Tampa, Fla. Chatterton can be reached at 813-287-1446 and [email protected].
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