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Power Grid Attacks the Latest Emergency for Grocers

Recent blackouts in North Carolina demonstrate retailers’ willingness to help and the need for contingency plans
Lynn Petrak, Progressive Grocer
ice bags
Grocers in Moore Co., N.C., handed out ice and water and provided hot foods and power chargers for personal devices.

The events of the past few years – the startling pandemic, supply chain backlogs, natural disasters and more – have sharpened grocers’ ability to pivot when the going unexpectedly gets tough. That’s what happened after Dec. 4, when retailers in Moore County, N.C., faced a local crisis in the form of a targeted attack on electrical substations that sapped power to the area.

Following gunshot damage that crippled the substation and caused widespread, multi-day outages impacting more than 35,000 utility customers, local grocers had to contend with keeping their own operations running while still meeting the needs of their customers and employees. Fortunately (or unfortunately), store leaders have become adept at quickly making needed adjustments and reaching out to others.

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For example, the store and facilities teams at two Lowes Foods locations in Pinehurst and Southern Pines secured products and shifted to generator power to keep their doors open the morning after the outage. “It was truly a heroic effort with a lot of sleepless nights. We were also able to secure power for our fuel station in Southern Pines, which was a big need of the community. Our supplier, MDI, scheduled daily deliveries (some days more) to keep product coming to the stores,” reported Kelly Davis, senior director of guest engagement for Lowes Foods.

As they kept their own doors open, grocers in the Moore County area also got to work providing residents with essentials as they dealt with blackouts. Food Lion gave away several truckloads of water to area residents and donated $30,000 in gift cards to the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina to be distributed through six local agencies.  

“Caring for our neighbors is core to everything we do at Food Lion,” said Food Lion President Meg Ham. “We know it’s a stressful time, and we hope this donation will help provide comfort and critical resources at a time when our neighbors really need it.”

The director of the Sandhills branch of the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina welcomed the assistance. “The donation of gift cards to our partner agencies will be very beneficial as our community begins to restock its food supply after this horrific attack on the Moore County power system,” said Michael Cotten. “Many of our agencies and community partners have lost everything in their refrigerators and freezers.”

Harris Teeter also sprang into action, handing out 16,000 bags of ice from its stores in the towns of Pinehurst, Carthage and Aberdeen. The grocer also provided free water to community members.  Lowes Foods, for its part, helped residents by sending out more $10 coupons, working with charitable groups to give away discounted gift cards and offering assistance to the Red Cross. 

Several social media posts in the wake of the outages shared the message that hot food was available at Lowes Foods and Harris Teeter locations. Customers could also find power to charge their devices at local supermarkets.

Having action plans in place proved pivotal in meeting community needs during the unusual event. "Our crisis plans that we use during a hurricane helped us to immediately send products to the store that are in high demand during a power outage.  It also helped us to mobilize refrigerated trailers, dry ice, generators, and extra teams to keep product safe and get the store up and running as soon as possible," noted Davis. 

Although the electricity in Moore County has been restored, there have been other attacks on electrical substations in recent days and weeks. Over the Thanksgiving holiday, someone targeted substations in Oregon's Clackamas County. Similar vandalism occurred at two substations in the state of Washington. The FBI and other law enforcement agencies are investigating the incidents.

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