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Severe Winter Batters Food Retailers

Severe Winter Batters Food Retailers
Empty bins at a San Antonio Target illustrate the severity of winter this week in Texas.

As if the pandemic and mass vaccination efforts were not enough for food retailers in early 2021, now comes the impacts of extraordinarily frigid and snowy weather across many parts of the country.

The situation seems most acute in Texas, where residents, emergency services and the power grid were largely left flat-footed by the extreme dip in temperatures and other winter problems.

Reports from the state said that some Texas grocery stores were limiting hours as employees dealt with protecting their own homes, product selection dwindled and power and water supplies remained uncertain. H-E-B reportedly is among the food retailers limiting hours.

“While we are experiencing power and water issues just like our customers, we are doing everything we can to feed Texans as safely and efficiently as possible,” a H-E-B spokesperson told Houston Culture Map, a local online information source. With limited water, our stores are presented with additional challenges. We are doing our best to get product into the stores and on the shelves, and product availability is on a store-by-store basis. Stores will remain open with modified hours, as they are able.”

Kroger reportedly also closed some Texas stores — though the retailer told local news sources is plans to donate water to Texas residents in the coming days.

Another grocer has already announced a similar initiative. Natural Grocers is offering free water in its Texas stores. The water is from its stores' reverse osmosis water filtration machines. Free water will be available through Feb. 23. It seems all but certain that in the coming days and weeks, more food retailers will announce their own efforts to help their communities recover from the storm — much as grocery operators have donated to food banks and taken other steps to ease the burdens of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, some retailers are offering consumers what amounts to holistic look at storm impacts via technology and e-commerce sites. For instance, Walmart operates a digital page dedicated to “Winter Storm Facility Status,” an offering that includes maps and specific store closings. As of early Thursday afternoon, Walmart said that 202 of its stores and warehouse clubs were closed, most of them in Texas and other parts of the South being hammered by this deadly winter weather.

Walmart’s Emergency Operations Center monitors winter storms and other potential disasters in real time,” the retailer said. “We assess the status of our facilities and will continue to operate as long as it is safe to do so. We pay close attention and follow local and/or state guidance.”

The importance of retailers keeping track of winter weather — and crafting appropriate responses — was driven home late last year via a National Retail Federation interview with Evan Gold, EVP of global partnerships and alliances for business weather intelligence firm Planalytics. Gold has more than 20 years' experience in retail and wholesale, working at Macy’s and LakeWest Group before joining Berwyn, Pennsylvania-based Planalytics in 2005. He spoke with Washington, D.C.-based NRF about the ways weather impacts retail and the supply chain, and the discussion serves as a reminder that a virus isn’t the only wildcard that retailer face this year.

One message?

In the longer term, retailers and consumer will turn to technology to deal with climate variations, especially when it comes to supply-chain issues.

“The customer has more access to information at their fingertips and the ability to shop whenever they want,” Gold said. “As the weather becomes more volatile, the shopper is shopping based on need. If you layer in weather and can have an idea of what they’re going to buy, or do more prescriptive analytics, and be able to market and advertise into that, they’re more likely to buy from your brand.”

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