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Local grocery store keeping up with coronavirus panic buying

Last Updated Mar 29, 2020 at 8:04 pm EDT

Like grocers nationwide, Fiesta Farms in Toronto is trying to keep its shelves stocked in the age of coronavirus.

Co-owner Dean Virgona and his team have been working long hours to cope with such intense buying — even the store’s accountant is on the floor restocking.

“We’re definitely feeling the demand, there’s no doubt about it,” Virgona says.

Apocalyptic scenes at grocery stores – like empty shelves and crowded aisles – have become symbolic of our strange, new pandemic reality.

But at Fiesta Farms on Christie Street, just north of Bloor, the produce aisles brim with colourful fruits and vegetables and the freezers tend to stay full.

Manager Kendra Sozinho says that’s because what they offer is “localism.”

“Shopping locally or having local products might actually benefit us,” she says.

Fiesta Farms is one of the city’s largest independently-owned grocery stores, emphasizing locally farmed products on the kind of scale that might become critical in the coming months, if our borders were to close to trade and commerce – which experts say is unlikely.

But workers at Fiesta Farms are struggling with more than just surging demand. Despite having fully-stocked shelves, they’ve still found themselves battling the perception, spurred by panic buying, that we won’t have enough to eat.

As long as farmers can keep farming and truckers can keep driving, experts have said the supply chain will remain strong.

The Ontario Food Terminal in Etobicoke says it will keep fruits and vegetables moving to its network of local grocers.

“Local access means fewer individuals taking public transit or congregating at larger grocery retailers,” the terminal says on its website, “reducing the risk of spreading COVID-19 in public spaces.”

Not long after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, Virgona started seeing spikes in shopping at his store. He says they’ve been selling at least 40 per cent more food per day.

To give employees more time to restock and get more rest, Fiesta Farms has reduced store hours. The current frenzy also has the store rethinking replenishment strategies.

On a regular basis, Virgona says they know how much of a particular product to stock based on what they sell during a certain period of time.

“Now when people are cleaning out your whole shelf, you really have no idea what to order. You just order as much as you can get.”

Deliveries are being made every day, says Sozinho, but food is still not getting on the shelves fast enough because of how quickly people are grabbing it.

As this cycle continues, Sozinho is assuring customers they have enough supply to go around.

“Nobody needs to panic,” she says. “If it’s not there today, it’ll be there tomorrow,” adds Virgona.

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