Businesses in hurricane's path feeling the impact
Milk, batteries and other supplies are flying off shelves as residents scramble to prepare for Sandy.
Residents throughout the East Coast, heeding government warnings, have been stocking up on provisions ahead of expected power outages that may linger for days. That was tough Monday because Wal-Mart (WMT), Target (TGT) and the Supervalu (SVU) supermarket chain had shuttered locations because of the weather. Also closed were many schools, government offices and the New York Stock Exchange.
Wal-Mart spokeswoman Dianna Gee told MSN Money that the retailer began preparing for the disaster last week by shipping goods that people might need, such as bottled water, batteries and ice chests, to its 10 emergency distribution centers.
"We have a lot of experience with disasters," Gee said, adding that some stores might run out of goods temporarily but will be restocked. "We ask for (the public's) patience."
Gee's comments were echoed by Target spokeswoman Jessica Deede. "In the week leading up to Hurricane Sandy, Target sent truckloads of essential products to stores and distribution centers in areas within the storm's path," she wrote in an email. "Now that the storm has begun, our focus is on the safety and well-being of our team members." The photo at right shows empty shelves Saturday at a Target store near Mt. Holly, N.J.
Not surprisingly, demand is up for batteries, and Energizer Holdings (ENR) is doing its best to keep up, according to Jacqueline Burwitz, the company's vice president for investor relations.
"There are undoubtedly retail stores that did not have sufficient inventories of our product to meet the unprecedented consumer demand (it is a 'once in 100 years' storm)," she said in an email. "There are no other reasons for shortages of our products, and we are doing everything we can to keep shelves full and product available."
As in most severe weather events, people are stockpiling milk, which presumably will go bad if the power goes out. HP Hood, the second-largest dairy company in the Northeast, has been ramping up production to meet increased demand, according to Lynne Bohan, a spokeswoman for the company, which also sells bottled water and juices.
"We began to experience an increase in orders in the Mid-Atlantic region as well as the Northeast region for milk, water and other products as early as last Friday in preparation for Hurricane Sandy," she wrote in an email to MSN Money. "We prepared for and expected that our production and order volume would increase due to consumers' and retailers' preparation for the storm."
The company -- whose brands include Rosenberger's, Penn Maid and Crowley -- has been providing "special orders" for its customers and has been "accommodating" other outlets that aren't regular customers.
Wawa, a convenience store chain that operates 602 locations New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, is "making every attempt to remain stocked and open for the community to provide the vital services our communities have come to rely on us for," spokeswoman Lori Bruce said in an email.
Hurricane Sandy has already reportedly damaged part of the Atlantic City Boardwalk. Many businesses in shore communities have boarded up their windows. Some local business owners were quoted in the local media as saying they were going to ride out the storm, which politicians such as New Jersey's Gov. Chris Christie have urged them not to do. Others, such as the staff of the Cape May County Zoo, will need to stick around in storm-safe buildings. Zoo employees have boarded up windows and moved animals into indoor enclosures, which annoyed some of them, according to assistant veterinarian Alex Ernst.
The arrival of Hurricane Sandy is filling millions of the East Coast residents with a sense of dread. The storm could pack winds as high as 70 mph, bringing with it severe flooding and widespread power outages. Experts are calling it historic.
"It's going to pack a punch," Accu-Weather meteorologist John Feerick said, noting that this will also mean a lot more work for weather forecasters. "Most people are more than happy to help out with the big storm."
Jonathan Berr is long Target. Follow him on Twitter @jdberr.
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