Panicked shoppers storm grocery stores ‘It looks like it’s the end of the world’
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Some likened the frenzy in grocery stores across Winnipeg Tuesday to the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic or the end of the world. Instead, shoppers were preparing for a major snowstorm.
“Today’s crazy,” said Anna George, a customer at the Real Canadian Superstore on McPhillips Street Tuesday morning.
She was waiting for a self-checkout station. In front and behind her, a row of people were doing the same (and fencing off the produce).
Across from George, a line for cashiers snaked past the tills and across the bakery section, took a hard right and ended near the dairy fridges by the store’s back corner.
“I just needed milk and a few things for the kids,” George said. “If I knew it was like (this), I wouldn’t even (have come)… It looks like it’s the end of the world.”
Environment Canada said Manitoba will face a snowstorm of historic proportions beginning Tuesday night. So, many Manitobans took to grocery shopping for the upcoming snow days and Easter holidays, and, by the looks of several carts, the next few weeks.
“I just needed milk and a few things for the kids… If I knew it was like (this), I wouldn’t even (have come)… It looks like it’s the end of the world.” – Anna George, customer
Some McPhillips Superstore customers had two, three, five jugs of two per cent milk in their carts. At 10 a.m., the shop was down to one jug of whole milk and another of chocolate.
Stores across the city were reporting low or sold out dairy supplies.
John Allen, a Tuesday morning shopper, was not disturbed by Superstore’s line. Costco Wholesale’s was longer Monday night, he said.
“It was nuts,” Allen said. “You didn’t know where the end was. Somehow I kind of got in the middle of the line without even knowing it.”
Allen was picking up goods for his Saturday Easter dinner, and for his mother.
“I figured why come Thursday when it’s even going to be crazier?” Allen said. “There’s possibly a snowstorm, and it’s closer to Easter and Good Friday.”
The bustle of Superstore — packed parking lots, Winnipeggers helping each other navigate lines via finger points and verbal directions — did not extend to all grocers in the area.
Jaclyn Javier was finishing her Good Friday meatless meal prep at FreshCo on Jefferson Avenue Tuesday. She wasn’t able to find everything at a nearby Costco or Superstore Monday. Those line-ups were extensive, she said.
“I don’t have to compete for one item (here),” she said. “Superstore was pretty competitive. The grapes, they’re all picked at, so everybody was trying to go for that one that wasn’t damaged.”
The Superstore on McPhillips had a limit on how many bottled water packs customers could take. Loblaws brand spring water was on sale for $1.89, with a limit of two flats per buyer.
“I feel like people are panic buying all over again,” Javier said.
It wasn’t the case for Sandy Motheral, also at FreshCo.
“Extra milk, extra bread, just stuff to make a sandwich if there’s no power,” she said of her grocery list.
Motheral experienced the April blizzard of 1997, which dumped 48 cm of snow over the course of a weekend in Winnipeg. Motheral said she’s ready for this round: she has books and a new board game.
“You just stay warm, eat what doesn’t need to be cooked if your power goes out,” she said.
Most customers are not hoarding, according to Munther Zeid, Food Fare’s owner.
“The majority are buying what they need for an extra day — an extra package of chicken, a little bit of extra vegetables,” Zeid said. “This is a two, three day thing.”
Still, Zeid didn’t expect the flood of people coming to shop.
“It’s insane,” he said. “This is reminding me of the start of COVID.”
‘It’s insane. This is reminding me of the start of COVID’– Munther Zeid, Food Fare’s owner
Shoppers reported bare shelves and long lines throughout Winnipeg Monday and Tuesday. Grocers have been dealing with supply chain snarls for months.
Police directed traffic outside Costco on St. James Street like they do during holiday rushes.
Some out of town producers, like Granny’s Poultry in Blumenort, have alerted Zeid they might bring product in early to avoid the storm. It’s happened a few times throughout the blizzard-filled winter, Zeid said.
The storm is forecasted to last in Winnipeg until Friday morning. It has “the potential to be the worst blizzard in decades,” according to an alert from Environment Canada.
Gabby is a big fan of people, writing and learning. She graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in the spring of 2020.