Márquez: ‘Try not to hoard products’
By Pedro Correa Henry
Special to The Star
As Puerto Rico residents experience rising anxiety due to the likely formation of a tropical depression that could gain strength before arriving in the lesser Lesser Antilles late next week, Chamber of Food Marketing, Industry and Distribution (MIDA by its Spanish acronym) executives on Sunday called for consumers to shop responsibly as supplies have been limited due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
On the one hand, MIDA Board of Directors President Ferdysac Márquez said supermarkets have prepared emergency plans for the hurricane season, such as having reserved supplies including water and other essential products. However, Márquez added that during the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, suppliers have received less merchandise and therefore have delivered less to supermarkets, making rationing necessary to preserve the flow of goods. For this reason, he said, consumers should not hoard products.
“I will use this interview to say something to consumers. We have merchandise available, [but] it’s not optimal for inventory, [so] try not to hoard products,” Márquez said. “As people go out unrestrained to hoard products, we definitely cannot hold a week in inventory.”
MIDA Vice President Manuel Pérez said that during the COVID-19 pandemic supermarkets are going through rough times as suppliers are not buying enough products and are only handing out 30-40 percent of the merchandise the markets need to fill their shelves. However, he said the island’s supermarkets hold a variety of products that can work as alternatives for other goods.
“To keep our customers calm, supermarkets have a variety of products that can substitute for other products that we are short on,” Pérez said. “And that’s how we should see our food supply chain in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico should not be starving. There are some products that will be limited [due to COVID-19], but others that can work as replacements and other alternatives that can meet your needs.”
Nonetheless, he called for people to prepare their inventory ahead of time for hurricane season. Pérez recommends that consumers have a reserve of essential and non-perishable products that lasts for 10 days in case of any climatic event. Likewise, he said consumers should not wait until the last minute to get ready, as they might find themselves without the opportunity to do so.
“Do not wait for the first hurricane warning to go running out to supply yourselves and then not be able to find what you need, instead of filling your inventory at home with time in advance,” Pérez said. “We’ll see how that goes and how people will react now, because, as Dr. Márquez said, when we get increased demands suddenly, we get an artificial shortage, which is very difficult for us to [resupply] swiftly. It will take as long as it takes for the chain to get merchandise back.”
The MIDA vice president also called for Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced to stop enforcing curfew hours against supermarkets, as such limitations on operating hours are bound to cause consumers to crowd into supermarkets, increasing the chances of turning them into COVID-19 hotspots, especially with a potential storm heading for the island.
“We have to scatter people, we have to disperse those sales so people have greater opportunities to shop, and not develop hotspots in our establishments,” Pérez said. “In a situation where a storm or a hurricane would affect Puerto Rico in the midst of COVID-19, it’s something that we have never experienced. And now, we are limiting people from going into our stores and we can’t have the dynamics from before where stores got packed and lines would start at the end of the establishment. That should not happen and we need everyone’s support, and we need for the government to not limit our hours of operation.”