West central Minnesota grocers handling demands like never before

Grocery stores in the region have seen sales at record levels as people stock up in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The unprecedented surge in demand has emptied shelves of some products and caused prices to rise on others. Grocers are working to protect their customers and employees and report that while some items will remain in tight supply, the overall supply chain is very much intact.

Teals Market employee Robert Hinderks restocks an empty shelf with flour Thursday morning at Teals Market in Spicer. Erica Dischino / West Central Tribune

WILLMAR — Tim Mattheisen likes to joke that he has a “few bags of groceries under this belt,” having started working at the Do-Mat's Family Foods store in Benson in June 1960 and becoming its owner on April 1, 1972.

“Nothing like this. Nothing even close to this. This is the wildest I’ve ever seen,” said Mattheisen of what the last few weeks in the store have been like. Sales have soared to record levels at grocery stores throughout west central Minnesota as people have stocked up in response to stay-at-home orders amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“A snowstorm on steroids” is how Brett Almich, of Almich’s Market in Granite Falls and Clara City, initially described the surge in sales.

Area stores report they are still seeing higher-than-normal sales volumes, but that some normalcy is returning. Yet none of those contacted by the West Central Tribune expect to see “normal” anytime soon.

“Sounds like it’s going to be dragging on for a little while,’’ Mattheisen said.


Shoppers emptied shelves of toilet paper and cleaning supplies in the first couple of weeks. The grocers reached by the West Central Tribune said it remains a challenge to keep these products on hand.

Tim Dittes, who operates the Montevideo Market , Don’s Food Pride in Appleton and Tim’s Food Pride in Dawson, said the stores were selling bath tissue by the single roll at one point. The sudden and continued demand for bath tissue surprised the grocers.

Dittes said it is easy to understand why cleaning supplies flew off the shelves. It remains hard to get some of them: He pointed out that suppliers are diverting a larger share of these products to hospitals and other care facilities.

Rice, flour, canned goods, potatoes and easy-to-keep rice and noodles packages are among the products that have been and remain the most in demand, according to the grocers. Lots of people are certainly baking at home through this all, according to Marilee Peterson, manager of Teal’s Market in Spicer. She said it’s become a challenge to get yeast at this point.

Local grocers said their suppliers have put limits on how much they can order. Chris Coborn, of Coborn’s Inc. , which operates Cash Wise Foods in Willmar, told the West Central Tribune via email that the “the situation is fluid each day with our supply chain.”

“Our supplier, transportation teams, and our employees are trying their best to ensure people can get what they need so they can stay at home,” stated Coborn.

“We make choices,’’ said Mattheisen of ordering when there are limits on quantities and the products that are available. He said he gives preference to ordering healthy foods. Surprisingly, it’s the availability of different snack foods that seems to vary the most week-to-week, he and other grocers reported.

There are signs that suppliers are catching up with demand in some areas. Mike Tersteeg, who on April 1 marked his eighth anniversary at B & D Market , Olivia, said his bread supplier recently told him that supplies are looking better.


Those who understand the economics of supply and demand also appreciate what has generated the most complaints heard by the grocers. Prices have risen for many items, eggs and meat in particular.

Almich said the price he pays for a dozen eggs has climbed by $1.30 in the past few weeks alone. It’s all a matter of supply and demand, he said.

Along with paying more for their products, stores are doing more. Coborn’s has decided to hire temporary clerk positions at the Willmar Cash Wise Foods store. Coborn said the decision was made to have the staff needed to meet the needs of customers in the coming week.

The owners of some stores told the West Central Tribune they have seen some employees resign due to their concerns about potential exposure to the COVID-19 virus from customers.

The store owners are well-aware that their jobs have become more demanding. Some of the store owners reported working consecutive days of anywhere from 14 to 18 hours during the shopping surge.

The demands on employees have grown too. “We keep the same staff but we just run a little faster,” Mattheisen said.

Employees at stores throughout the region are devoting more time than ever before to cleaning and disinfecting surfaces. Disinfectant wipes and gloves are available to customers at the stores.

Adding to the demand on staff, the stores are filling grocery orders and offering curbside and home deliveries more than ever before.


In Montevideo, the owners of the Millennium Theater , temporarily closed due to the pandemic, are delivering groceries for the Montevideo Market. Dittes said many of the deliveries go to the homes of seniors, but not all. There are also single parents who have a difficult time leaving their homes and people who have self-quarantined, he said.

In Granite Falls, Almich said he has been helped by volunteer shoppers who fill orders for seniors. To protect employees as well as shoppers, the store has installed glass shields at its checkouts.

He said the pandemic is bringing other changes he would never have expected. Some large companies are purposely reducing the range of products they offer. A major peanut butter brand recently informed the store it was only going to distribute one size jar and reduce its product line to two.

Many of the suppliers have also pulled back on the advertising and promotions they typically run, Almich added.

No one is hazarding a guess as to when things might return to normal. At Teal’s Market in Spicer, Peterson laughed and said that she will know things are back to normal when the trucks arrive with enough toilet paper to stay ahead of the demand.

While the grocers are seeing record sales levels now, they noted that they expect business to slow as the economic hurt of the pandemic is felt by more and more people.

Looking forward, they said their biggest worries aren’t for their own businesses, but for all of the restaurants and other small businesses that have been forced to close during this pandemic.

“I’m hoping and praying for them,” Almich said.


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