Moshe Gutvirtz, a 68-year old physiotherapist, went online Wednesday to order food and vegetables from the Victory supermarket chain in Israel. After he painstakingly entered his long list of items and proceeded to payment, he got a message saying there were no online deliveries at all.
“That was the most frustrating part of all,” Gutvirtz said in phone conversation with The Times of Israel, that the bad news came only after he had spent time placing his order.
Gutvirtz started using supermarkets’ online service three weeks ago, as the country shut down and people were told to stay home because of the spread of the coronavirus that has killed thousands globally. Whenhe ordered from Shufersal, another supermarket chain, it took 10 days until he got his delivery.
“I started ordering online because of the situation,” he said. “Now I’ll just go out and buy the stuff myself.”
Shelves are being stripped bare of toilet paper, hand sanitizer and surgical masks everywhere from Japan to France to the United States as panic buying crisscrosses the globe along with the coronavirus, disrupting supply chains and defying repeated calls for calm.
In Israel, supermarket chains have seen an increase of dozens of percentage points in sales, primarily of disinfectants, hygiene products and food with a long shelf life such as canned goods, cereal, pasta, rice, flour and mineral water.
This demand for food has been compounded by the upcoming festival of Passover, when Jewish families gather to celebrate the Exodus of the People of Israel from Egypt. This year, Israel has instructed that the traditional Seder be conducted only at home with no guests to fight the spread of the virus. But the shopping frenzy continues.
Because of the coronavirus, “we have seen online orders jump five or even six times more than in regular times,” said Rami Levy, the CEO and founder of the Rami Levy Hashikma Marketing 2006 supermarket chain, in a phone interview. “People are afraid to leave their homes, and we have a logistic problem.”
The chains are struggling to collect and package all of the orders, he said. Delivery times are around 10-14 days, he said.
This reporter entered the online ordering site of the Shufersal supermarket chain and was informed that deliveries to her home in north Tel Aviv would only take place 21 days later, on April 22 and 23, well after Passover, which begins the evening of April 8.
“Because of unprecedented record demand, in light of recent events, some of the areas are seeing a delay in delivery windows of a number of days. We are doing our utmost to increase the scope of our operations, including recruiting over 2,000 workers to the firm, and training tens of additional branches to operate online,” Shufersal said in a text message.
The firm’s workers are operating around the clock, the text message said, “to meet the demand of our customers in these days and extend our service as much as we can.”
Levy, the CEO of the Rami Levy chain, said that his chain is formulating a solution: offering customers a pre-set basket of 57 items, that will be prepared ahead of time and can be delivered within 72 hours from the time of the order.
“We are starting tomorrow,” he said. Deliveries will be chik-chak, he promised, using the Hebrew slang for “speedy.”
The list of products was compiled together with the Ministry of Economy and Industry, and the basket costs NIS 767 ($214). It includes, among others item, a six-pack of mineral water, one kilogram chopped meat, sweet Kiddush wine, red wine, kosher-for-Passover crackers, one kilo chicken thighs and two kilos of drumsticks, one kilo salmon fillet, hummus, cheeses, matzah (the unleavened bread used for Passover), rice, vegetables, coffee, tuna and eggs.
There is apparently no separate list for Ashkenazi consumers who don’t eat legumes on Passover.
Shufersal, too, is preparing a fixed basket of Passover products for customers, a spokeswoman for the chain said in a text message. The chain will offer customers a “quick and limited basket of products” that can be ordered online, so that delivery services can be expanded.
The basket, which will contain a variety of products that is “significantly smaller” than can be found in the stores, will be available for delivery within a week of ordering, the text said. No other details, such as price or contents, were forthcoming.
Both Shufersal and Rami Levy said the shortages customers have been complaining about — including eggs and other staples — are temporary, and empty shelves fill up again.
Ofer Levy, a 43-year old owner of a grocery store in north Tel Aviv, told The Times of Israel that he is seeing a surge of customers as more and more people are frustrated by the long delivery times of the bigger supermarket stores.
He also complained about the shortages, but said it was always temporary.
“There is a shortage of eggs, of course, and vinegar and flour,” he said. “I also forecast a shortage of matza and matza meal too.”
But within a few days the supply resumes, he said. “We try to do what we can to get our hands on the products.”