By Catherine Muccigrosso
(Courtesy: Charlotte Observer)
Some North Carolina beer and wine distributors are lending a hand to help stock grocery and food pantry shelves amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s a difficult time in the supply chain to get products to stores,” said Tim Kent, executive director of NC Beer & Wine Wholesalers Association. “What we can do is provide trucks and commercial drivers to help get products to the stores.”
Since Gov. Roy Cooper’s stay-at-home order went into effect March 17, distributors lost about a quarter of their business that normally delivers to restaurants and bars, Kent said.
“So we have available personnel and equipment right now,” he said.
N.C. Beer & Wine Wholesalers, based in Raleigh, represents 25 companies delivering beer, wine and non-alcohol to grocery stores, convenience stores, restaurants, bars and pharmacies.
Kent said seven companies, including Tryon Distributing and Empire Distributors of North Carolina in Charlotte, are helping in the volunteer effort.
Brad Johnston, president and owner of Tryon Distributing, said, “It’s the right thing to do and everyone wants to help.”
He said with restaurants closed, he has about six trucks out of 45 that are not being used because of the COVID-19 crisis. “Anything I can do to help, I’ve got the people and vehicles,” Johnston said.
The Charlotte-based company started 35 years ago with three people and has grown into a statewide distributor with 270 employees. Johnston said his company is lucky and has already received a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan. He did not disclose the amount.
“We are losing a bunch of money but we are so much more fortunate than a lot of other businesses,” he said. “I feel for my restaurant customers and I’m good friends with many of them. It breaks my heart.”
So far, distributors have helped make Salisbury-based Food Lion store deliveries and Standard Distributors in Gastonia delivered food from grocers and restaurants to Second Harvest Food Bank in Charlotte, Kent said.
The idea came from a similar effort Kent heard of in Texas.
He reached out to the NC Retail Merchants Association president and general counsel Andy Ellen. That nonprofit has about 2,500 members representing 25,000 stores from big box to small retailers.
Ellen said the two groups have worked together in the past to help the supply chain during hurricanes, for example, moving supplies like water and generators to impacted areas.
He said even without COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, there’s a shortage of commercial drivers.
“Certainly, the supply chain, while strong, has been strained,” Ellen said. “So loaning drivers and trucks helps move the supply chain in a predictable fashion.”
Ellen’s group works to help identify the grocery stores with distribution centers in North Carolina and where they can help. He said they also are working with agriculture and deliveries sold to schools to move food into grocery stores, as well as other supply shortages like cleaning products.
“I’ve got drivers willing to help anyone having distribution difficulties,” Kent said. “These are extraordinary times that require extraordinary measures.”