The Wall Street Journal: Bare shelves at retailers amid crush of demand for sanitizer, cleaning supplies, dry goods

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Supermarkets and other retailers are preparing for a surge in demand and shoppers are stocking up on staple foods and cleaning supplies as more cases of the new coronavirus appear in the U.S.

For weeks, as the outbreak advanced mainly in China, retailers focused on maintaining supplies of products they procure from Asia such as tuna, mandarin oranges, garlic and face masks. Now grocers are working to prevent shortages and preparing for a rise in demand for disinfectants, hand sanitizer and long-lasting items such as pasta and canned food. Some are ramping up orders from suppliers.

“This is like a natural disaster, but it’s an illness,” said Doug Baker, vice president of industry relations at FMI, a trade group for food retailers.

Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. WBA, -1.04%   said it has seen greater demand for products including face masks and hand sanitizers at many stores and online. Home Depot Inc. HD, -3.07%   said it had halted online orders for face masks and was limiting purchases at its stores to 10 per customer.

Some sellers on the e-commerce sites of Inc. AMZN, -0.03%   and eBay Inc. EBAY, -0.69%   had set prices for masks and sanitizer well above levels that are typical for those products at U.S. stores and websites. One Amazon vendor advertised a 12-pack of 8-ounce bottles of Purell hand sanitizer for $129.90, or more than $12 per bottle. Another was selling a two-pack of 8-ounce Purell bottles for $41.95. Average unit price for U.S. hand sanitizers at the end of November was $2.06, according to data provider Nielsen.

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