Shoppers reacting to the novel coronavirus pandemic and rushing to local H-E-B stores to stock up have found some shelves empty.

Those who have tried to order groceries via the H-E-B mobile app are having connectivity problems, and curbside customers are experiencing long lines for pickup.

But there is no cause for alarm, said H-E-B spokeswoman Julie Bedingfield. As shelves empty, they are being restocked within 24 hours or less. And 1,300 delivery trucks were on the road Friday providing stores with more products, she said.

“H-E-B has been preparing for this for months,” Bedingfield said. “We feel good about our supply chain. But we need to be able to get those shelves restocked. If you see something that’s empty, chances are it won’t be … six, 12 or 24 hours later.”

But photos of empty shelves at H-E-B stores shared on social media have incited some panic, as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the state has risen in recent days.

“We don’t want that imagery to spur you to go make a purchasing decision if you don’t need one at that time,” Bedingfield said. “When you see a photo of an empty shelf that may no longer be the case.”

To manage the inventory and make products available to all customers, the grocer has set purchase limits on some items, including disinfectants and water, and is updating the list of items on a regular basis.

“We need customers to remember that there’s no need to stock up … but [instead] make rational purchase decisions so that everyone can have access to the items they need,” Bedingfield said.

On an online message board, there are claims that some individuals are purchasing large volumes of items such as toilet paper and bottled water to resell at online sites – Craigslist, eBay, and others.

Walmart has also stated that it is replenishing store shelves, setting purchase limits, and will not tolerate price gouging by third-party sellers. 

At a press conference on Friday, in which Gov. Greg Abbott declared a state of emergency, he said the State is working with grocers and retailers, and there is “no need to go out and stockpile supplies,” as if a hurricane is approaching.

“Shelves will be replenished, and people will have access to the supplies they need,” Abbott said. “Hoarding is neither necessary [nor] productive.”

A message from the National Grocers Association stated that “supermarkets are on the front lines of emergency response” in preparing for an impending disaster, and the government is partnering with local retailers and wholesalers to coordinate response efforts.

It further states, “While emergency situations can be fluid, grocers make contingency plans ahead of time, which involves coordination with their many vendors throughout the supply chain, especially those that provide items people tend to stock up on, such as milk, eggs, bread, and water.”

H-E-B pharmacies are also offering free delivery of medications for customers who need it during this crisis, Bedingfield said.

If customers prefer not to use the free delivery service, they are being urged to use the drive-through to drop off prescriptions and pick up medications.

Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.