THE coronavirus has caused people to go back to basics, shopping for staple items like potatoes, pasta and rice that can be stored for much longer than many other fresh produce items.
The pandemic has also served to remind customers that independent stores are still open for business where you are able to buy all of their necessities, whilst supporting a local business.
There was an initial ‘panic buy’ from consumers at the beginning stages of Covid-19 but that has all settled and retailers are reporting full shelves.
This week, the Donegal News, spoke to three local supermarket owners with stores in Raphoe, Gortahork, Falcarragh, Carrigart and Dunfanaghy where, thankfully, the news is largely positive.
The drop in foot traffic and a reluctance to go out has left some shops quieter than normal but demand for groceries continues to be high with home deliveries and online shopping helping to fill the void.
Sean Boyce runs three Centra stores in Falcarragh, Carrigart and Dunfanaghy.
They have three vans on the road and they’re all being kept busy.
“Volume is up and we really appreciate the business. We’ve been here for nearly a hundred years and would like to think we’ll be in business for another hundred,” Mr Boyce said.
“All round we’re very busy doing home deliveries throughout the parishes we serve. We’re steady taking phone orders and making up deliveries. It’s a new way of doing business but it’s also a necessary way of shopping. Many people are cocooned in their houses and for various reasons many others are not coming out of their homes and we’re delivering to their doors. We’ve vans on the road in the three towns,” he said.
Phone orders are normally taken in the morning and deliveries are made each afternoon although they do try to accommodate any late orders where possible.
“Our foot fall is well down but the home deliveries are well up. People are ordering in the staple items – potatoes, fruit and veg and dairy products but there’s not too much impulse buying and there’s less chocolates, sweets and snacks being sold,” he said.
Magazines, newspapers and ice-cream are other items which have seen a dip in sales while no one is ringing up looking for a sausage roll from the deli section.
“Your typical front of store impulse buys are not being ordered and it’s a matter of rearranging our priorities within the stores. We started the home delivery service from day one and put it out there on Facebook. Anyone that needs stuff delivered we’re there to provide that service,” Mr Boyce said.
Edward Coyle’s father Paddy Joe opened the Centra supermarket in Raphoe in 1971 and PJ continues to be a font of knowledge for his son to tap into on occasion.
“Dad’s not allowed out of the house these days but he’s of the old generation and has lived through it all before but, as he would say himself, the customer is always right. He can remember back to when there was sugar rationing and he helps keep me right,” Edward Coyle said.
Coyle’s have seen a marked increase in foot fall since the coronavirus started with local people incorporating a visit to the shop as part of their daily exercise routine.
“Others are availing of home delivery and they’re very grateful of the extra that we can give that maybe the bigger supermarkets can’t. We’ve had to employ two extra members of staff to keep up with the demand.
“Covid has affected us all. We’ve had to change our work practices for the protection of customers and staff alike but we’ve seen a surge in business. More and more people are choosing to shop with us,” he said.
“Hopefully, they’re seeing the value and service that they can get in Raphoe and they’ll continue to come into us when all this is over,” he added.
Three members of staff have been redeployed in recent weeks to focus purely on the home delivery service. They take orders, do the shopping and make the deliveries – all in the same day.
“We’ve been asked for some items which we wouldn’t normally stock but we’re trying our best, and succeeding, in meeting customers requirements. For example, we’ve seen a surge in the sale of gluten free flour for baking bread for celiacs.
“We’re mindful that when all this is over it’s important that these customers continue to shop with us,” he said.
There has also been a marked increase in the sale of flour in McClafferty’s in Gortahork although fuel sales have taken a significant hit with less and less cars on the road.
“We already had a home delivery service in place but that’s been really ramped up in recent weeks,” Thomas McClafferty explained.
“We’re looking to launch an online service in the next few weeks where people can shop online and tick the necessary boxes. We’ll then deliver the goods or they can come and collect them as we’ve a substantial car park,” he added.
McClafferty’s have noticed a huge increase in the sale of staple foods like potatoes, flour and pasta.
“There’s a lot of home cooking going on. People are spending a lot more time cooking dinners, breads and cakes while pasta is also a big seller,” he said.
“In the agricultural side of our business we’re seeing a big rise in the sale of potato and onion seeds. People are getting back out into the garden and planting more and they’re looking for fresh produce. We have a local supplier of organic vegetables and he’s been kept very busy. This whole virus has got people thinking about how we have been living.
“We’re doing okay. We’re all living in tough times. The sale of fuel is down but we’re grateful to be even working,” he added.
The business has been in operation for twenty three years and earlier this year they installed solar panels and got rid of plastic bags in a bid to be more environmentally friendly.
“It’s a big world out there but when it comes down to it you’re on your own. It’s a bit like business. The sooner we’re out of this the better. I want to see everyone back working. Easter will be tough his year and there won’t be may people travelling but we’ll keep the head down and see where it takes us,” he said.
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