What happens when the shelves at your grocery store are empty?

July 25, 2014, 7:30 PM UTC
Empty Shelves At Market Basket
TEWKSBURY, MA - JULY 21: Carlos Ospina, of Lawrence, who has worked in the Market Basket warehouse for 25 years walks through aisles of empty produce at Market Basket in Tewksbury, Mass. on July 21, 2014. (Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe—Getty Images

One week after a company-wide employee dispute slammed the brakes on food deliveries, the shelves are looking pretty barren inside most of New England’s 70 or so Market Basket stores. Rather than shuffle past picket lines to contend with empty meat cases and dwindling produce bins, many of the region’s customers have been taking their business elsewhere.

Exactly how many customers have been going elsewhere is a question that’s begging to be answered, though of some of the area’s competing grocers are remaining rather tight-lipped on the matter.

Judi Palmer, spokeswoman for Stop & Shop’s New England division, declined to share specifics as to how the Market Basket situation was affecting the chain.

She noted, however, that Market Basket is “a main competitor” with a good portion of Stop & Shop stores scattered around Massachusetts. The chain no longer has stores in New Hampshire or Maine, but the Quincy, Mass.-based chain has more than 380 stores in New England. “Right now, we’re so just focusing on giving all our customers a great shopping experience,” Palmer said this week.

Jessica Stevens, spokeswoman for Target (TGT), likewise declined to comment on the Market Basket strife or whether an increase in demand led to stocking shortages in the region. There are nearly 40 Target locations in Massachusetts and nine in New Hampshire, according to the company website. The chain carries a variety of perishable and nonperishable grocery items.

Officials from other competing grocery chains, including Hannaford Supermarkets and Wal-Mart (WMT), did not respond to calls or emails sent this week.

But Jeffrey Gulko, spokesman for Shaw’s Supermarkets, said the past week has been a busy one for staff working in the company’s Massachusetts and New Hampshire locations.

“We’ve definitely seen an uptick in our sales, as well as the number of customers coming into those stores,” Gulko said on Friday. Company officials said the “most noticeable jump in sales” was this past Monday and Tuesday.

Shaw’s Supermarkets employs 18,500 workers around New England. The company has two distribution centers: one in Maine and one in Massachusetts.

“The sheer number of shipments being made to stores in those areas have definitely increased last week,” Gulko said, noting that the company has been successful in refilling shelves to meet consumer demands.

The national implications of the Market Basket upheaval remain uncertain.

“So far we haven’t heard much from any of the (competing) retailers in that area,” Laura Strange, spokeswoman for the Virginia-based National Grocers Association said on Friday.

In late June Market Basket’s board of directors set off an unanticipated chain reaction when they terminated beloved CEO Arthur T. Demoulas, replacing him with Co-CEOs: former Knowledge Universe CEO Felicia Thornton and former Radio Shack CEO James Gooch. Market Basket employees demonstrated their outrage this week by ceasing store deliveries, encouraging store boycotts and rallying en masse in shopping plazas.

The company has over 40 stores in Massachusetts, nearly 30 in New Hampshire and one in Maine. About 25,000 workers are employed with Market Basket.

On July 23, Demoulas made an offer to buy out his rivalling family members for an undisclosed sum in an effort to gain control of the company again.

“We care deeply about Market Basket and all our associates and we want to work together to return the company to its successful model for serving our loyal customers,” Demoulas said in a written statement issued the following day.

The company’s board was scheduled to meet Friday, though there’s no word yet as to whether or not Demoulas’ offer would be accepted. Meanwhile, upwards of 10,000 workers, many of them boarding buses from their respective Market Basket stores, attended a massive rally in Tewksbury, Mass. on Friday morning, backing up traffic for miles.

According to The Griffin Report of Food Marketing, the company is valued at $3.5 billion. Market Basket’s company revenues reportedly exceeded $4.6 billion last year.

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