The past few weeks have brought a lot of change and uncertainty for our state. The Hawaii Food Industry Association (HFIA) represents our state’s food and beverage industry, including manufacturers, shippers, suppliers, distributors, retailers and others. Our member companies want to reassure everyone that the supply chains we rely on to bring food and other essential items into our state are strong.
Many of our customers have seen empty shelves at their stores recently; this is the result of drastic increases in purchasing of certain items and is not the result of any changes to the supply chain. Across our islands, and indeed across the world, the production, manufacturing, shipping, distribution, and stocking of food and other essential items continue. Food and essential items continue to be grown and made, both here and on the mainland.
HFIA’s shipping members, Matson, Pasha and Young Brothers, have all assured us that any rumors of port closures or shipping interruptions are completely false, and that shipping to and between the islands continues. Par Hawaii has confirmed that fuel manufacturing and distribution in our state are ongoing. Food retailers are essential businesses that will remain open to serve our community.
Businesses are sanitizing and taking extra precautions to keep employees and customers safe. Many food retailers are now offering special “seniors hours” just for seniors to shop more safely. HFIA and our members are communicating with government officials to ensure that food businesses such as grocery stores, convenience stores, food suppliers, producers, packagers, and all businesses involved in feeding people are recognized as essential services.
We want to be sure that new restrictions on gatherings and other advised safety measures do not inadvertently impact the process of getting food and essential items to you. We want to emphasize that there is no need for consumers to hoard food or other supplies. There is every reason to be confident that our supply chain will continue to do an excellent job of fulfilling the needs of consumers in this state.
As we all work together to get through this situation safely, please be mindful that grocery store employees are putting themselves in danger by restocking and helping you purchase and bag your groceries. Please be mindful of your own hygiene, the hygiene of your bags, and the general need for appropriate physical distancing when in a grocery store. If you feel sick, please do not shop at a grocery store. Please ask healthy friends and family to shop at the grocery store for you or use a grocery delivery service.
We know that the coronavirus will have a range of negative impacts for many of Hawaii’s residents, both health- and finance-related. Retailers are partnering with local growers who have seen devastating losses in purchasing as a result of decreased demand from the hospitality and restaurant industries. Please help us support local farmers by purchasing local produce at your grocery store.
If you are a restaurant, service or tourism worker that has been displaced, please check HFIA’s Facebook posts at facebook.com/hawaiifoodindustryassociation/ for job offerings by retailers that are hiring additional drivers and store workers.
We encourage those who can, to continue to support the Hawaii Food Bank and the other food banks across our islands. HFIA is working with the state Department of Agriculture, Ulupono Initiative and the Hawaii Food Bank to ensure that those in need have access to local produce, a benefit to struggling farmers and those in need.
We understand that consumers are concerned about having access to the food and goods they need as this situation progresses. The members of HFIA have always taken great pride in feeding our state; we want to reassure you that — now more than ever — we are committed to our customers and to continuing to make sure you have what you need.
Lauren Zirbel is executive director of the Hawaii Food Industry Association.