Montana grocery stores hit hard by the impact of COVID-19

Posted at 8:22 AM, Mar 31, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-31 12:50:15-04

CUT BANK — As many grocery stores across the state face major shortages due to COVID-19 concerns, one store in Fort Benton has managed to rebound and restock after a temporary supply shortage.

As the only grocery store in Fort Benton, River Market, it is responsible for supplying the 1,400 people that live there. While major chain stores have suffered setbacks, owner Ted Kaste said River Market has managed to handle recent buying pressure.

“It just kind of caused a snowball effect. Initially with toilet paper and then that kinda turned into other areas of the store where people were trying to stock up for a couple weeks, you know, hearing about self-quarantine and all that, trying to be prepared,” Kaste said.

When store owners, like himself, all requested the same products, - like toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and disinfectants - warehouses and supply manufacturers struggled to meet their demands.

“Warehouses were having a lot of troubles initially just securing product all over and that trickled down to manufacturers,” Kaste said.

Local buyers weren’t the only contributors to the problem. As goods sold out in other cities across the state, residents from neighboring regions headed to Fort Benton to stock up.

“Actually, saw some traffic from Great Falls and Havre area people looking for products that they were not seeing on the shelves there, so it kinda added to our shortage problem,” Kaste said.

In no time, the store’s shelves were running short, “week before last was the high water mark here for the amount of store traffic and buying pressure,” Kaste said.

Fortunately, River Market’s lag in supply picked up in just a few week's time. “Starting this week off it seems like a normal traffic flow and people have kinda had some of those fears put to rest i think which will help us going forward.”

He owes the River Market’s rebound to good communication.

“Communication with distributors and...our supplier, has been really good. I mean on a daily basis they’re communicating with member stores-everything from product availability to how to keep our customers and employees safe,” Kaste said.

But good communication doesn’t stop at the chain of command. He also keeps in close contact with his customers, informing them when items go in and out of stock on Facebook.

He believes that communication is enough to assuage customer’s fears of supply shortages.

“We’re still receiving product. There's still product coming in and available. We’re not shutting our doors...You don’t have to be quite as concerned,” Kaste said.