Life

Coronavirus Diaries: I Work at Trader Joe’s. It’s Nuts.

I’m pretty sure some customers have been shipping our products to China.

A crowded Trader Joe's, and the "Coronavirus Diaries" logo.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

Coronavirus Diaries is a series of dispatches exploring how the coronavirus is affecting people’s lives. For the latest public health information, please refer to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website. For Slate’s coronavirus coverage, click here.

This as-told-to essay from a Trader Joe’s employee in Southern California has been condensed and edited for clarity from an interview with Aaron Mak.

Our traffic has significantly increased. We’re selling much more of everything in the last week. Lots of people buy things like hand sanitizers by the dozens to resell in China. We’ve been selling out of items like soap and toilet paper. It’s been very hectic!

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We get [resellers] a lot year-round for certain products like our reusable bags and spices, but in particular it’s obvious when someone buys 60 hand sanitizers or 60 of one soap without buying anything else. We’ve even had a couple people admit to it, but we don’t allow them to purchase after they admit to it, since it’s against our policy.

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I’ve definitely noticed more irritated customers. I don’t really want to say anything bad about our customers, but on quite a few occasions someone will get upset about us running out of a product and be pretty aggressive about it. Plenty of customers casually talk about [the coronavirus] in regard to how scary it is, and plenty of them ask me to use hand sanitizers before ringing up their items. I’ve heard a few weird conspiracy theories from them as well—but none of them hold any weight. Just crazy stuff. That the government is invested in the populace being exposed and stuff like that.

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I would think things like canned goods and soups would go fast, but I haven’t noticed that to be true. Our jarred sauces for some reason almost completely sold out. And quite a bit of our frozen aisle as well, things like vegetables and frozen dinners. We have a couple items such as hand sanitizer that we limit the purchase amount on, but only if we notice before they get to the register do we do anything about it. We won’t refuse to sell it if we’ve already started ringing it up. We’re ordering way more of plenty of products, and many went out of stock for at least the next week as our warehouses got hit pretty hard by our larger orders.

Canned beans and bagged rice are always going to be great if you’re planning on staying in for an extended period of time. Our canned spaghetti is a great choice!

For more on the coronavirus and its impact, listen to a clip from this week’s Political Gabfest.

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