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Hurricanes have prepared us for coronavirus

Southeastern Grocers CEO Anthony Hucker told CNBC on Thursday that his company’s experiences dealing with hurricanes are paying off during the coronavirus outbreak. 

“Unfortunately, we live in the footprint where there’s a lot of natural disasters,” Hucker said on “The Exchange.” “The supply chain is very, very robust, and we’re well-practiced in the muscle of disaster relief,” he added. 

Of the five states in which Southeastern Grocers has locations — Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi — just two have confirmed cases of coronavirus as of Thursday morning. There are four cases in Florida and two in Georgia, according to Johns Hopkins University data

A significant portion of the country’s at least 177 cases are concentrated in Washington and California. 

One similarity between hurricanes and the coronavirus is preparation time, Hucker said. There is typically a three-to-five day period to prepare for a hurricane, whereas the company projects a “five-to-seven day lag” with the coronavirus, he said. 

“We’re used to watching the algorithms, and when products are pulled at a faster rate, we can change those fields from our computer-generated ordering system to make sure that we’re serving our customers,” said Hucker, whose Jacksonville-based company is the parent of Bi-Lo and Winn-Dixie. 

Already, Hucker said, the company has seen an increase in business as concerns about the outbreak change consumer behavior, mirroring trends across the United States.

“We’ve seen an uplift in traffic and transactions across the whole store as people are eating out less,” he said. 

Hand sanitizer sales skyrocketed 619% across the U.S. during the week ending March 1, according to data from marketing firm Catalina.

The firm, which compared the sales of 33 products over the same period last year, also found that sales of disinfecting cleaners and wipes have more than doubled.

Hucker said Southeastern Grocers is experiencing increased sales for the same types of products. 

While pictures of empty shelves in stores across the U.S. have surfaced as a result of “panic buying,” Hucker was confident Southeastern Grocers could continue to navigate the coronavirus. 

“As we stand today, we’re fully in stock,” he said. 

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