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Grocery Stores Have a Surprising Shortage of This Important Thing

It's not just food that's in short supply these days.

Expect to hear these three words a lot more often at the grocery store checkout line: "exact change only."

The long arm of the coronavirus pandemic hasn't simply affected the supply of meat, produce and seafood these days. There is now a growing concern of a coin shortage as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.

According to reporting by the Detroit Free Press, the shortage is very real, and many grocers have resorted to simply rounding up or down on amounts owed in order to limit the total number of coins being exchanged.

It all begs the question: Why? Well, the supply chain and circulation patterns for coins have been "significantly disrupted" by the coronavirus pandemic, according to a statement from the Federal Reserve. Banks that typically provide boxes of rolled coins for this very purpose are very low in supply.

Constance Nobis, director of Retail Market Operations at Comerica Bank, told the Detroit Free Press that her bank is limiting what it gives to customers because its supply from the Fed has been cut by 90 percent. "It's a supply chain issue," Nobis said. "Normally there's a lot of recycling. Customers bring in coin to the bank, we ship it to the Fed, and we fill our order out for customers."

However, in the last few months, the "coin deposits from depository institutions to the Federal Reserve have declined significantly, and the U.S. Mint's production of coin also decreased due to measures put in place to protect its employees," the government explained. "Federal Reserve coin orders from depository institutions have begun to increase as regions reopen, resulting in the Federal Reserve's coin inventory being reduced to below-normal levels."

As a result, grocery stores and supermarkets are having to come up with new solutions to an unexpected problem. The Midwest-based grocery chain Meijer has stopped taking cash altogether at its self-scan lanes due to the coin shortage, requiring all shoppers to use debit or credit cards instead. Others are simply rounding to the nearest quarter or total-dollar value. So don't be surprised if you're at the grocery store and your bill is $45.78, but your cashier asks for $45.75 to limit the coins that need to be exchanged.

For what it's worth, it's a problem that extends to other types of retailers, as well. "Our ability to purchase coins from the Fed has been significantly impacted," Mike Wallace, President of Retail at Star Bank told the local news outlet WANE-15. And for more great grocery shopping advice, make sure you're up to speed on The Single Worst Thing You Can Ask at the Grocery Store Right Now.


Eat This, Not That! is constantly monitoring the latest food news as it relates to COVID-19 in order to keep you healthy, safe, and informed (and answer your most urgent questions). Here are the precautions you should be taking at the grocery store, the foods you should have on hand, the meal delivery services and restaurant chains offering takeout you need to know about, and ways you can help support those in need. We will continue to update these as new information develops. Click here for all of our COVID-19 coverage, and sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date.
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