KANSAS CITY, MO. - Across the US, retailers are dealing with an unprecedented event caused by the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). Even though COVID-19 is not a foodborne illness, it’s still important for grocery retailers to take extra precautions to relieve consumer concerns and help prevent the spread of the virus.
Over the weekend, many grocery retailers, wholesalers and suppliers came together under the direction of the White House to ensure American consumers have the food and supplies they need. Grocers around the country are bolstering their plans to keep stores safe and clean for shoppers.
Grocery retailers are enhancing cleaning and sanitizing practices in stores: more frequently sanitizing commonly used areas of the store including cashier stations, self-checkouts, food service counters, etc.; cleaning restrooms and restocking supplies more frequently; adding extra hand sanitizer stations; wiping down shopping carts, baskets and equipment; providing shoppers with disinfecting wipes; prohibiting food sampling and use of reusable containers; closing self-serve stations; and encouraging customers and employees to follow the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) suggested hygiene practices.
“To help maintain a clean and safe environment for you and our employees, we are intensifying cleaning practices at all of our stores, offices and warehouses,” Jason Hart, chief executive officer of Aldi, Batavia, Ill., said to customers. “We have dedicated more time to sanitization procedures, focused on the most common touch points.”
Many retailers have also instated travel bans for employees and are encouraging employees to stay home if they or someone in their households do not feel well. Retailers such as Kroger, Cincinnati; Whole Foods, Austin, Texas; Walmart, Bentonville, Ark.; and Trader Joes, Monrovia, Calif., are offering associates increased support like additional sick pay during this time.
“As the largest employer in the country, we take the health of our associates seriously,” Walmart said. “We shared with our associates details of a new policy that gives them additional flexibility to stay home if they are not feeling well, and pay options and support if they are affected by the virus.”
Many companies are encouraging customers to take advantage of pick-up and delivery services. For employees who are well and working diligently to ensure services and that stores are stocked and clean, Whole Foods is giving all associates an additional $2.00 an hour.
Companies such as Walmart, Trader Joes, Publix, Aldi and H-E-B, San Antonio, Texas are limiting store hours to allow associates additional time to sanitize and restock shelves. Because of the limited availability of items like toilet paper, hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies, many retailers are imposing limits on the number of items customers can purchase.
“We’re seeing a significant increase in demand on key products you need to keep you and your families safe,” Rick Keyes, president and CEO of Meijer, Grand Rapids, Mich., said to customers. “Our team members are working to address any inventory issues that arise as a result of this virus. We’re working to secure additional quantities of items that families need most at this time, and we appreciate your patience as we do our best to keep our shelves stocked for you and your families.”
Some companies are also designating specific times for shoppers who are members of the most at-risk populations—the elderly and disabled.
Northgate Gonzalez Market, Anaheim, Calif., is opening all its stores one hour earlier, limiting shopping to disabled individuals and those over the age of 65 from 7 to 8 a.m.
“We recognize the challenge facing seniors and other at-risk populations and we need to address them by providing them an opportunity to shop for essentials without fear or trepidation,” said Northgate Market co-president Miguel González. “Our customers and store associates’ safety are our number one concern.”