Women wearing mask in retail store

The Grocery Retail Reality During COVID-19

Annie Wissner
June 7, 2020

On-Demand Webinar: Grocery and Private Label Retail Survival Tips

Watch Recording

On-Demand Webinar: Grocery and Private Label Retail Survival Tips

While demand for food remains high, retailers and brand owners must prepare for an uncertain future. Watch this recorded webinar to learn how to source faster and speed up new product development

Watch Recording

As stay-at-home orders lift and summer heats up, Americans now  weigh the risks as they work, run errands, and travel.

Throughout the pandemic, grocery store workers have been on the frontlines. Now that we’re entering the “new normal,” what does that mean for food retail?

This question hits close to home. My sister is a pricing manager at a grocery store. As I’ve been working from home while keeping my kids educated and entertained, she’s been an essential worker, venturing out five days a week to face the general public.

The Six Realities of Grocery Retail During COVID-19:

  1. Masks: Stores still require shoppers to wear masks, and there have been difficult situations where customers push back on this policy. 

  2. Limits: There are “limit” signs everywhere that rely on the honor system, but when people take more than they’re allowed, employees must ignore it and not pull items from customers’ carts. 

  3. Sanitation: The cleaning never ends. The employees who offered samples before the pandemic have become full-time sanitation workers, wrapping donuts individually and sanitizing every utensil in the deli on the hour.

  4. Six Feet Apart: There are signs everywhere reminding people to remain six feet apart, including markers on the floor indicating where to stand when waiting to check out. Yet, there’s plenty of awkward moments when people require reminders or argue about social distancing.

  5. Curbside: Curbside and online orders, which were minimal before, are now a priority, and stores are still adapting. Many still lack the technology to manage orders effectively.

  6. Safety: Plexiglass has been added at checkout to protect workers, and the CDC’s recommendation to use every other checkout lane to support social distancing is in place.

How are Governments and Retailers Navigating the Threat?

Most grocery and pharmacy stores – from Walgreens to Whole Foods – have set aside special shopping hours for seniors, their caregivers, and others at increased risk for infection. It’s usually the first hour of the day and the frequency varies.

In a move that would have been shocking last year, lawmakers across the country have taken steps to usher plastic bags back into stores and ban reusable bags temporarily.

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu banned reusable bags and ordered all grocery and retail stores to temporarily transition to single-use paper or plastic bags.

“With identified community transmission, it’s important that shoppers keep their reusable bags at home given the potential risk to baggers, grocers, and customers,” Sununu said.

Several national and global retailers initially bumped up worker pay by $2 to $3 an hour for a limited time. The temporary pay boosts came about as retailers like Target, Walmart, CVS, and Domino’s strove to meet higher consumer demand by increasing work incentives. With pay increases over or ending, workers balance the risk of exposure with the increased pay and benefits.

While demand for food remains high, grocery retailers and store brand owners must prepare for an uncertain future. Check out our On-Demand Webinar “Grocery and Private Label Retail Supply Chain Survival Tips” for insight on what retailers can do now to navigate the COVID-19 threat and emerge stronger.


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