EXCLUSIVE: Grocers Not Ready for the Next Crisis, Survey Finds

Progressive Grocer readers say retailers need more emergency planning, training
Gina Acosta
Gina Acosta profile picture
This week marked two years since a gunman killed 10 people at a King Soopers in Boulder, Colo.

Most grocery retailers are ill-prepared for a disaster event even as the number of crises in the United States and in grocery stores is increasing.

According to a study of Progressive Grocer readers conducted earlier this year, a whopping 40% of grocery retailers said they have had at least one crisis or emergency incident in the past two years. Half of respondents also said that the threat climate in their store(s) is now higher than just five years ago.

[Read more" Shooting at Omaha Target Latest Example of In-Store Gun Violence"]

The majority of respondents (78%) said it is important for their organization to be prepared to respond to a crisis and for crisis communications with customers, employees and others in the community. But when asked how prepared their organization is to respond to a crisis (shooting, weather-related disaster, data breach/cybersecurity incident or health-related emergency), and to be able to communicate quickly and effectively with employees and the community, only 19% said they were very well-prepared. Around 32% said they were somewhat well-prepared, 21% said they don’t know, 23% said they are not very prepared, and 5% said they are not well-prepared at all.

“Attempting to develop a crisis communications plan in the middle of a crisis is akin to learning to swim when you’re drowning — trying to keep your head above water while your arms are flailing and praying that someone will come to the rescue before it’s too late.  If you’re lucky enough to survive, the result could wind up having lasting long-term effects on your company, its people and ultimately its reputation,” shared Judi Kletz, former P&G executive and industry communications leader for North America.

Nearly half of respondents (48%) also said their organization does not have a crisis communications plan currently in place for a range of crisis situations such as workplace violence, shootings, weather-related disasters, data breach/cybersecurity incidents or public health emergencies.

“At a time of increasing numbers of mass shootings across the nation; a widespread pandemic that affected customers, employees and supply chains; and natural disasters such as tornadoes, hurricanes, floods and wildfires, it’s not a question of whether a retail chain or one of its stores will be affected by a crisis, but when,” said Roger Lowe, a former CPG trade association executive and former communications leader for the American Red Cross. “This Progressive Grocer research shows that while nearly all the respondents agree that a crisis communications plan is important to reach customers, employees and others in the community, only about half are actually prepared with a plan.”

Before 2017, there was just one mass shooting at a grocery store in the United States, according to The Violence Project, a nonpartisan research center, and CNN. That was in 1999, when a man randomly killed four people at a Las Vegas Albertsons store.

In the last three years, however, shooters have killed five people at a kosher market in Jersey City, N.J.; two people at a Publix in Palm Beach, Fla.; 23 people at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas; 10 people at a King Soopers in Boulder, Colo.; 10 people at a Tops market in Buffalo, N.Y.; and six people at a Walmart in Virginia.

Since 2020, there have been about 500 shootings at major supermarket chains. Over the 2022 holidays, at least five people died in grocery store shootings. And in January, 52 people died from mass shootings in the United States.

This week, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis issued a statement in honor of the 10 lives lost at a King Soopers on March 22, 2021.

“The impact of this tragedy will always be with Colorado. As the rhythm of life continues and another year of birthdays, holidays, retirements, or graduations occurs, we keep those we’ve lost in this tragic shooting with us at every turn. With every celebration, new beginning, and difficult moment, they are in our hearts and minds. That is how we can honor the lives lost on that fateful day. We will always be ‘Boulder Strong.’”

But the types of emergencies increasingly affecting grocery retailers are not just limited to acts of violence. Grocers have to worry more about cyberattacks, hackers and deliberate power disruptions than ever before.

Last year, there were 163 reported attacks on the electric substations, according to the Department of Energy. The previous peak — 94 incidents — was in 2020. 

Over the last few months, at least nine substations have been attacked in North Carolina, Washington State and Oregon, cutting power to tens of thousands of people and many grocery stores.

Also Worth Reading