Grocers Continue to Respond to Coronavirus

Grocers Continue to Respond to Coronavirus
FreshDirect CEO David McInerney (dark shirt) and company employees pack food donations to go to NY Common Pantry

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of articles on how the COVID-19 outbreak is affecting the grocery retail and food industries.

As coronavirus cases continue to rise in the United States and citizens are advised to exercise caution in their daily interactions with others to stem the spread of the illness, grocers have attempted to allay fears by making public their policies with regard to COVID-19.

Among the latest supermarkets to do so were Lakewood, Colo.-based Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage Inc., Reading, Pa.-based Redner’s Markets, Boulder, Colo.-based Alfalfa's Market and Boise, Idaho-based Albertsons Cos., all of which chose to address customers directly.

Naural Grocers

After reminding shoppers that it was “recently rated as one of the cleanest grocery stores in America by Consumer Reports,” a press release attributed to Natural Grocers’ Isely family noted, “We are diligently focusing on these standards even more so until the coronavirus passes.”

The company’s actions include:

  • Even more time spent cleaning stores, including cleaning commonly used areas more often, such as checkout lanes, credit card terminals, conveyor belts and cleaning shelves when restocking. During every shopping cart collection, associates will clean shopping cart handles and the child-sitting area. Cashiers will be clean the handles of hand baskets prior to returning them to the hand basket area. Additionally, cleaning wipes and/or sprays will be provided for customers to use to clean their shopping carts or baskets. The company’s stores that don’t already have hand sanitizer at the store’s entrance will have it within two weeks.
  • Encouraging sick employees to stay home with paid sick leave via the company’s Paid Time Off (PTO) policy, whereby associates amass PTO banks that can be used to cover time away from work. Additionally, Natural Grocers will provide up to two weeks of paid leave to both full-time and part-time workers if they’re diagnosed with COVID-19 or are placed under mandatory quarantine by public health authorities. If an employee is unable to return to work after that, additional pay replacement may be provided for up to an additional 12 weeks under the company’s short-term disability benefit.
  • Providing all associates, at their discretion, with a daily packet of NOW effervescent vitamin C to help support their immune systems, and limiting travel to business-essential travel only.
  • Asking customers to purchase only necessary items and not to hoard products, so that “all people can find the products they need to support their health and the health of their families.”

Redner's Markets

Meanwhile, in an emailed letter to “Redner’s Guests & Team Members,” company President/CEO Ryan S. Redner laid out his chain’s approach to the situation: 

  • Increasing the frequency of cleaning schedules for bathrooms, checkouts, credit card terminals, all foodservice areas, shopping carts, and all door handles, among other places, with hand sanitizer dispensers and shopping cart/hand basket sanitizing wipes located at store entrances.
  • Suspending food sampling in stores and following best practices for all food handling and preparation.
  • Suspending operation of the salad bar, hot bar and other self-serve areas.
  • Reminding customers of the Shipt home shopping service available at most stores, through which groceries can be ordered online and delivered to a house in about an hour.
  • Encouraging shoppers to follow Centers for Disease Control-suggested hygiene practices.
  • Implementing contingency plans with suppliers, transportation and store teams which include coordination with product vendors and suppliers to ensure the availability of food and cleaning supplies.
  • Instructing all associates to stay home if they’re sick, and providing them with hand sanitizer and sanitizing soap to enable more frequent hand washing.

Alfalfa's Market

Alfalfa's measures were as follows:

  • Additional hand sanitizers and wipes placed throughout stores.
  • Cleaning and sanitizing of high-touch common areas every two hours
  • Close collaboration with foodservice teams to ensure they’re following all new protocols set by the health department
  • Working with vendors to ensure health and safety is a top priority, which means discontinuing its vendor sample program until further notice
  • Encouraging people who feel sick and/or have cold or flu-like symptoms to stay home.
  • Suspending large community meetings and business travel by Alfalfa's corporate staff in March.

The grocer also reminded customers of its online ordering service, which includes home grocery delivery.

Albertsons Banners

At Albertsons Cos., an email from CEO Vivek Sankaran informed shoppers what the grocer's banners were doing to reduce customers' and associates' risk of contracting and spreading the virus:

  • Increasing how often all departments, restrooms, and other high-touch points of the store, like checkstands and service counters are cleaned and disinfected, with cart wipes and hand sanitizer stations installed in key locations within the stores. 
  • Asking customers to respect quantity limits of select, high-demand items such as hand sanitizers and household cleaners.
  • Encouraging associates who feel ill to stay home, and requesting that customers consider using the company’s Grocery Delivery or Drive Up & Go services, which include “contact-free” procedures.
  • Revealing the existence of plans to keep stores and pharmacies open “to make sure we can serve you if your community becomes impacted in a significant way.”
  • Urging consumers to follow the CDC’s guidance on staying healthy, and offering its pharmacists as a resource to answer any health questions.

FreshDirect and Stop & shop

On the corporate responsibility front, pure-play online grocer FreshDirect plans over the next few weeks to “donate thousands of meals [and] deploy trucks and teams of employee volunteers to assist with the picking, packing and delivery of fresh food, to the East Harlem and Bronx NY Common Pantry centers,” as “part of an urgent effort to alleviate a shortage of volunteers as a result of cancellations due to the recent coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.”

“Every day, NY Common Pantry helps New Yorkers overcome the most basic fear and uncertainty — where will the next breakfast, or lunch, or dinner come from?” said David McInerney, CEO and co-founder of Bronx, N.Y.-based FreshDirect. “This incredible organization is a true unsung hero, whose heartwarming and selfless work continually improves the lives of countless New Yorkers. The coronavirus has introduced a new level of fear and uncertainty into our communities, and now due to this challenging and unprecedented situation, the very organization that has helped so many, is now in need of a helping hand. On behalf of the entire FreshDirect team, we are grateful for the opportunity to stand with our friend and partner and work together to fulfill their mission to reduce hunger and promote dignity, health and self-sufficiency for the populations they serve.”

Ahold Delhaize USA banner Stop & Shop, based in Quincy, Mass., similarly made an emergency delivery on March 13 of 33,000 pounds of food to HOPE Community Services, the largest food pantry and soup kitchen in New Rochelle, N.Y., located just outside the containment area in the community hit hardest by the coronavirus in the United States. HOPE will distribute the food to needy New Rochelle residents, including families and their children who attend now-closed New Rochelle schools and would ordinarily receive meals at school. The donation will also enable the organization to make deliveries to a half-dozen senior communities across New Rochelle. Although they're not under quarantine, many of the elderly residents are afraid to leave home to buy food because of their higher risk of getting ill.

The emergency shipment included peanut butter, rice, pasta, canned tuna, tomato sauce, shelf-stable milk, jelly, cereal, canned soup, canned vegetables, canned fruit, beans, and mac and cheese.

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