The New Grocery Retail Reality

by | July 12, 2021

As the COVID vaccination rate nears 50% in the United States and the last of the emergency orders lifted, consumers have returned to something resembling normal. Throughout the pandemic, grocery and convenience store workers have braved the frontlines. And now that we’re entering the “new normal,” what does that mean for grocery retail?

The six new realities of grocery retail

  1. Masks: Stores still require unvaccinated shoppers to wear masks. There have been difficult situations where customers still push back on this policy, despite the emergence of the deadly Delta variant.
  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 continues. The employees who once offered samples have pivoted to 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 while 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. However, many still lack the technology to manage – and fulfill – online orders safely and effectively.
  6. Safety: Most stores have added plexiglass at checkout counters to protect workers, and the CDC’s recommendation to use every other checkout lane to support social distancing remains 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 the immunocompromised. It’s usually the first hour of the day, and frequency can vary.

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.

In the early days of the pandemic, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu banned reusable bags and ordered all grocery and retail stores to transition to single-use paper or plastic bags temporarily.

“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 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. And as businesses start reopening, a lingering labor shortage has forced many retail outlets to bump up salaries even further to keep and attract reluctant workers.

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 to navigate the continuing COVID-19 threat and emerge stronger.

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