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COVID-19: key food retail shifts

The past two weeks have been tumultuous. And in a growing number of markets, supermarkets have adopted an increasingly critical role, not least as governments have either requested or imposed a reduction of non-essential trips. Here we share some of the key trends and retailer responses to this exceptional time.

1. A major run on online grocery

The UK provides a classic case in point here. Online demand has surged, with delivery slots becoming much harder to come by and some, like Ocado, having to close their doors to new customers. Retailers in several markets however are looking to upgrade their online capacity where they can, with Morrisons for example boosting the number of stores able to service online deliveries.

Managing the websites in periods of high usage is a challenge for many – Ocado for example has asked its customers to try to do their shop in one visit, rather than frequently going back into the site to make changes, and to consolidate purchases with their neighbours where possible. To improve performance of the core website, Ocado has also switched off its app at this time, referring its app customers back to the core website.

2. Adapting to hoarding behaviours by consumers

Hamster buying, or panic buying, has been a key trend for retailers and manufacturers to contend with, rapidly rendering shelves empty of high demand lines. The uncertainty inspired by the pandemic, allied with the prospect of self-isolation has led many consumers to fill their store cupboards. Initially, particularly hard hit lines have included hand sanitiser and toilet roll, but also in many markets out of stocks have spread to a much wider range of goods. Ambient tinned grocery aisles have been severely impacted. So many retailers have firstly urged moderation on the part of their customers, and in some instances looked to limit the quantities of high demand items being bought by consumers. Wegmans in the US for example has introduced a maximum purchase level of two across a range of fresh, ambient and non-food items to ensure sufficient supply remains in place. More details of this can be found here.

3. Streamlining of services to focus on meeting core shopper needs

Across the board retailers are focusing on deploying core staff to stock shelves during exceptionally busy periods. In-store dining options in many stores have been severely pulled back. Whole Foods Market’s changes, across the US, Canada and the UK include:

· Temporary closure of hot bars, salad bars, soup bars and self-serve pizza

· Seated restaurant venues & taprooms will close for in-store dining and will offer takeout only

· Indoor and outdoor café seating will be temporarily unavailable

· Self-serve offerings will be closed in additional departments, including antipasti & olive bars, acai machines and poke bowls.

4. Food retailers look to make it easier for the more vulnerable

We’ve seen several initiatives around this, led by Woolworths, in Australia, setting up a dedicated time, from 7-8 every morning, reserved for elderly and more vulnerable shoppers. In Ireland, Tesco and Lidl have adopted similar strategies, with 9-11 every day reserved for these groups at Lidl, and 7-8 on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays reserved for these customers at Tesco. In some markets, such as Germany, trading hours have shifted (even with legal requirements on opening hours relaxed to enable more weekend opening).

5. Increased protection of staff, more focus on cleaning regimes and protective barriers introduced in some stores

Carrefour in France and Circle K in Latvia are two retailers who have looked to introduce barriers to distance employees from customers, and facilitate social distancing in-store. Selected stores, as well as pizza outlets such as Dodo Pizza, have introduced a variety of mechanisms to ensure customers can safely social distance when in-store.

This is a very live issue and this article is designed as a resource to help support retailers and food suppliers. If we've missed something, let us know, and get in touch if there are more initiatives you’ve seen that you want us to feature.


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