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put on hold, and our product assortment has flip-flopped from what it was to about 75 percent operational supplies and 25 percent merchandising product,” Chesney says. “We immediately shifted to supplies and PPE – Plexiglas shields, signage, floor decals, and so forth.”


Grocers have been wrestling with how to change self-serve deli and food bars to grab-and-go stations, for example. As reported by foodservice research and consulting firm Technomic, the top COVID-19 preventative measures being made by grocery stores include eliminating self-serve stations in favor of pre-packaged items. Even where self-serve stations remain, the process has changed to limit the risk of viral contact. Chesney says one customer set up a food bar with single-use tongs; after each customer selected items he or she wanted, tongs were cleaned and sanitized for future customers.


The changes happening at Hubert’s supermarket customers are being replicated across the industry. The Wasserstrom Co., based in Columbus, Ohio, supplies grocery stores with hot and cold food bars, but has seen its business shift over the past few months. “All that’s on hold now,” says president Brad Wasserstrom. “Supermarkets intend to get back to that but now they’re preparing a lot of pre-packaged food in the back of the house.”


The trend is likely to continue as long as pandemic fears remain. “Consumer in- store experiences will look very different, at least for the near-term future,” says Greg Ferrara, president of NGA, “so I expect pre-sliced meats and cheeses, which have been increasing in popularity, will likely remain the exclusive stand in for service deli counters for the time being. And with restrictions on large gatherings, grocers with catering businesses will need to find ways to replace or reinvent those services.”


As reported by foodservice research and consulting firm Technomic, the top COVID-19 preventative measures being made by grocery stores include eliminating self- serve stations in favor of pre- packaged items.


Retail grocers also had to quickly pivot from customers shopping in store to buying online for either in-store or curbside pickup, or delivery, for which many companies were unprepared. While restaurants that already had delivery infrastructure in place made the transition smoothly, many grocers had to beef up their online presence, hire personnel, and/or contract with services like Instacart. Stores had to figure out logistics like where to set up pickup areas, and also handle the flow of regular customers and pickers for online orders.


Looking Forward


Grocers now recognize that “contactless” shopping – ordering online and picking up at curbside or having it delivered – is here to stay. But they haven’t yet figured out how to make delivery, or even pick-up in some cases, profitable. And most haven’t


Summer 2020 25


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