How grocery stores are changing to meet need, protect workers and customers

Big-name grocers are enacting numerous measures to protect customers and employees from COVID-19.

All major names with a local presence said they are conducting even more rigorous cleaning procedures at cashier stations, self-checkouts, credit card terminals, food service counters and shelves. Each also said they would provide additional support for drive-up and order pickup services.

Kroger, Walmart and ALDI announced this week that they will erect plexiglass “sneeze guard” partitions at checkout areas and self-check areas. Kroger, Walmart, ALDI and Meijer said they’ll install floor decals to promote physical distancing at checklanes and other counters.

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Cincinnati-based Kroger also said it will permit its employees to wear masks and gloves at work to protect themselves from the virus.

“There is a national shortage of personal protective equipment like this, and we fully support America’s health care workers having first priority to obtain the equipment they need,” said Kroger spokeswoman Erin Rolfes. “We are advocating to government officials at all levels for help securing a priority place in line for all grocery workers — after health care workers — to have access to protective masks and gloves.”

Walmart has found a new solution to help associates clean carts quicker and more thoroughly, according to Dacona Smith, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Walmart U.S.

“That solution is the Hart brand two gallon sprayer kits Walmart sells in stores to sanitize the entire shopping cart,” Smith wrote in a blog post Tuesday. “For stores that don’t have this sprayer, we plan to start shipping them out this week.”

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Grocers are individually putting their own protocols into place that work best in their stores as a result of being "responsible, essential business," according to Kristin Mullins, president and CEO of the Ohio Grocers Association, a Springfield-based non-profit trade association representing approximately 400 grocers, wholesalers, brokers and associate members.

“We understand that we’re right behind the health care industry,” she said. “We’re kind of on that front line and people need to make sure they can come get their food, so we want them to be able to do that as safely as possible.”

Mullins, who started with OGA 30 years ago, said she can think of no other time where the industry faced such a challenge.

“There have been intiatives the industry has gotten behind like recycling and environmental things, just different things that have come up through the years, but to compare it to what’s going on now, there really, truly is no comparison,” she said.

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Major grocery chains also reduced round-the-clock or extended hours to provide employees additional time for cleaning and restocking. They also saved certain times for older and at-risk customers to shop.

Kroger reduced hours to 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. and announced last week that customers 60 years old and older and at-risk customers could shop between 7 to 8 a.m., each store’s first hour of operation on Monday through Thursday, to avoid larger crowds.

Meijer has reduced hours to 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily and reserved 7 to 8 a.m. Mondays and Wednesdays for essential service workers and Meijer team members. It has set aside 7 to 8 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays for senior citizens and customers with chronic health conditions.

Target cut store hours by one hour closing at 9 p.m. instead of 10 p.m. It said last week it would reserve the first hour of shopping each Wednesday for vulnerable guests. On Monday, it started allowing store and distribution center team members to shop an hour before stores open every Monday, Friday and Saturday.

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ALDI said it will open at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays and reserve the first hour of business for vulnerable shoppers, including senior citizens, expectant mothers and those with underlying health concerns.

Kroger, Walmart, Meijer and ALDI also said they would hiring tens of thousands of new employees to help keep stores open and operating smoothly during the pandemic.

Kroger has enacted Emergency Leave Guidelines, allowing existing employees to take up to 14 days off with standard pay if diagnosed with COVID-19, placed under mandatory quarantine, or self-isolating as a result of COVID-19 exposure and for those with “symptoms as verified by an accredited health care professional.”

For those affected by COVID-19, the organization has also made available additional resources through the Kroger Family of Companies Helping Hands fund to provide financial assistance to associates who face hardship due to COVID-19, including lack of access to childcare and for those considered higher-risk, officials said.

ALDI said it recently implemented temporary wage increases for those who work in our stores and warehouses to offer extra support during this challenging time. It also adjusted its sick leave policy to ensure employees can put their health first and stay home when they aren’t feeling well.

Target said it has raised its pay by $2 an hour for its store and distribution center hourly full-time and part-time team members until at least May 2. In addition, the company is offering a new option for team members who are 65 or older, pregnant or those with underlying medical conditions to access paid leave.

Target also is making back-up care available for all U.S. team members by waiving eligibility requirements, copays and other program details to ensure team members with caregiving needs can take care of their families during this time.

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