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While foodservice faces uncertainty, retail is all hands on deck

mollie stone’s on-the-spot hiring
San Francisco-based Mollie Stone’s Market posted this on its Facebook page on March 17.

Two weeks ago, grocers were equating consumer stock-ups to Thanksgiving every day. Over the week, panic buying became something else.

Retailers across the country instituted shortened operating hours as consumers lined up to stock up as the country braces itself for home quarantines due to coronavirus/COVID-19.

President Trump held a press conference with retail leaders, including Walmart CEO Doug McMillon, on March 13. McMillon and others urged consumers not to hoard.

Photos of empty shelves shared widely across social media fueled the panic.

Many instituted limits to items like toilet paper, hand sanitizer, bleach, and dry groceries like pasta, flour, and canned goods.

Faced with unprecedented demand and hours-long waits, grocers stepped up. The CEO of Stater Bros., Pete Van Helden, was even out bagging groceries.

Most grocery social media, from public-facing accounts like Twitter and Facebook, to the more business-minded LinkedIn, have notices about hiring. Mollie Stone’s in San Francisco’s post even says they’re hiring “on the spot.”

Whole Foods and Amazon have enacted a temporary wage hike, giving hourly employees an additional $2 per hour through the end of April.

It’s all hands on deck.

Foodservice Uncertainty

But for foodservice, the situation is uncertain.

With the Centers for Disease Control recommending consumers practice “social distancing” and not gather in crowds more than 50 to slow the spread of the virus, local and state officials across the country are closing bars and restaurants to dine-in customers.

Schools across the country also are on extended spring breaks, though many are continuing their feeding programs on a drive-through basis.

United Fresh has established a closed LinkedIn Group with the purpose of creating a business-to-business forum for sharing ideas and solutions, including shifting foodservice volume to retail.

Some are opening their doors to consumers, like Piazza Produce in Indianapolis. On March 18, the company started taking orders from the public, available for drive-through pick-up and shifted deliveries to Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.

“Spread the word to your family, friends and fellow businesses,” the company said in a Facebook post. “We are locked and loaded with all the goods and are ready to help feed our people.”

Meal kits, too, could see a resurgence as well. HelloFresh and Blue Apron issued blanket notices to customers in their systems assuring them of continued service.

“Rest assured that we’re working with our network of professional couriers to ensure your no-contact deliveries stay dependable and consistent,” said HelloFresh CEO Uwe Voss, in a statement. “In times like these having access to fresh food is more important than ever.”


Pamela Riemenschneider is the Retail Editor for Blue Book Services.