While 2020 was a devastating year in most areas, lockdown restrictions and consumers’ changing financial situations actually posed an opportunity for grocery stores to gain back their share of food spending from the restaurant industry. Kroger experienced record-high new customers, Target saw great success from its food products and grocery delivery programs, Instacart’s valuation soared to $39 billion and Grocery Outlet saw a net sales increase of 23 percent and a net income increase of 147 percent, per the discount grocer’s earnings report.
For Publix Super Markets, Inc., the pandemic grew sales to $44.9 billion, up nearly 18 percent year over year, according to Supermarket News. In its annual report, Publix reflected, “There has been a trend for traditional supermarkets to lose market share to nontraditional competitors. The company’s ability to attract and retain customers is based primarily on quality of goods and service, price, convenience, product mix and store location.”
Grocers Mull Mask Mandates Amid Changing Local Restrictions
Texas and Mississippi are rolling back many of their COVID restrictions, which includes removing mask mandates, placing the onus on grocery stores to determine their own mask-wearing policies. According to Grocery Dive, some supermarket chains in Texas, including H-E-B and Brookshire Brothers, will request that customers wear face coverings, but will not require it, though they will mandate employees to mask up. Kroger will require everyone — shoppers and employees alike — to cover their faces, while Albertsons will mandate masks for employees but will allow shoppers to do as they please.
“To ensure the continued safety of our customers and associates, The Kroger Family of Companies will continue to require everyone in our stores across the country to wear masks until all our frontline grocery associates can receive the COVID-19 vaccine,” a Kroger spokesperson said in a statement emailed to TODAY regarding its policy in both states.
It appears that the decision, at least in Texas, was made without consulting workers. As Lacy Wolf, president of the Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation, wrote in the union’s statement on the decision, “As far as we know, no unions or worker advocates were consulted before today’s decision was made. If the governor had asked, we would have strongly urged him to reconsider, because we know firsthand how important the mask mandate is to our brothers and sisters on the frontlines of the pandemic.”
Walmart Canada’s First Fully Automated Store
As Amazon opens its first cashierless food store in London, Walmart is also automating abroad with its “first fully automated market fulfillment center” in Canada, per a company blog post. The chain has already been testing similar technologies in the States with its robot-staffed local fulfillment centers. Now, the new Canadian automated fulfillment center will “automate online grocery picking and dispensing, with picking speeds up to six times faster than manual store picking.”
To shop from this fulfillment center, customers will place their orders online, drive up to the designated order pickup parking spot, input their assigned code and receive their orders. The center is expected to open later this year.
“We are on a journey to be the No. 1 eCommerce retailer in Canada,” Horacio Barbeito, president and CEO of Walmart Canada, said in the post. “Our customers want the choice of service, and we see the demand for online shopping continuing. We are ramping up our eCommerce offering with a focus on speed, accuracy and service.”
Walmart Canada is also rolling out grocery delivery options throughout the country, working with more third-party order fulfillment services to expand its options, and extending grocery pickup options to 85 percent of Walmart Canada stores.
Hy-Vee’s In-Store Nail Salons
The store-in-store concept continues to grow in popularity, with Kohl’s and Target announcing their own in-store shops in the last several months, and with in-store pharmacies and cafes now familiar to even the most casual shopper. On Wednesday (March 3), supermarket chain Hy-Vee announced its own store-in-store partnership, a line of nail salons by The W Nail Bar at select locations.
“Through our partnership with The W Nail Bar, we are revolutionizing the way customers shop in our stores by bringing engaging, experiential and convenient services to our customers,” Hy-Vee’s chairman, CEO and President Randy Edeker said in the announcement. “We are proud to launch this partnership with a company that shares many of the same goals that we do at Hy-Vee, including innovative offerings and exceptional customer service.”
It seems a somewhat counterintuitive choice to launch a concept that relies on shoppers spending more time in stores, while COVID-19 concerns continue to be top-of-mind for many consumers. The salons will, however, include Plexiglass dividers and contactless payment options, and will operate at 50 percent capacity until virus-related concerns subside. The release stated that several of these in-store salons will open by the end of the year.