The future of grocery stores post-pandemic

NOW: The future of grocery stores post-pandemic

MISHAWAKA, Ind. - After nearly 2 months of handwashing, mask-wearing, social distancing, and everything else that has come with the coronavirus, people just want to get back to normal, but what will that normal be?

ABC57’s is taking a closer look at that over the next four weeks. Part 1 looks at the future of the neighborhood grocery store.

As grocery stores around the country have adapted to this new normal of social distancing and safe sanitary practices, there has been a nationwide shift and reliance on pick-up and delivery grocery services.

However, what will these stores look like post-pandemic?

Will we continue to see these precautions in place?

Well, we set out to find those answers.

You could say Janet Williams knows her way around a grocery store. She’s been shopping her whole life, but now, “there’s a lot fewer items on the shelf,” she said.

Her traditional trip to the store is about to change.

Grocery stores around the country are being forced to adjust to a new consumer market where more people are buying in bulk

“Almost all the butter’s gone,” Joshua Swartz said after his weekly shopping trip at Kroger. “That’s all out especially here, it’s empty.”

“The demand just went up so dramatically that it's been a challenge to keep things on the shelves,” Eric Halvorson, the Kroger spokesperson said.

Kroger’s pickup and delivery services aren’t doing much better either.

“A month ago before all of this began, you might be able to place an order at noon and pick up a Kroger pickup order curbside a couple of hours later on the way home now it's likely to be several days,” Halvorson said.

And the shopping experience has changed too. You see more face masks, gloves, plexiglass dividers, and social distancing markers.

“They’re sanitizing the cars, pre-staging the carts,” Swartz said.

“The conveyor belts to check out cleaning the carts washing hands more it's just several steps beyond what we would normally do,” Halvorson said.

What was normal is now in the past.

But will life go back to what it was before the pandemic? Or will there be a complete reworking of the entire retail grocery industry?

Well, Joe Lackey, the President of the Indiana Grocery and Convenience Store Association says there will be change.

“You're going to see a really a reorganization, I think of the whole industry,” Lackey said. “It's going to take time, it's not going to happen overnight. And the consumer will ultimately decide it.”

So what does this mean?

“We think people are going to still want to keep distancing,” Lackey said.

In the past, shopping was more than just a chore.

“Some people, going to the grocery store is getting out of the house,” Swartz said.

Claudia Pardo, a partner at Innosight, an innovation consulting firm that works with grocery stores across the world, says that thinking is expected to change.

“For many customers…. they will continue to prefer the convenience of having either something delivered in their home or going and doing click and collect,” Pardo said.

“So we think there's going to be there's going to be a transition,” Lackey said.

With more people doing their grocery shopping using pickup and delivery options as well as e-commerce through sites like Amazon, experts are saying the future of grocery shopping is not in these big supermarket stores but instead through your phone.

“That means you're going to need maybe less space in the grocery stores in the future. Maybe they don't have to be 200,000 square foot, you know, like some of the big box stores,” Lackey said.

He said that besides the downsizing of grocery stores, there will also likely be fewer products on the shelves.

“As far as on the shelves in the store, you're going to see probably fewer varieties of the same product. You know, we don't need 15 different sizes of Coke,” he said.

But the need is still there, even if it is for smaller mom and pop grocery stores.

“So everybody has to look for something which has created this opportunity for the small grocers to actually become the heroes and be able to help and, and deliver to new clients,” Pardo said.

Now, where does that leave big supermarkets? Pardo says they will be adapting too.

“So I think the questions of our clients are that, like, how do I innovate? How do I, what other business models can I come up with to meet where consumers are going in the limited time that I have, and by the way, in a profitable way,” she said.

As more SNAP benefits are handed out Lackey says grocery stores will become even more popular as time goes on.

However, time will only tell what happens to the grocery store industry since it is really all up to what consumers are going to do.

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