Grocers are struggling to keep up with demand while hordes of people descend on their stores trying to stock up during the coronavirus pandemic.
In an effort to accommodate as many customers as possible, many stores have placed limits on how many high-demand items may be bought at once.
“We have put limits on purchases of a number of items in our stores,” said Schnuck Markets spokesman Paul Simon. Simon said. “They are multipurpose cleaner, paper towels, toilet paper, hand sanitizer, rubbing alcohol, disinfectant wipes, bread, eggs, diapers and baby wipes.”
He said Schnucks employees are trying their best to keep up with the onslaught of customers.
“Our employees are working very hard, very long hours so they can continue serving our customers,” Simon said. “I would describe them as unprecedentedly busy, almost like a snow scare every day.”
He said Schnucks is on a hiring push to deal with the situation.
“In the St. Louis area, we’re looking to hire about 500 people,” he said. “We’re hiring both temporary and permanent baggers, checkers and stockers.”
Simon said Schnucks also is working to keep people safe during the pandemic.
“We are educating our teammates on safe practices,” he said. “We offer hand sanitizer at each checkout for teammates and customers. We are posting signage in our stores encouraging customers to maintain social distancing in our stores and checkout lanes, specifically.”
In addition, the company is installing temporary Plexiglas panels at store checkout lanes, pharmacy counters and service counters as an “extra layer of protection.” Installation of those barriers is expected to be complete in all Schnucks stores by March 30, according to the company’s website.
People also are flocking to Dierbergs Markets, company spokeswoman Jamie Collins said.
“We’re definitely busier. It’s a pretty steady stream of customers coming to our stores throughout the day,” said Collins, the Dierbergs vice president of marketing.
As a result, Dierbergs also has put limits on a number of in-demand items, like eggs, bread, white milk, paper towels, toilet paper and cleaning and sanitizing products, Collins said.
Like other grocery stores, Dierbergs “is seeking to hire people to help keep up with customer demand,” Collins said. “We are hiring temporary employees. There certainly will be opportunities for some to become permanent jobs.”
Collins said she believes Dierbergs employees are holding up well under the demands brought on by increased numbers of shoppers.
“I would say, in general, our associates are absolute rock stars,” she said. “It’s really remarkable to see their energy and effort.”
Dierbergs also has taken a number of safety measures, like regularly sanitizing highly used areas and constructing Plexiglas partitions at the checkout stations. The partition installations were expected to be completed by Tuesday (March 24), according to the company’s website.
Save A Lot
Save a Lot stores also have been extraordinarily busy, said Reid Tuenge, senior vice president of retail operations.
“Our stores are being shopped hard, and our customers have been very understating while we restock,” Tuenge said. “We’re seeing high levels of customer demand across many categories, including disinfecting and cleaning supplies, paper products, water, nonperishables and frozen items. Given the high demand we’re experiencing, we do have temporary limits on some items and this may vary by store.”
He said Save a Lot has adopted additional sanitation routines, including “more frequent hand-washing and cleaning and disinfecting of frequently touched surfaces in our stores.
“We follow all CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommendations closely and have taken measures to ensure our teams have the tools they need, including hand sanitizer and latex gloves for team member use. We’ve implemented a social-distancing policy to direct customers to maintain a two-cart distance from other shoppers while in the store and at the checkout. We’re also exploring other options to keep teams safe, including Plexiglas screens at our checkouts.”
Tuenge said Save a Lot is hiring in many of its stores “in many different positions.”
He said Save a Lot employees also are dealing well under the daily pressure of increased demands of customers.
“I’m incredibly grateful and proud that our stores, retail partners, distribution and our suppliers are stepping up to continue to serve customers every day,” Tuenge said.
Grocers offer bonuses
The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 655 has announced that Schnucks, Dierbergs and Straubs will pay bonuses to employees who work during the coronavirus pandemic.
“My members working in the stores are working harder than ever before,” Local 655 president David Cook said in a March 25 press release. “The public is relying on their local grocery store to provide them with food and supplies at this critical juncture.
“Our largest employers, Schnucks, Dierbergs, and Straubs, have been working with us to expand benefits and make changes to the workplace to enhance their safety. The steps to increase compensation are greatly appreciated and absolutely deserved for these hard-working heroes.”
Cook said the store chains are implementing the bonuses in different ways.
"Schnucks bonuses will be determined by job classification and will be issued no later than April 1,” Cook said. “Dierbergs will calculate bonuses based on hours worked between March 16 and April 26. Dierbergs will pay a $2/hour premium on all hours worked under 40 per week, and $3/hour for hours worked in excess of 40 per week during that time, and will issue bonuses in May. Straubs, another St. Louis-based grocery chain, also just announced a $2/hour adjustment, but the full details are not yet available. This would impact all four Straubs locations, as well as Midtown IGA in St. Charles and Price Chopper in House Springs.”
Special hours for seniors, at-risk shoppers
Many stores are holding special shopping times exclusively for people 60 and older or those more at risk from serious illness due to the coronavirus.
At Schnucks, that special shopping time is held each day from 6 -7 a.m. The Schnucks in-store pharmacies also will serve at-risk customers only from 6-7 a.m. on Mondays and Thursdays.
At Dierbergs, 8-9 a.m. is reserved for at-risk shoppers.
Many Save A Lot stores have dedicated a priority shopping hour for at-risk customers and their caregivers. Please check your local store for participating times.
Target will serve those at-risk customers exclusively for the first hour the store is open on Wednesdays.
Walmart holds a one-hour shopping time for those special customers from 6-7 a.m. every Tuesday.
Delivery, pickup services
With public health officials asking people to limit contact with others, many local stores and other businesses are offering delivery or curbside pick up.
Using a smartphone makes it easy to place delivery and pickup orders from local stores.
Dierbergs customers may place orders to be delivered using the Shipt website or app.
To use Shipt, you must sign up for a membership, which costs $99 a year or $14 per month.
When using the services, orders of more than $35 are free for members, with smaller deliveries costing a $7 fee.
Schnucks customers may visit schnucksdelivers.com to place an order for pickup and delivery. Schnucks partners with Instacart to complete pickup and delivery orders. There is a member fee for Instacart.
Ordering pickup at Target is also simple with its app. You place items in your cart, check out, and then orders normally are ready from the selected store in about four hours. With the app, you can let Target workers know you are on your way to pick up your order and when you arrive, they’ll bring it to you.
The Walmart Grocery app allows for pickup and possibly delivery, depending on your location. You must order at least $30 of merchandise to use the pickup or delivery service.
If you use pickup at your Walmart, you order your items, reserve a time slot, and when your order is ready, you head to the store and park in a space with an orange sign. Then, a team member brings the order to your car.
When you use delivery at Walmart, you will receive a text when your items are en route and someone 18 or older will need to show an ID to receive the order.
People may also use apps to get deliveries from local restaurants.
Festus Pasta House owner Don Bolinger said customers have been using the DoorDash app to order delivery from his restaurant for about a year.
“It’s pretty simple,” he said. “If you have a smartphone, you just download the DoorDash app, and you sign up on the app. You select the restaurant you want to order from, you place your order, enter in your credit card information, and that automatically sends an order to us.”
Bolinger said there are fees associated with DoorDash, so when you order through the app, there are higher prices for menu items and delivery fees.
“If you use DoorDash, you're going to pay on average 20 percent more,” he said.
Bolinger said his restaurant also offers carry-out, as well as delivery service provided by Pasta House employees within a 10-mile radius of the store. That delivery service costs $5 an order.
He said there are lots of DoorDash delivery drivers in the area.
“It’s just like Uber,” Bolinger said.
Many other local restaurants now offer delivery and carry-out service. You may call individual restaurants to ask about services or check websites and social media pages.
According to the World Health Organization, it is safe to receive packages, even from an area where coronavirus has been reported. The WHO reports the likelihood of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is low.
However, health officials have recommended that people immediately dispose of packaging from their deliveries and then wash their hands, especially before eating.