Grocery Retailers Prepare for Thanksgiving During Covid-19

The Lempert Report
November 19, 2020

Thanksgiving is just exactly one week from today, and grocery retailers are scurrying to make the most of what for many years has been one of their busiest days. The question is just how they do it with social distancing and decreased occupancy limits in the stores.

No doubt many grocers, and restaurants for that matter, are recommending a Thanksgiving prepared meal for takeout, that is customized to the number of people you’ll be feeding – since most of the Turkeys that are out there are 22 lbs and way too big for this years celebration and to have it delivered or pick up at curbside. The reality is that with so many restaurants either shit down or having to serve outdoors, which won’t be that comfortable in the upper half of the nation, grocers are expecting even more traffic as people will be eating more Thanksgiving dinners at home this year – even if the number of people around the table is smaller.

A survey published yesterday by Numerator found that among turkey buyers 51% plan to celebrate Thanksgiving only with their household member. More than 8 in 10 (85%) will still buy Thanksgiving groceries in-store this year, and 15% plan to buy online (12% order online/pick up in store, 3% order online for delivery). Among Millenial and Gen Z just over one-third plan to celebrate Thanksgiving with only their household members and 9% plan to buy a whole turkey for the first time, and 7% are hosting Thanksgiving for the first time.

Chicago may well be taking the strongest measures. The Chicago Tribune is reporting that as surging COVID-19 cases collide with Thanksgiving food shopping, the city warns of a crackdown on crowds at grocery stores.

Chicago goes into lockdown on Monday; as a result people moved up their supermarket shopping and the result is that there are lines of people waiting outside in the 40 degree weather to get into the stores.

Chicago is taking this very seriously as its Mayor Lori Lightfoot is warning businesses including supermarkets that they will face fines and potentially be shut down if they don’t follow social distancing rules or properly manage crowds.

Chicago’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection plans to proactively investigate retail stores to ensure compliance with capacity limits and other COVID-19 regulations, which carry fines up to $10,000 for violations, spokesman Isaac Reichman said.

State and city rules cap essential businesses, such as grocery stores, at 50% occupancy and nonessential retailers, such as clothing stores, at 40%. Neither can have more than 50 people gathered at choke points, like checkout areas.

The Chicago Tribune reports that The Illinois Retail Merchants Association notified their members to urge them to publicly demonstrate that they were monitoring customer counts. Earlier in the week, the association alerted members that the mayor and her team were unhappy to see full parking lots yet no lines of people waiting to get inside and didn’t think the industry was doing enough to control capacity.

The strong threat from the Mayor’s office comes as Chicago’s COVID-19 cases are rapidly on the rise. Illinois reported 15,415 confirmed or probable cases last Friday and an average seven-day case positivity rate of 13.2%, up from 3.4% two months ago. As of Thursday it had more people hospitalized with COVID-19 than at any point during the first spike of infections in the spring.

San Francisco has rolled back indoor dining as they have seen their cases spike 250%.

Yesterday, most of California’s larger counties moved back to shutting down indoor dining and some other businesses. Iowa has ordered restaurants and bars to close at 10pm with a 15 person limit on indoor gatherings and a 30 person cap outdoors.

Oregon announced a two week freeze that ends December 2 and involves, among other things, making restaurants delivery- and take-out only, as well as limiting grocery stores and pharmacies to 75 percent capacity.

New Mexico Closed on-site dining – indoor or outdoor until November 30 – but restaurants can provide take-out and delivery.

Washington state ordered indoor dining closed until December 14.

New York and New Jersey has ordered indoor dining to close at 10pm.

In Maryland indoor dining which had been at 75% capacity has now been lowered to 50%. According to the NY Times, Stanford University computer scientist Jure Leskovec studied data from 10 citiies and reports that restaurants are by far the riskiest places – 4 times more riskier than gyms, coffee shops or hotels.

Target now has technology that allows customers to see if a store has a queue outside and reserve a spot in line. It also distributed 1,000 more handheld checkout devices so employees can ring up customers anywhere in the store, and it doubled the number of “drive up” spots, to 8,000 nationwide, where customers can get free, contactless curbside pickup; which since the pandemic began has grown more than 700% according to the company.

Google maps has also launched three new features this week to help: Crowdedness transit data for buses, trains and subways, Live Food Delivery Status which shows expected wait times and delivery fees and a Covid-19 overlay that shows how cases are trending by area, whether they are rising or falling and the all-time number of confirmed cases and deaths, so people can make smarter decisions about where, or if they should, travel.