Sounding An Alarm Bell For Grocery Retailers

The Lempert Report
February 15, 2022

Yes we are in a pandemic. Yes there is a labor shortage. Yes we are faced with increased food, fuel and just about every other cost. Yes we have a CPI of 7.5% last month. But if we want supermarkets to remain as centers of our communities, we have to bring back Bob the Butcher and Betty the Baker. The mass resignation of workers from retail and foodservice during the pandemic means many supermarkets are now hiring gig workers for in-house tasks like stocking shelves, assembling displays and packing online orders. Marco Di Marino, director of retail and grocery with consulting firm AlixPartners told NBC that “Grocers and retailers in general are definitely looking at it now more than ever for in-store over the last couple years. They’re looking at these platforms not really as a labor replacement but as a way to scale up and down that otherwise in the current condition would be very difficult.”

Midwest grocery chain Meijer to discount retailer Big Lots, stores are buzzing with gig workers, a contingent of independent contractors who do short-term work for multiple companies. Walmart uses third-party vendors and gig workers “as a complement” to its existing workforce, Walmart spokesperson Anne Hatfield told NBC News. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the leisure and hospitality industry lost 1.2 million jobs since February 2020 and the retail industry lost 158,000 workers during the same time. Target brought the gig worker concept in-house. In 2021 Target rolled out On Demand employment as an option for existing Target team members who may be full-time students, retirees or have other scheduling needs. Workers are only required to pick up one shift every six months to retain their employment status and receive in-store discounts. More than 30,000 team members are now on demand workers, according to the company.

The issue is that sure, short term these strategies fill bodies in open slots – but our industry has been built on familiarity. Knowing the supermarket manager, the cashier, the produce guy has made generations of customers into loyal shoppers – if we lose that what’s next. We all seen and heard about those loyal shoppers from so many chains across the nation – Wegmans, Publix, Coburns, Erewhon, even some ShopRites who pride themselves on building personal relationships, we can not afford to lose that.