Supermarkets adapt to pandemic change

Debra Choutee who works at Harris Mega Store, Mucurapo Street, San Fernando cleans a sink which the store provided for customers' use before they enter the grocery. - CHEQUANA WHEELER
Debra Choutee who works at Harris Mega Store, Mucurapo Street, San Fernando cleans a sink which the store provided for customers' use before they enter the grocery. - CHEQUANA WHEELER

Supermarkets, alongside a few other businesses, have had to transform their day-to-day operations to align with a vastly different environment in the space of just a week.

While individual companies grappled with the challenges of remote work for their employees, the management and staff of TT’s supermarkets have been on the front lines of this practically invisible war.

While adjusting to a world with coronavirus threats, supermarkets also had to quickly innovate, not just for their own survival but for the health and safety of their shoppers as well.

As soon the covid19 threat reached TT, keyboard warriors far and wide took to Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to echo the rallying call for supermarkets to open earlier to accommodate the elderly and the not-so-well. They demanded hand sanitisers first, and wash facilities after that, and quickly, many supermarkets heeded the call and responded.

Of the larger stores, Price Club in Chaguanas was one of the first. Retail giant Massy Stores and others soon followed.

In this March 12 photo, Terrica Douglas of Sanitation Solutions, contracted by Massy stores sanitizes shopping carts at the supermarket's Gulf City branch. - Lincoln Holder

According to Massy Stores’ CEO Roxanne De Freitas, “Thirty-eight portable sinks were installed across our chain. There are two sinks per location, with hand soap and paper towels, at most of our stores, so that customers can wash their hands when they enter and exit the store.”

The danger with a highly infectious viral disease that can linger on surfaces and in the air represents an unprecedented challenge to climate-controlled spaces with high volumes of foot traffic.

Nigel Persad of Persad’s D’ Food King noted, “We have taken to misting our stores with sanitisers and light bleach solutions to reduce the possibility of the virus lingering within the store after closing.”

This advanced sanitation protocol meant that stores and chains had to suddenly scale up the sanitation protocols from a few times per day to every 30 minutes, and in some cases had to station – or in the case of Pricesmart – sub-contract companies for cleaning each and every trolley and basket being returned by the customer.

S&S Persad and Westbees, among other stores, have also taken to prominently asking families to designate one family member per store, and the former also asked for children not to be brought into stores at this time.

Then there’s the issue of staff. Massy’s De Freitas says the company's approach remains steadfastly committed to its tagline, Our Family Serving Your Family.

“Employees have been nothing short of exemplary, and our unions have been working closely with us as routines are being disrupted too. So we are in constant contact and supporting our staff complement and have also recently moved to hire more staff, at a time when many companies are looking to do the opposite,” she said. “We have also supplied our staff with a large quantity of hand sanitiser, not just for use in stores, but also to take home, too.”

In this March 12 photo, shoppers at Pricesmart, Movietowne, Invaders Bay, are given hand sanitizer as they enter the store. - ROGER JACOB

TruValu’s CEO Sunil Maharajh has overseen a vast transformation in its business operations too – with the floors at all locations of the five-chain outlet now showing the appropriate space for social distancing, and recent installations of partitions for cashier and customer interactions, in addition to other measures. Persad’s D’ Food King has also been supplying its staff with daily doses of vitamin C and for those who wish, echinacea to boost their immune systems.

TruValu and S&S Persad Supermarket also made big splashes across social media with the announcement of their WhatsApp campaigns.

TruValu’s CEO explained, “We are offering our customers another avenue to get their grocery items via our WhatsApp service and our Call & Order Service. This is a very informal system which was quickly scaled up to allow customers to contact the TruValu store near them and supply their lists and only come in to collect, cash quickly and leave. It also allows people who aren’t mobile or the elderly to supply their lists and have someone collect it for them too.”

This is part of the mitigation strategy that stores are taking to reduce the customer footprint in stores.

Riad Rampat, marketing analyst for S&S Persad, told Business Day, “We initiated online shopping services for Rio Claro and Mayaro and the option to WhatsApp your list for our community as far back as three weeks ago, when this all started. Customers can complete a Google Form online and pay cash or LINX on delivery, or have the option of curbside pick-up as well.”

Massy has eight pharmacies and for some time now has been offering a WhatsApp prescription service via 467-1167 and the option for customers to call ahead for OTC items to reduce time spent in stores too.

Persad’s D’ Food King has included shaded areas outside stores where customers can stand four feet apart, and has offered curbside pick-up for Viaa, the restaurant food brand. While "online" has been a conversation across many boardrooms and living rooms for the decision-makers in the supermarket industry, what was once seen as a valuable add-on is quickly becoming a necessary survival tool in a brand-new world.

One local company, Groceries tuh Go Delivery Services, which was slated for launch later this year, has been moving rapidly to deploy in approximately the next two weeks. The service will allow customers to find the basic items they need with a two-hour delivery window, while Blue Gro, Food Depot and Market Movers among others, have various offerings.

On March 25, the Supermarket Association (SATT) announced a plan to feed frontline healthcare workers at the Caura and Couva hospitals, where covid19 patients are being treated.

In a statement, president Rajiv Diptee noted, “Healthcare workers are under tremendous pressure at this time, and corporate TT must step in to ensure that we recognise the sacrifices that they are making.”

The association has to date raised over $80,000 in pledges from members and other companies such as NuIron Unlimited, Pt Lisas Nitrogen Ltd, PwC and Guardian Life. It also received the offer of a certain number of meals per day from Massy Stores to ensure doctors, nurses and cleaning crews at these facilities can have a hot and welcome meal on site without worry as they treat patients.

Individual supermarkets such as S&S Persad are mindful of children at home, with plans to run online trivia games with online prize vouchers as rewards. Nigel Persad plans to stream prayer services for Devi Yagna via radio and television for several of the nine nights as since previously they would host upwards of 10,000 people for this on San Fernando Hill. They have also offered five per cent off all Persad’s supermarket bills and ten per cent off all curbside pickup bills for public and private healthcare employees at Krave and Viaa Restaurants (part of their corporate group).

Massy Stores has partnered with the Massy Foundation to use its social media platforms to share informational videos to help people cope with the unprecedented changes brought about by covid19. Their video series, Stronger Together, and other content can be found on the Stronger Together YouTube channel, and like S&S Persad, they have begun hosting trivia games on their Facebook Page.


"Supermarkets adapt to pandemic change"

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