Walmart and Trader Joe’s Prepare for a Pandemic

Retailers strive to keep shoppers and employees safe
Photograph courtesy of Walmart

As the grocery business, along with industries and communities around the globe, braces for the full and uncertain impact of the coronavirus, retailers are ramping up efforts to keep employees and shoppers safe as well as communications regarding their corporate preparedness strategies.

In efforts to help its associates weather the coronavirus outbreak, Walmart and Trader Joe’s have announced new leave policies for their employees. Monrovia, Calif.-based Trader Joe’s is telling workers who aren’t feeling well to take paid time off until their symptoms disappear for at least 24 hours, while Bentonville, Ark.-based Walmart’s emergency leave program will give any of the retailer’s employees up to two weeks off with pay if they contract the virus or need to be quarantined.

The spread of the coronavirus has also prompted The Kroger Co., Cincinnati, to commission an internal task force to help it navigate the outbreak. Kroger Chief Financial Officer Gary Millerchip said the group is part of the company’s “pandemic preparedness plan, with a focus on our customers, associates and supply chain.”

In a message to customers published this week, Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen outlined steps the company was taking to ensure store cleanliness, including sanitizing restrooms more frequently and restocking with supplies, including soap, paper towels and hand sanitizer; adding extra hand sanitizer at cashier stations, foodservice counters and all Pharmacy, The Little Clinic and Starbucks locations; and wiping down shopping carts, baskets and equipment.

Kroger is also suspending travel through March 31, and will provide financial support from its Helping Hands company-sponsored employee assistance fund to associates who may be directly affected by the illness.

“We believe that everyone deserves to have access to fresh, affordable food and essentials, especially in times of uncertainty. That’s why our teams are working so hard to keep our stores clean, open and stocked. That’s why we took the precautionary step on March 2 to limit the number of cold, flu and sanitary products per order … so everyone can have access to the items they need. And that’s why our supply chain teams are working to ensure that the food, medicine and cleaning supplies our customers need are reaching our stores as quickly as possible and are available through our pickup, delivery and ship services,” McMullen said. 

The Fresh Market of Greensboro, N.C., is among the grocers issuing statements regarding the health and safety of its team members and guests. “[The] cleanliness of our stores, remains a top priority at The Fresh Market,” say officials. “We are actively working with our safety experts, vendors and suppliers to ensure we are taking all precautionary measures and adhering to recommendations from public health officials to prevent the spread of germs.”

In addition to reinforcing good hygiene practices recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) with its team members, The Fresh Market has also increased the frequency of its “already stringent cleaning and sanitation procedures in every department.” The Fresh Market has temporarily suspended self-sampling stations in its stores, but if guests would like to try a product, team members are happy to provide a sample.

Target CEO Brian Cornell recently issued a statement to all Target customers via email, letting shoppers know the steps the Minneapolis-based retailer is taking with the health of its shoppers and employees in mind.

“On top of our daily cleaning procedures, we’re adding hours to each store’s payroll to make our routines even more rigorous,” said Cornell in a statement. “This means more time will be spent cleaning our stores, including cleaning surfaces like check lanes and touchscreens at least every 30 minutes. Like many others, we’re taking guidance from the CDC, which recommends regular cleaning as one of the most important preventive measures we can take.”

Target has stopped sampling and is staffing up its teams to support services such as Order Pickup and Drive Up.

With regard to Target team members, Cornell added, “We’re encouraging sick team members to stay home and asking our teams to travel only if it’s business critical. And to help support our team in real time, we’ve set up a forum where we’re sharing information and taking questions 24/7.”

Target further assured shoppers that as demand for cleaning products, medicine, pantry stock-up items and more remains high, it’s sending more products to its stores as quickly as possible.

Lidl U.S. CEO Johannes Fieber said the Alexandria, Va.-based chain was similarly paying extra attention to cleanliness in stores and had adjusted its benefits policy to allow for absences from affected workers without penalty. “We have also restructured our benefits so that if employees are infected by the virus, or if they work in a store or facility that is included within a government- or company-instituted quarantine, we will provide up to two weeks of pay while the employee is away from work,” Fieber said.


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