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Changes to grocery shopping during pandemic

grocery store changes include a senior's only hour first thing each morning. PHOTO by Lucy Haines

Grocery store visits are going to look different for the forseeable future, with store hours and practices changing in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  

A senior’s shopping hour is now available at most big grocery chains, plus H & W Produce and The Italian Centre Shops. At most sites, the first hour of opening (varying from 7-9 a.m.) offers a freshly-cleaned space with restocked shelves and less crowded environment. 

Costco (Tues and Thurs for ages 60-plus) Save On Foods, Sobeys/Safeway, Superstore and others are on board. At the Italian Centre Shop, owner Teresa Spinelli said her stores reserve the 9-10 a.m. hour (Monday to Thursday) for seniors and immunocompromised customers. Extra staff and assistance are available, and now free delivery is also being offered in Edmonton, Sherwood Park and St. Albert. 

“Grocery stores are an essential service with a critical role to play. Our team members are working around the clock to get food to customers safely and securely,” said Sobeys president and CEO Michael Medline. “We’ve adopted a series of new measures to further enhance the stepped-up sanitation protocols at our stores.  Teammates wash hands every 15 minutes and regularly sanitize grocery carts, door handles and pin pads. We’re installing plexiglass cashier shields as another safeguard and adding floor markers to facilitate a two-metre distance between customers.” 

Shoppers will see reduced store hours across most chains. Product demos and sampling events are on hold, as are self-serve items like hot soups and most deli counters. Stores have also stopped selling bulk baked goods and nuts. In an effort to address hoarding of the most sought after items like toilet paper and cleaning products, stores have largely instituted a one-per-person rule. 

At Save On Foods, customer safety concerns have prompted the suspending of bottle returns and the use of reusable shopping bags in store. Customers will get groceries in plastic bags (at no charge) until further notice. 

“We want to do everything we can to put customers at ease,” said Save On Foods president Darrell Jones. “We also want people to shop normally, and not pantry load—there’s enough food for everyone. And we are asking shoppers to leave the delivery service for people who can’t get to the store. That includes seniors, people with disabilities and those who are ill.” 

“We have trust in Canada’s strong and secure food supply chain. If you see an empty shelf, know that it will be full again shortly,” added Medline.  It's a busy, unpredictable time.” 

As time goes on, grocery stores are making a continued push for customers to visit during 'off-peak' hours to help thin the in-store crowds. Analysis of shopping habits in recent weeks shows that the quietest times to visit the grocery store are Monday through Wednesday evenings.