Amid the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus around the world, natural food retailers have stepped up their efforts to protect the health and safety of the communities they serve.
Grocers are sanitizing surfaces more frequently, promoting home delivery options and encouraging sick workers to stay home to ensure their stores are not contributing to the transmission of the virus. Coronavirus causes COVID-19, the respirator diseases that has infected more than 169,000 people and killed more than 6,600 around the world, as of March 16. Retailers are also taking steps to ensure they have enough of the products their customers need, as many stock up for potentially long periods of staying home.
“The most important thing for us at this time is to provide people access to healthy foods, and have the environment be as safe as can be,” said Rashke Morow, a human resources specialist at Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco, California. Morow is on the retailer’s committee to oversee efforts around the coronavirus.
Last week, the worker-owned co-op made several changes to its bulk foods offerings to minimize the possibility that customers can transfer the virus. Bulk items that can be eaten directly without being washed or cooked, such as dried fruits and nuts, will not be merchandised in the regular bulk bins, she said. Some, such as granola and nuts, will instead be merchandised in gravity-fed dispensers. Rainbow Grocery workers are packaging others, such as some of the popular dried fruits, in compostable to-go containers.
“It’s a big change in operations for us,” Morow said, adding that some workers have had to take on new and additional tasks.
Items that are washed or cooked before eating, such as rice, beans, grains and lentils, are still being offered in bulk, as is tea. Bulk salad mixes and pastry items that are not pre-packaged have been discontinued for the time being, she said. Test packages of lotions and other items in the bath and beauty department have been removed, as well.
Rainbow is also increasing its efforts around sanitation, by cleaning surfaces more frequently with alcohol or hydrogen peroxide, Morow said.
The co-op's actions are based on information from the Centers for Disease Control website, as well as from the San Francisco Department of Public Health. Last week, Rainbow appointed one of its staffers as a point person to work with the city health department to ensure that it is taking all the necessary precautions, Morow explained.
Customer response to the retailer’s actions has been positive. “People understand that we are coming from a place of caring, and people really appreciate this,” she said.
Several other grocers in the natural space also announced enhanced safety measures last week, when the nation began locking down schools and public places, as well as cancelling large events. As of Monday, mayors and governors have started limiting restaurants to delivery or take-out orders and closing bars.
Boulder, Colorado-based Alfalfa’s Market said in a letter to customers from company President Mark Homlish that it has added additional hand sanitizers and wipes are available throughout its two stores; increased regular cleaning and sanitation of “high touch” common areas;, discontinued sampling; suspended large community meetings; halted business travel by corporate staff; and made other efforts.
In addition, the retailer requested that customers who are sick or have cold- or flu-like symptoms to stay home, suggesting that customers use its online grocery ordering and delivery service.
Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage, based in Lakewood, Colorado, announced on Saturday that it will close all stores at 7:35 p.m. nightly so employees can thoroughly clean and restock the stores. The stores will open at their regular times.
In addition, it will step up its cleaning and sanitation efforts, spending more time wiping carts' and baskets' handles; and cleaning commonly used areas more often, including checkout lanes, credit card terminals, conveyor belts and shelves; and providing wipes and/or sanitizer sprays for its customers to use.
“We've always taken great pride in our clean and well-run stores, and we know this is more important than ever right now,” Natural Grocers said in a statement.
All in-store classes and recipe demonstrations are canceled, at least through the end of March. The stores' on-tap kombucha stations are also closed.
To encourage its employees not to come to work when they are sick, Natural Grocers is offering two weeks' paid leave to any worker diagnosed with COVID-19 or placed under mandatory quarantine by public health authorities. The retailer is also offering all workers a daily packet of NOW-brand effervescent vitamin C to help support their immune systems.
Meanwhile, Winchester, Kentucky-based Full Circle Market has put a “one-per day” limit on certain popular items in an effort to keep them in stock. These include elderberry, aloe vera gel, eggs and other products. The retailer is also intensifying its cleaning procedures and has asked that customers who are feeling ill not come to the store.