No more samples. No more free cookies for kids. Supermarkets clamp down on coronavirus
John Sowell, Idaho Statesman
Published at | Updated at
For decades, bakery workers at Albertsons grocery stores have handed out free cookies to children as their parents eyed doughnuts, cakes and other goods.
The Boise grocery chain, the nation’s second-largest, has instructed its employees to quit handing out cookies and other food samples in its Mountain Division stores. Albertsons, Fred Meyer, Costco and Trader Joe’s are among stores suspending samplings and food handouts because of the coronavirus pandemic that has gripped the United States and the world.
“The health and safety of everyone who walks though our doors is a top priority,” spokeswoman Kathy Holland said in an email.
USA Today reported that Costco has suspended its sample programs in at least portions of the United States. A spokeswoman did not respond to a Statesman request for comment.
Trader Joe’s said in a statement, “As this situation has evolved, we have taken increased precautions related to our food and beverage sampling in stores, including our decision to stop the practice until further notice.”
At a Fred Meyer store at South Orchard and West Franklin roads in Boise on Thursday, containers previously used to provide free fruit for children and for bakery samples were missing too..
There’s been no evidence to suggest that the coronavirus has been transmitted through food, but store sampling stations often bring a group of people close together.
The coronavirus is thought to spread through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The droplets can land in the mouths or noses or inhaled by people who are nearby, within about 6 feet. A person also could contract COVID-19, which the disease is being called, by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it, according to the CDC.
Costco and other chains, including Boise-based WinCo, have begun limiting purchases of high-demand items to ease shortages. Walmart managers have been given the option to limit sales on a store-by-store basis.
Albertsons said it has introduced cart wipes and hand sanitizer stations at key locations through its stores.
“In addition, we have stepped up how often we clean and disinfect all departments, restrooms and other high-touch points of the store, like check stands and service counters,” Holland said.
Kroger’s Fred Meyer: wiping down carts, baskets
Portland-based Fred Meyer, a division of Kroger Co., the nation’s largest grocery operator, issued a statement on Wednesday detailing steps its stores have taken to increase cleanliness.
The company, which has long provided customers with disinfectant wipes for shopping carts, is now having employees wipe down carts and shopping baskets, along with equipment.
Fred Meyer is also cleaning check stands, self-checkout areas, credit card terminals, food service counters, restrooms and conveyor belts more often. Shelves are cleaned as workers restock products.
The company said it has also added additional hand sanitizer at check stands, food service counters and at its in-store pharmacies and Starbucks kiosks. Sanitizer and tissues are also provided in worker break rooms and meeting rooms.
Fred Meyer has asked workers to stay home if they or someone in their households are sick. Financial support from the company’s Helping Hands Fund, a company-sponsored employee assistance fund, is being provided to employees who may be directly affected.
“We strive to make decisions that balance the safety of our associates with our commitments to our customers and communities,” the statement said.
Walmart: More cleaning
Walmart issued a statement Tuesday saying that it’s “using sanitizing solution in high-touch, high-traffic areas” and has increased its focus on cleaning.
The Bentonville, Arkansas, company said it’s pursuing easier ways to sanitize shopping carts, and that it has plans in place to bring in an outside company if sanitizing is necessary for a store affected by the virus.
Walmart said it’s working to replenish items in high demand, including cleaning supplies and paper products.
“We will work to keep our stores stocked and prices fair,” the press statement said. “Online, we’re taking a firm stance related to the potential for price gouging by third-party sellers.”
WinCo: Closing at midnight
WinCo said Friday that it would close stores between midnight and 5 a.m. for the coming week so that employees can clean and re-stock them. Most stores normally are open 24 hour hours a day, seven days a week.
“On behalf of our 19,000-plus employee owners, we have no intention of closing our stores and every intention of keeping our shelves as stocked as we possibly can,” WinCo said in a Facebook post. “We will re-evaluate this policy after this week has passed.”
Coronavirus lifts sales
In an earnings call Friday, Costco CEO Richard Galanti said sales were up 3% in the last week of February, which he attributed to coronavirus fears.
“Members are turning to us for a variety of items associated with preparing for and dealing with the virus, such as shelf-stable dry grocery items, cleaning supplies, Clorox and bleach, water, paper goods, hand sanitizers, sanitizing wipes, disinfectants, health and beauty aids and even items like water filtration and food storage items,” Galanti said.
The company is getting daily deliveries, but there are not enough products to meet demand for those items, he said.
Overseas deliveries from China have also been disrupted, he said. Factories shut down for a week during Chinese New Year, which took place the last week of January. Because of the coronavirus outbreak, they were closed an additional two weeks, and production ramped up slowly after they reopened, he said.
“Clearly, not just at Costco but other places, you really can’t go in and generally find sanitizing items and what have you,” Galanti said. “And while we’re getting shipments daily somewhere in the U.S., whatever limited amounts we get or (are) allocated is gone pretty quickly.”
No preparing for ‘virus apocalypse’
Sales may be up and stores crowded and depleted, but some people are just shopping as usual.
At Costco’s Boise store, Boise resident Caren Todd on Thursday walked out with a case of water, several family-size boxes of cereal, fruit and other groceries.
“I’m not preparing for a virus apocalypse,” Todd said. “I just have five kids, and we run out of stuff a lot.”
Statesman reporter Hayley Harding and Business Editor David Staats contributed.
This article first appeared in the Idaho Statesman. It is used here with permission.