New Jersey Food Council CEO Linda Doherty said grocery stores can and are doing more to combat the spread of coronavirus, but said the idea of limiting access to a small number of shoppers at any given time would make it impossible for New Jersey residents to get the food they need.
In addition, Doherty said limiting customer access almost certainly would result in unhealthy crowds at the door — thus defeating the whole idea of social distancing. Stores, she said, need to be judged by their size.
“We are not in favor of a limit of 50 customers per supermarket to shop at a time, as customers congregate outside a store waiting in line to enter the location,” she said. “The size of the average supermarket or club store is a minimum of 60,000 square feet and can expand as large as 110,000 feet.”
Their businesses are mission-critical, Doherty said.
“These retailers are supplying food and products that customers depend on for their health and welfare,” she said. “These retailers are feeding almost 9 million New Jersey residents, especially since most other food options are closed indefinitely.
“These supermarkets and club stores will need to process 7,000-8,000 shoppers a day per location to keep up with this overwhelming demand, so, severely limiting shopper access is a misguided plan to feed New Jersey residents.”
Gov. Phil Murphy, when pressed on the issue during his daily coronavirus briefing Monday, did not address the limit specifically, saying only that stores should do all they can to comply with social distancing. Doherty said they are implementing new ways to do that every day.
“Some have placed stanchions at the checkout stand and are marking the floor with tape to separate customers,” she said. “They are regularly reminding shoppers to keep distance over their public address systems, and they are posting signs on the entrance doors and throughout the stores as a reminder.
“Some are opening every other register, and some are placing a plexiglass barrier between the cashier and customer. Some retailers have either opened early or created special check-out lanes for vulnerable populations or first responders.”
Doherty said stores are doing what they can to adjust.
“Members are ramping up home delivery services and curbside pick-up as alternatives,” she said. “As time goes on, we expect other creative means to create distance and rapidly move customers throughout the store.”
Doherty said the crowds are complying, too.
“We are experiencing a more manageable pace from the sudden surge of shoppers, and this is allowing stores to restock their shelves and providing manufacturers the ability to meet demand on out-of-stock products,” she said. “We are in a corrective phase of the food marketplace and we believe customers will adjust to these temporary measures in the coming days and weeks.”
The biggest issue, Doherty said, is getting more workers.
On Tuesday, Doherty said the Food Council is working with the New Jersey Restaurant & Hospitality Association in an effort to transfer temporarily lost restaurant jobs to grocery stores, which need to ramp up hiring to meet their increased demands.
“We are in desperate need of a temporary workforce and restaurant workers are out of a job; we could use their talent and knowledge of the food business,” Doherty said. “It’s a great example of two food associations coming together to fix a need during this crisis.”