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COVID-19: Grocers introduce seniors-only shopping hours

Amid the current pandemic, grocers are opening early to serve those most at risk

One thing grocery retailers aren’t short on is heart. 

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, many Canadian grocers are offering seniors-only shopping hours. The efforts are designed to ensure elderly and vulnerable people have access to food and other items amid panic-buying-induced shortages, as well as the safest possible shopping environment.

In Toronto, Pusateri’s is opening an hour earlier (at 7 a.m.) at four locations to serve elderly shoppers and those at higher risk of infection.

"We know what the landscape looks like at other grocery retailers and we really wanted to provide a quieter, less trafficked space for those at highest risk," said Leya Abramson, senior marketing manager at Pusateri’s, in an email to Canadian Grocer. "Our entire store will have been restocked and sanitized the night prior. Our goal is to participate as actively as possible in flattening the curve."

READ: How Canadian grocery is dealing with COVID-19

The specialty grocer will also have more staff dedicated to support customers who need help with their shopping, or carrying out their grocery items. “It’s a very small initiative that we hope will protect our most vulnerable,” said Abramson.

Georgia Main Food Group, which owns and operates IGA and Fresh St. Market in B.C., has implemented seniors-only shopping on Wednesdays and Fridays between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. at all stores.  “We wanted to make sure that we gave our seniors and a safe environment,” said Mark McCurdy, vice-president of retail operations & brand strategy at Georgia Main Food Group, in a phone interview with Canadian Grocer.

"We’ve stepped up our cleaning protocols... to make sure that we are offering them a clean environment and a low-stress environment," he said. "If you’ve been out to a grocery store lately, it’s quite a high-stress moment with the number of people and people buying whatever they can." 

READ: Grocers respond to food shortage fears amid COVID-19 outbreak

While caregivers are welcome, McCurdy said employees are available to help seniors’ with their shopping, and will make sure they follow safe distance guidelines. 

Loblaw Companies Ltd. is also offering dedicated shopping hours across its organization. In a statement emailed to Canadian Grocer, the retailer said: "We heard our customers and as a result, most of our close to 2,500 stores (including grocery and Shoppers Drug Mart) across the country will be offering early, dedicated hours for those who are most vulnerable, including seniors and those living with disabilities." 

Stores may execute it differently at the local level—some are opening earlier a few days a week while others are dedicating the first hour of regular shopping time.

Western grocer Save-On-Foods is opening its 178 stores from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. for seniors and people with disabilities. It also limiting its general hours of operation from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., giving teams additional time to clean and sanitize and restock shelves.

Sobeys has announced “seniors shopping hour” will be live by this Friday in many stores across its family of brands. The grocer is devoting the first hour of operations to those most vulnerable and those who require extra attention, particularly seniors.

A statement by president and CEO Michael Medline explained the move started when a Sobeys franchisee in Edmonton announced “Beloved Golden Shopping Hour” to provide the elderly and vulnerable with a calm, relaxed shopping environment. The idea spread quickly and within days, some stores in Alberta and Newfoundland adopted a similar practice.

Following that, the company decided to scale the initiative. "The government has made it clear that those most at risk, including seniors, should stay home and encourages family, friends and neighbours to help support them during this terrible coronavirus," said Medline. "But for those that need to get out for essential supplies, let’s make shopping a little easier."


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