Pandemic Lessons From Food Businesses

Convenience Corner: C-stores and grocers are the models for nonessential retailers as they reopen.

June 11, 2020

By Craig Fugate

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—As businesses across the United States are reopening or preparing to reopen, they should look no further than the essential businesses—convenience stores and grocers—that never closed.

Working with NACS and FMI—The Food Industry Association, SABER (Single Automated Business Exchange for Reporting) identified more than 250,000 businesses across the U.S. that sell food products, including convenience stores, grocery stores and other food retail locations. SABER then collected s-called “pandemic practices” from about 130,000 of these businesses, defined as tangible measures for keeping the business open safely.

Most food retail stores (85% of convenience stores) have stepped up their cleaning and sanitizing procedures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 inside the store and at the fuel island. By focusing on these protocols, businesses are enhancing customer perceptions around safety and walking the talk by implementing significant measures that protect employees and contribute to the wellbeing of their communities.

Customers want to see cleaning in action: “The new normal is constant cleaning throughout the day,” said Chris Wright, cleaning expert and vice president at Brain Corp., adding that these recognizable acts are now in plain view and important to the perception of a clean store that cares about its customers.

Another visible signal of safety are face masks for employees. Only 23% of convenience stores required employee masks in the survey, compared with  64% of grocery stores.

As most large brands and individual stores continue showing their dedication to their communities, this reinforces positive perceptions and helps increase brand loyalty. Businesses that are reopening should reintegrate themselves into the community as quickly as possible. This is in line with a recent NACS consumer survey, which suggests that if you’re doing charitable work, consumers want to know about it, and they would like to see these stories on the local news (69%) and on social media (42%).

While there are many lessons about pandemic practices from essential businesses that can be applied to companies now reopening, the process itself doesn’t need to be invented. Substantial experience, valuable lessons and obvious attention to health and safety measures achieved by convenience and grocery retailers throughout the pandemic should allow others to safely operate their businesses and serve their communities.

NACS and SABER have launched a joint website that maps more than 105,000 c-store pandemic practices. Visit for more ideas from others to continue the commitment to COVID-19 safety. While looking at the map, please take a minute to update or add your own pandemic practices.

Read Fugate’s full blog at Convenience Corner.

Craig Fugate, who served as administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) from May 2008 to January 2017, is an expert in emergency and crisis management. He led FEMA through more than 500 presidentially declared major disasters and emergencies and created the Waffle House Index—an informal metric used to help predict the effects of an incoming storm and the potential level of assistance required for disaster recovery.