The Sanitization Challenge

Food retailers are working to keep their stores clean—and communicate that to customers.

May 22, 2020

CHICAGO—Food retailers have been dealing with a lot these days—supply chains, employee health and e-commerce. But they might not realize they have another priority: customer fear of shopping at their stores, Progressive Grocer reports.

According to a C+R Research survey, 60% of U.S. consumers report being too frightened to shop for groceries because of the coronavirus. The report found that 73% of respondents said they were visiting physical grocery stores less than before the pandemic began.

“Just like our security measures changed forever after Sept. 11th, it is likely that cleaning expectations will not return to how things were,” said Bryan Smith, senior marketing manager for the Americas at Tennant Co., which makes equipment for retail cleaning. “Customers are going to have higher standards when it comes to cleanliness. As a result, retailers are going to have to find new ways to meet this customer demand in an efficient and effective way.”

While food retailers have always followed cleaning protocols, they’ve had to step up those efforts to include disinfection, too. “An appropriate focus should be on highly touched surfaces, but equally, retailers should be thinking about how they streamline the other cleaning processes to free up their teams’ time to give these focus areas more attention,” Smith said. “It’s not just one thing, but a re-evaluating of the whole cleaning process to enable the new normal.”

Convenience stores and supermarkets will need to include regular deep cleans, along with aggressively cleaning and sanitizing high-touch surfaces throughout their hours of operation.

“The new normal is constant cleaning throughout the day,” said Chris Wright, cleaning expert and vice president at Brain Corp. “Having ‘disinfection specialists’ in brightly colored vests, and running cleaning or scanning robots during open hours, are all going to be the new normal. Doing these recognizable acts that are now in plain view to the public is important to the perception of a clean facility, and one that cares about their customers.”

Walmart puts its enhanced sanitation methods front and center by directing shopper traffic through a single entrance and having a greeter keep head counts. Each store also has assigned workers to sanitize high-touch areas. Target cleans checkout lanes after each transaction, while also rotating checkout lanes to allow for deep cleans as well.

H-E-B has dedicated associates and action managers in every location to ensure the employees are adhering to “strict cleaning and sanitation protocols.” Albertsons Cos. has stepped up cleaning and disinfecting frequently during operational hours, as well as deep cleaning overnight. Some retailers have even tapped crime-scene cleaning companies to provide specialized disinfection.

Coronavirus Resources

NACS has compiled resources to help the convenience retail community navigate the COVID-19 crisis. For news updates and guidance, visit our coronavirus resources page.