Food Retail Lessons for Businesses

By Craig Fugate   read

Essential businesses like convenience and grocery stores have drawn the blueprint for other businesses as they prepare to reopen.

June 03, 2020

Food-Retail-Lessons-for-Businesses_RollupImage-(1).pngAs businesses across the United States are reopening or preparing to reopen, they should look no further than the essential businesses 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 what we call “pandemic practices” from about 130,000 of these businesses, which we define as tangible measures for keeping the business open safely. These practices allow retailers to answer the following questions: 

  1. How can our business change to meet customer needs?
  2. How can we provide a safe environment and reduce the risk of contamination?
  3. What employee protections should we provide?
  4. How can we help the community? 

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.

Another visible measure that presents a commitment to safety to customers is employees wearing masks. In this measure, convenience stores lagged with only 23% requiring employee masks while grocery stores took this measure in 64% of reported stores. These are certainly practical applications that all businesses in the process of reopening should consider.

Enhanced cleaning became part of pandemic practices for more than 80% of convenience stores. Also, 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.

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 saberspace.org/map-nacs 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.


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.
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