Coronavirus pandemic could permanently change grocery shopping

4 Ways Covid-19 Could Permanently Change Senior Living Operations

Coronavirus pandemic could permanently change grocery shopping

Covid-19 is giving health systems a better appreciation for senior living’s position as a part of the health care continuum, and for the fact that operators can provide social determinants of health to keep overall costs down for hospitals and acute care settings.

Providers are also forging bonds with local public health departments they overlooked in the past, which will prove beneficial for communications and transparency, after the pandemic subsides.

But questions remain unanswered regarding if Covid-19 will make it easier to recruit new talent to the industry, and whether enhanced benefits are establishing a new wage floor for labor that will contribute to permanent expense increases.

This is according to executives from Bickford Senior Living, Commonwealth Senior Living, Country Meadows Retirement Communities and Silverado, who shared their long-term forecasts during the 2020 Argentum Senior Living Virtual Conference.

While it’s impossible to predict with certainty how Covid-19 will permanently alter senior living operations, the panelists offered several ideas, with particular focus on infection control, health system partnerships, transparency and communications, and staffing.

Stronger infection control

The virus has already resulted in lasting changes to operations such as enhanced safety protocols and infectious disease controls.

Residents, staff and their families should expect enhanced screening protocols to be a permanent part of entering communities moving forward, Commonwealth Senior Living President and COO Earl Parker said.

In just one example of how pandemic-related infection control practices could persist well into the future, masking could become more commonplace in senior living settings to combat different types of infectious diseases.

This is thanks to the fact that masks are proving to reduce the spread of Covid-19 in communities, and will even prove more beneficial as flu season approaches to prevent or reduce outbreaks, especially when coupled with stricter immunization and vaccination requirements, Silverado Senior Vice President, Community Operations Michelle Egerer said.

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The Irvine, California-based memory care specialist mandated the use of personal protective equipment and KN95 masks, which have been approved for emergency use by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) while the United States wrestles with a shortage of N95 masks. Doing so has helped prevent the spread of the virus between employees who test positive for the virus and are asymptomatic, and residents.

“We know, in a very significant way, that even one mask works,” she said.

Proof of value

Providers contend that the pandemic has crystallized senior living as part of the health care continuum in the eyes of health systems, Country Meadows Senior Vice President and COO Meredith Mills said.

Country Meadows was part of a unique situation in Pennsylvania, where health systems were awarded grants to help run the provider’s infection control strategy.

This proved to be an opportunity for health systems to get a better understanding of the senior living space through required site visits of communities.

The health systems gained exposure to the details of Country Meadows’ infection control policies and some of the procedures in its pandemic response, such as establishing Covid-19 cohorts.

The Covid-19 wings were especially noteworthy as they allowed providers operating other assisted living or personal care facilities to send Covid-19 positive residents to these cohorts to recover, bypassing hospitals and helping to maintain emergency capacity. Health systems, in turn, are also referring patients that do not need acute care — but do need some clinical oversight and support — to these cohorts.

Country Meadows’ goal has always been to provide resources to the healthcare system as a whole, serving as a bridge between home health care and acute care.

“It puts a spotlight on us as an industry,” Mills said. “Just because we don’t receive Medicare funding, how can we be a resource in the overall system?”

This look underneath the hood has also given health systems a glimpse of how exceptional senior care can reduce readmission rates to hospitals, and that senior living is well-equipped to provide social determinants for better health outcomes for seniors, which can help lower costs across the system as a whole, including benefits for acute and post-acute segments.

“[Covid-19 cast] a spotlight on all of our levels of care that demonstrates that we can take care of these individuals,” Egerer said.

This has some providers confident that better health system relationships will result from the pandemic, and others believe that Covid-19 will accelerate Medicare Advantage networks. But while these developments could indeed be a silver lining of the pandemic, the industry should be wary of the tradeoff that comes with that, Commonwealth Senior Living President and COO Earl Parker said.

He is concerned that accepting more government money will come with more government oversight, and how that is applied. Still, he is bullish on diversifying the way that people can pay for senior living.

“I see it as a big opportunity to expand our the number of residents that we can provide services,” Parker said

Forging new connections

A renewed commitment to better, more transparent communication between providers with residents and staff has the additional benefit of establishing new ties to local public health departments, Bickford Senior Living Executive Vice President of Operations Alan Fairbanks said.

Bickford relies heavily on guidance from local public health departments in its markets whenever it had a positive case in its communities, and the information it shares on outbreaks and positive cases with families is also shared with the agencies, providing a clear look into the provider’s Covid-19 response. These new relationships will prove beneficial and ensure that Bickford has priority access to a vaccine, once a viable one becomes available.

“[It’s a] partnership that was always out there that we didn’t lean on as much as we could have,” Fairbanks said.

the industry at large, Commonwealth increased its communication and transparency to residents and staff during the pandemic. It posts weekly updates every Friday for families and associates, detailing positive Covid-19 cases, the extent of outbreaks and response, and circumstances where residents have died from the virus.

“We determined early on that families want to know if the virus is in a building,” Parker said.

Greater communication and transparency has been well received by families, and Commonwealth has reaped unforeseen benefits. A media outlet in one of its markets reached out to the provider looking for information on how Covid-19 has affected the community. Because the information was already public, Commonwealth shared all communications between provider and families.

The outlet later wrote a story detailing the response to the pandemic by Commonwealth and two other providers, but the story honed in on Commonwealth’s response, as the other providers declined to comment.

“It’s the right thing to do. We don’t want to add to their level of concern by trying to keep things in the dark,” Parker said.

Recruitment woes

Another possible silver lining of the pandemic was that it might be a boon for providers struggling to fill roles and contending with shallow labor pools. And, while the national unemployment rate has skyrocketed, providers continue to struggle to fill openings.

Part of that stems from enhanced unemployment benefits which were cut significantly in July and are set to expire this month, Parker suggested.

News reports conflating nursing homes with senior living, meanwhile, have cast doubts on the safety of the industry for people seeking employment.

Commonwealth attempted to capitalize on the growing labor pools caused by the outbreak, and launched targeted campaigns online and in social media to recruit new talent. The campaigns did generate the expected views and applications, but have not translated to significant new hires, Parker said.

“We’ll continue to push the effort forward,” he said. “There is still going to be opportunity, once the stimulus [ends].”

Commonwealth is one provider that chose not to implement hero pay across the board. Instead, it offered shift pickup bonuses and drew on workers at neighboring communities to fill gaps in scheduling, where applicable.

And the provider is looking at ways to support staff as the pandemic persists, and establish career trajectories and training opportunities, which Parker believes will keep wages stable and build an internal workforce pipeline.

“[More employees] are recognizing that they are health care professionals, than a lot of them may have viewed themselves previously,” he said.

Country Meadows also saw an early increase in applications, which did not translate into new hires. Mills believes the industry must improve its messaging in order to recruit and retain new talent. It was an uphill battle prior to Covid-19, exacerbated by an inability to bring prospective hires into communities for interviews and tours, to show what senior care has to offer.

Providers must also overcome the public relations headaches from the pandemic’s early weeks to show that senior living is a safe environment, and that operators are going above the call of duty to ensure the safety of everyone within the walls of a community.

“You’re much safer going to work at one of our sites than you are going to the grocery store,” Mills said.


Changes in Consumer Buying After Coronavirus Pandemic

Coronavirus pandemic could permanently change grocery shopping
Grocery delivery platforms Instacart are seeing dramatic spikes in sales from customers, many of whom are trying online grocery shopping for the first time. — Instacart

Retailers will be feeling the impact of the coronavirus crisis long after the quarantines, store closings and social distancing rules have ended.

It is ly to create permanent shifts in consumer behavior that retailers need to start preparing for, experts told CO—.

Americans will change how and where they shop, and retailers will change how they interact with customers and how they plan for future pandemics. Here’s what retailers can expect:

An accelerated shift from stores to e-commerce, particularly in grocery

E-commerce sales in general are expected to surge, as shoppers stay home during the crisis, but grocery sales are where the biggest long-term impact could occur.

Grocery delivery platforms such as Instacart, Walmart Grocery and Shipt are seeing dramatic spikes in sales, much of which ly is driven by new customers who are trying online grocery shopping for the first time, Keith Anderson, senior vice president of strategy and insights for e-commerce performance analytics company Profitero, told CO—.

“It could be a new population is being incentivized or encouraged to try shopping this way,” Anderson said.

Those first-time online grocery buyers have a high probability of converting to that way of shopping permanently.

“If you go to the trouble of loading your 20 or 30 items on any online grocery site, the lihood that in a couple of weeks you’ll come back and order most of those things again is pretty high,” Anderson said. “So, when you look at the shift in consumption for that household, it really moves a lot of volume from brick and mortar to ordering online.”

Ronen Lazar, CEO and co-founder of INTURN

Watch the replay from our latest Roadmap for Rebuilding event, where the panel offers the strategies you need to build a cohesive and productive team, even in this new normal of remote work.

Coronavirus is introducing a new generation of shoppers to stock-up and buy-in-bulk shopping

Before, Gen Z and millennial consumers, who came of age with online shopping, were accustomed to getting anything they needed delivered to their homes within a day or two. They never needed to stock up in advance because they could get everything they needed, on demand.

Now, even Amazon is telling them it could take two weeks or more to get a roll of toilet paper delivered, and, their older generational cohorts who recall the brick-and-mortar-only shopping era, they are spending entire days searching sold out stores for it and other supplies.

Warehouse club Costco has already seen a coronavirus-related surge. Sales were up 13.8% year-over-year in February, the company reported in its second quarter earnings release.

Retailers also will move away from on-demand buying

A surge in consumer demand isn’t the only reason shoppers are seeing so many empty shelves in the toilet paper and disinfectant aisles. Retailers, millennial shoppers, have also grown accustomed to getting inventory they need on demand from manufacturers.

Retailers have moved to keeping far less inventory in stock, and manufacturers, who also are afraid of ending up with too much excess inventory on hand, are producing goods on more of an as-needed schedule, Ronen Lazar, CEO and co-founder of INTURN, told CO—. INTURN is a New York-based enterprise solutions platform that lets manufacturers track and sell excess inventory.

The current crisis, Lazar said, highlights the need for retailers and manufacturers to improve their digital supply chain operations to better balance the desire for lean inventories with the need to be ready for surges in demand. “This really should be a strong signal for many to be better prepared should something similar happen [in the future],” he said.

Retailers will rethink in-store experiences

Joe Pine, author of “The Experience Economy,”told CO— he believes consumers will return to stores, malls, and social gathering places after the crisis passes. However, the crisis will make retailers look for more ways to deliver virtual experiences, and to interact with shoppers online, rather than focusing primarily on drawing crowds to their stores.

He expects stores will invest in virtual experiences in-store demonstrations that can be viewed online, or virtual salespeople who can engage with shoppers.

“Even if it dies down more quickly than expected, they’re going to recognize we have to be ready for the next thing,” Pine said.

For more resources from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce:

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you your individual situation.

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Published March 25, 2020


Rebuilding America: Will grocery shopping ever be the same after the pandemic?

Coronavirus pandemic could permanently change grocery shopping

The Enquirer's Alex Coolidge talks about what the future of grocery shopping looks post-pandemic. Cincinnati Enquirer

If you're suffering from new coronavirus fatigue and craving normalcy, don't go shopping for relief at your supermarket anytime soon.

The grocery industry isn't talking about normal for the rest of 2020. It's talking about the “new normal” and what lies beyond.

Chances are shoppers can expect months more of seeing store employees wearing masks and gloves – and store signs urging shoppers to follow suit.

But industry officials believe the pandemic crisis and shopping frenzy are beginning to settle into a busy new grind as America tries to reopen the economy.

The “new normal” that's unfolding includes:

  • A big shift to e-commerce.
  • Continued occasional shortages for meat and produce items (though toilet paper is predicted to become reliably restocked on shelves by the end of summer).
  • Higher prices as supermarkets continue to pick up the slack of feeding Americans amid wide restaurant shutdowns. 

What lies beyond depends on whether consumers or their finances ultimately change during the pandemic and once it ends. Industry officials wonder if Americans might keep cooking more at home. They also don't know how much a worsening economy will change consumer needs.

 “There is much we still do not know. How long will it last? How many lives will be lost or irreversibly changed? What will be the economic impact?” confided Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen to shareholders of the nation's largest supermarket chain in a May 12 letter.

Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen in the produce section of the Oakley Kroger Marketplace. (Photo: The Enquirer/Kareem Elgazzar)

Digital groceries explode with pandemic

Fear of exposure to the virus has driven legions of customers online in a bid to avoid crowds and cut their potential risk.

In just a few weeks, the pandemic crisis has advanced the digital sale of groceries by years, food industry officials say.

Before the coronavirus, about 3% of U.S. grocery sales were ordered for curbside pickup or at-home delivery, industry officials said. In recent weeks, 20-25% of groceries sold began with a click on a mobile phone or computer.

“The pandemic has done in the last five, six weeks for e-commerce what we didn't expect to happen for five years,” said Doug Baker, vice president of industry relations for FMI, an Arlington, Virginia-based trade group.

Personal shopper Kamari Barrow loads a customer's order into their car in the curbside pickup section of the parking lot at the Walmart Super Center in the Westwood neighborhood of Cincinnati on Sunday, May 17, 2020. (Photo: Sam Greene/The Enquirer)

With so many customers feeling compelled to try buying their groceries online, industry officials believe many shoppers will grow comfortable with the service and continue to use it.

On May 19, Arkansas-superstore giant Walmart reported its e-commerce sales jumped 74% in the U.S. during its first quarter ending April 30.

Seattle-based Costco reported earlier this month its e-commerce sales nearly doubled in April from the same month in 2019. Other grocery players have said sales are up, but have not quantified.

Shoppers, spaced by the width of a parking stall, wait between rows of shopping carts at Visalia Costco on Wednesday, April 8, 2020. (Photo: Ron Holman)

Digital juggernaut, Seattle-based Amazon, doesn't break out its grocery sales at Prime Now, Amazon Fresh and subsidiary Whole Foods. But it disclosed last month it has nearly doubled its pickup capacity to more than 150 Whole Foods stores.

Cincinnati-based Kroger, has said digital orders were up “substantially,” but haven't said how much they contributed to an overall 30% sales surge in March, when customers dashed to stock up pantries and refrigerators. McMullen, however, disclosed at an April investor forum that many of the employees Kroger has recently hired are helping the company beef up digitally-ordered groceries.

“If you look at the people we've hired, a lot of those people… support our pickup business,” McMullen said. “The growth there has been substantial… in terms of both pickup and delivery.”

Whole Foods Market is converting several stores to only fulfill online orders for grocery delivery because of the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo: Whole Foods)

With the online surge, shoppers are beginning to notice more parking spaces at Walmart, Kroger and other retailers dedicated to serving customers for pickup services.

Walmart is also pushing its delivery business, expanding an express two-hour service to more than 1,000 stores in May.

Also, Kroger and Amazon's Whole Foods are beginning to convert a handful of locations into “dark stores” that don't admit customers but focus entirely on pickup-only service.

First, there was panic. Then there was panic-buying and hoarding. And now, there are disruptions too.

What's so darned difficult about keeping enough toilet paper stocked so there are no shortages at stores? That's the question that dogged many retailers in the first weeks of the crisis.

The short answer is two-fold.

First, after many companies encouraged employees to work from home, a lot more demand was heaped onto supermarkets and other retailers. But second, an unprecedented wave of stockpiling overwhelmed the readily replenished shelves at stores.

Kroger CEO McMullen told investors in April toilet paper was selling stores every day by 12 noon or even 10 a.m. He added it was a shock for the supply chain to try to serve a customer that had quickly decided to quadruple the home supply. He alluded to a comic strip that depicted a grandparent decades from now finally reporting their stockpile was used up.

“I have no idea how much toilet paper people have in their houses,” McMullen marveled. “We don't know what the demand really is… we're ordering twice what we used to – and we're selling twice what we used to.”

Still, some industry analysts believe the hoarding will come to an end after consumers realize they have more than enough on hand – and storing it all begins to crowd their homes.

“It's not a production issue – it's a stockpiling issue. People are buying way more than they need,” said Bob Hoyler, a senior research analyst at Euromonitor International in Chicago. He predicted shelves would begin to remain stocked by late summer.

A Kroger employee wears a mask at Kroger on Tuesday, April 7, 2020, in Newport, Kentucky. Cleaning carts is one of the things Kroger is doing to limit the spread of the new coronavirus. (Photo: Albert Cesare / The Enquirer)

Not that shortages of other products won't continue to crop up.

Experts say meat and produce items will continue to see interruptions health concerns at American processing plants.

William Masters, a food economist at the Friedman School’s Department of Food and Nutrition Policy at Tufts University, said meat processing plants are more vulnerable to coronavirus outbreaks because the industry is more labor-intensive. Packaged goods factories or commercial bakeries are more automated and have fewer workers in proximity to one another.

“There may be shortages because processing plants are forced to close or shut down,” Masters said, noting the produce section could also see interruptions due to labor issues as farms grapple with tougher safety measures or outbreaks among workers. 

Price hikes, sour economy weigh on shoppers

A tidal wave of customers sweeping into stores with a limited number of products to sell, prompting shortages of key items could also set the table for rising food prices. Experts say it's a classic case of rebalancing of supply and demand.

Earlier this month federal officials reported the Consumer Price Index in April notched its largest one-month price increase for groceries in nearly 50 years. Overall grocery prices jumped 2.6% in just 30 days, more than five times the 0.5% inflation rate recorded in February and March.

In April, inflation for the combined index for meats, poultry, fish and eggs rose even faster, up 4.3%; cereals, bakery products and non-alcoholic beverages also jumped 2.9%; dairy products, fruits and vegetables rose 1.5%.

Going forward, grocery prices will be caught in a tug of war between high demand and shortages pushing prices up and consumer jitters over a deteriorating economy and soaring job losses that will drag prices downward.

How much has business picked up at supermarkets?

Prior to the pandemic, supermarkets accounted for roughly 50% of U.S. food sales measured in dollars. After restaurants had to limit service to take-out only or closed their doors completely in recent weeks, Masters estimates food retailers are commanding 85% of food dollars spent.

With so much demand and so many more shopping trips, Masters said supermarkets have a little more pricing power. Since they don't need sales and promotions to draw customers into stores or online, some retailers have cut back on deals.

Nonetheless, Masters said the grocery sector remains highly competitive, which will keep prices from rising dramatically.

Beyond the competitive landscape, another unpleasant reality will keep prices in check: Customers work or worried about their jobs will cut back as a nasty recession begins to take hold of the country.

The U.S. economy shrank 5% during the first quarter of 2020 and the national unemployment rate soared to 14.7% in April as millions of Americans lost their jobs amid shutdowns to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

McMullen told Kroger investors in April his company has continued putting out weekly promotions to reassure customers beginning to worry about the economy.

“I was talking to a couple of customers … they were telling me that they were surprised that we still have yellow (promotional sales) tags in the store and they were appreciative of it,” he said.

Future fallout in flux

Industry officials aren't sure how broader uncertainty over the economy and efforts to “reopen” the rest of the economy will affect consumers and how they shop.

There is concern that if the economy turns sour, shoppers will cut back. Part of such a shift would include consumers continuing to cook more meals at home to save money. But it could also prompt shoppers to trade down from premium products. (Arrivederci, $6 a jar Cucina Antica pasta sauce. Howdy, Hunt's – and your $1.50 can.)

Thriftier customers could also drive more sales toward retailers' private label store brands.

Beyond economic reasons, observers are also wondering if consumers decide to keep cooking more meals at home after weeks of preparing three squares a day for themselves.

If consumers keep cooking at home higher than pre-crisis levels, it could permanently shift spending at supermarkets – and restaurants.

“People might have become more comfortable cooking at home,” said Simon Gunzburg, a research analyst at Euromonitor International (and Hoyler's colleague) in Chicago. “Whether they actually it remains to be seen. That could have a lasting impact.”

For the latest on Kroger P&G, Fifth Third Bank and Cincinnati business, follow @alexcoolidge on .

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