It’s no secret that as the pandemic rages on, more and more consumers are ordering groceries online. But as with everything else right now, circumstances and protocols seem to change minute by minute. As Peter van Stolk, CEO of Canadian sustainable e-commerce grocery store SPUD.ca, put it during our virtual COVID-19 summit last week: “The ground is moving under our feet everyday.”
That sentiment seems to be especially true of grocery. We know that we’re relying on grocery — and grocery delivery — more than ever before to keep ourselves fed while social distancing. But how are grocery stores reinventing themselves to stay relevant, safe, and profitable?
That’s exactly what van Stolk discussed with Phil Lempert of Supermarket Guru at last week’s virtual summit. To keep up with this fresh demand and new safety protocols, grocery retailers — both online and brick & mortar — are having to institute new protocols and readapt their current business models.
One big change that SPUD.ca has been tackling is staffing. Van Stolk said that in the two-week period after the coronavirus pandemic hit, the company’s inbound employee applications skyrocketed from 200 to 10,000. Of the people they hired, SPUD.ca had to figure out best practices to keep the workers (not to mention shoppers) safe, including allowing employees to don personal protective equipment (PPE) if they so choose.
To that end, Lempert asked van Stolk about the question that’s keeping him (and presumably other grocery owners) up at night: How can grocery stores absorb additional costs from PPE for grocery workers, bonus payments, and paid sick leave, and still stay profitable?
For SPUD.ca, the answer was simple: start charging handling fees. In the interview, van Stolk said that SPUD.ca had originally stated that it would never charge delivery fees for their online orders. However, as with so many things during the pandemic, van Stolk said that has now changed. SPUD.ca will now charge customers a handling fee for grocery deliveries which is around $6. The company breaks down the fee to show where all the money will go: packaging, labor, sanitization, etc.
SPUD.ca has had to make other compromises to keep their shoppers safe during the pandemic. Previously, one of the retailer’s main selling points was its emphasis on sustainability: it delivered food in returnable totes which it would later pick up, used reusable cups, etc. For now, the company has had to halt those initiatives to reduce the risk of contamination. “There’s a stop right now on that process,” van Stolk said. “People are focused on safety.”
SPUD.ca is a smaller retailer that only serves the Vancouver and surrounding regions of Canada, so it’s obviously not going through the exact same challenges as, say, giants like Walmart or Amazon which have to coordinate shipments around the globe. However, some problems are universal to the grocery industry right now, including safety, staffing, stocking, and the threat of impending price hikes for certain foods. I’m sure many retailers, large and small, will have sleepless nights as they try to figure out how to navigate this new normal for grocery.
You can watch the full video of the fireside chat below, and check out the other videos from the virtual conference here.