Grocery insights on managing store operations during a crisis

Challenges include continuing to find solutions around masks

The teams that manage grocery store operations during hurricanes and snowstorms — more localized events that take place over several days — have recently had to figure out how to activate emergency plans and operate during a crisis that impacts the entire fleet — and that so far has gone on for several months.

“We never thought we’d go as deep as we have into the plan,” James Cosseboom said during a recent panel discussion at NRF PROTECT ALL ACCESS. Cosseboom, director of asset protection for Retail Business Services, an Ahold Delhaize USA Company, said a constant he’s seeing in daily reports amid the pandemic is a controversy around face coverings.

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“Customers not wanting to wear a mask or other customers having different views on masks [is] boiling over into our stores,” Cosseboom said. “We’ve taken the approach with our stores that we are recommending that we are trying to keep our personnel out of conflicts.”

Southeastern Grocers Vice President of Store Support Jennifer Short said masks were one of the earliest issues her company dealt with but noted “the flow of personal protective equipment has gotten much more stable.”

Associates are required to wear a mask. They’re trained on how to properly wear face coverings and how to safely remove them, Short said, and can pick whatever mask they prefer.

“We want them to wear something they’re comfortable with,” she said. “They feel like they have some choice in it.”

Customers are also required to wear masks at Southeastern Grocers stores, even in places it’s not required by law or mandate. If customers willfully refuse, it’s about “dealing with it in a respectful way.”

“We don’t want our associates having to navigate these difficult and often emotional issues with customers,” Short said. “We have set up some very good talking points to handle these issues with our customers.”

Diffusing situations before they become a problem, along with providing teaching and training, will help keep everyone safe, Cosseboom said.

“We’re truly all in this together as retailers,” he said. “Learning what worked in other places helped us be more united in approaching the crisis.”

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