Grocery stores reserve slots for seniors and vulnerable

Reduced hours, designated shopping hours for seniors and perhaps a new wrinkle to delivery are on the menu for Greater Victoria’s grocery stores, which have seen a crush of customers amid concern about COVID-19.

Grocers who have reported runs on toilet paper, hand sanitizer and all kinds of non-perishable foods, are adapting their every-day business practices to deal with the new reality.

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“This is a fluid situation, it changes by the minute,” said Darryl Hein, retail operations manager at The Market Stores. “So, we’re flying by the seat of our pants at the moment.”

Hein said, like all local grocers, The Market stores have seen a massive jump in the number of shoppers each day.

The company is considering all options to deal with the demand, and has not ruled out offering early-morning shopping for seniors and those who are vulnerable or whose immune systems have been compromised.

But Hein said they are not sure how it would work and if it would mean people having to show ID to get into the store at 7 a.m.

“We’re suggesting seniors come in earlier or in our later hours when it’s usually slower,” he said, though he noted it no longer slows down much.

The company has taken steps to ensure shopping is as safe as possible by ramping up cleaning, eliminating sitting areas, bagging produce and putting salad into containers.

The Market stores have also had to cap the number of deliveries they are making as demand is simply too high.

“We’ve been through lots of challenging times, but this is unprecedented,” Hein said. “And now, with a lot of restaurants closing, there will be further strain on what we are doing.”

Russ Benwell, owner of Red Barn Market, said its stores started opening between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. for seniors and those with compromised immune systems this week.

“Some have taken advantage of that, it’s a great time for that demographic to do their shopping,” Benwell said.

Benwell said his stores haven’t put limits on any items as their supplies are in good shape.

“And we have our fleet of trucks on the road driving inventory to all our stores as we’re reacting to the larger-than-normal volume,” he said.

“As an ownership group that is local, we’re making sure our stores are as full as they can be.”

Because Red Barn tends to buy from a wide variety of small suppliers, it has flexibility about where it can source food, Benwell said. “Hopefully that means we can respond quickly,” he said.

Red Barn, known for its in-house sandwiches, has seen a drop in demand for them in recent days. But Benwell said they are hoping their smartphone app, which allows customers to order and pay for a sandwich, might improve things as it will limit time standing in lines.

The company is working on an extension of the app that could drive sales while further encouraging social-distancing. It hopes to roll that out this week.

Fairway Markets will this week announce new hours for seniors and those who are vulnerable.

Fairway vice-president Robert Jay said the company is considering opening for seniors between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. daily, though it is still working out details as it wants to ensure there is a full store for them.

“We want a time that we can guarantee we have the most product out there as possible,” he said, noting they often don’t get deliveries until 10 a.m. “We don’t want to cause them more stress because they have to come back.”

Jay said Fairway is reserving the right to limit quantities available to any one shopper, but that is likely to be for particularly high-demand items.

For the time being, he said, the supply chain appears to be holding up, though stores are not getting complete orders as suppliers themselves deal with increased demand.

Country Grocer has introduced a seniors shopping hour between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m at all locations on the Island. It moved its closing time from 10 p.m. to 8 p.m. from Thursday.

“This will allow our staff some extra time to rejuvenate and allow us to clean and stock up,” said marketing director Tammy Averill. “We will be limiting some items. We are currently going through our inventory at the warehouse to make a list.”

All Save-On-Foods have reduced their opening hours for the public to between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., though they will be open at 7 a.m. for seniors, people with disabilities and the most vulnerable.

The idea is to allow those people to shop in a less hectic environment and allow for social-distancing.

Save On said by reducing hours it will have more time to clean, restock shelves and give front-line staff time to recharge.

“It is not business as usual and my amazing team of 21,000 team members has a big job to do as they work around the clock to replenish the items our customers need,” said Save-On-Foods president Darrell Jones.

Save On has also reserved the right to enforce limits on some high-demand items and increased the number of delivery vans on the road in response to the crisis.

aduffy@timescolonist.com

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