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Safety sells

Retailer health and safety regimes are now at the forefront of grocery’s in-store experience

With food sampling, cooking demonstrations and many other in-store experience initiatives now on hold, there is a new entertainment element rising in importance in the shopper journey: watching people clean.

While safety has always been top of mind for grocery retailers and foodservice operators, it’s recently become a big component of the consumer decision process about where to spend their food dollars. Ipsos’ new Health & Safety Check-up study, which tracks a wide range of issues but focuses on hygiene and safety practices at a variety of Canadian retail outlets (including grocery stores), reports an interesting new twist on the importance of cleanliness.

Before COVID-19, staff typically made every effort to shield shoppers from seeing their daily cleaning protocols. But this new data suggests there are benefits to purposefully putting sanitizing activities in full view of customers, both live and online, as a way to help promote confidence in all of the many steps being taken to make the shopper experience safer.

It’s important to note that while Canadians now largely recognize they have a role and a responsibility to ensure the safety of our shared out-of-home environments, they still expect businesses to step up and take the lead.

“At least one in five Canadians reports they would stop visiting essential service providers such as grocery stores (21%), gas stations (22%), banks (22%), pharmacies (24%) and home improvement stores (24%) if health and safety regimes weren’t up to their expectations, placing great pressure on businesses to get it right,” reports Becky Harris, Health & Safety Check-up study lead at Ipsos.

Important metrics tracked among shoppers in the new COVID-19 environment include measures such as mask requirements, customer size limits, in-store temperature checks and dedicated entrances and exits, as well as in-store efforts such as contactless payments, visible sanitizing of high-touch areas and directional signage to manage traffic flow, just to name a few.

Staff-related protocols are also critical, since employee interaction with shoppers remains a key element in the overall shopping experience. While new habits such as wearing gloves and masks and following social distancing guidelines, together with the presence of Plexiglass, continue to be important, it should not be forgotten that a staff member’s warm smile can’t be seen from behind a mask—so store staff still need to find ways to demonstrate to customers that they remain valued, particularly as fewer shopping trips are being made and online shopping is ramping up competition in the food retail arena.

GROWING APPETITE FOR FOOD SAFETY
Under the theme of safety, COVID-19 has also heightened consumer concern around food safety. The Ipsos FIVE consumption tracking study reports that more than two-thirds (69%) of Canadians prioritize food safety as an element of importance in deciding where to shop. Food safety needs and personalizing choices to one’s own specific safeguards may also be a contributing factor in a consumer’s preference for in-store shopping.

SAFE SHOPPING ADVANTAGE
About eight in 10 Canadians (83%) believe grocery stores are currently taking all the necessary precautions to ensure a safe shopping environment. It may surprise some to learn that discount grocery retailers outperformed many full-service retailers in their efforts to make the store environment safe, according to the report. The combination of value-orientation and strong health and safety assessment could be a hard-to-beat combination looking ahead.

SAME RULES, DIFFERENT GAME
As the pandemic wears on, and foodservice options continue to re-open, day-to-day health and safety protocols will, undoubtedly, be front and centre. While the entrenched rules of food safety, such as regular handwashing, preventing cross-contamination and time/temperature controls remain a key focus, communication of additional efforts in progress to prevent the spread of COVID-19 will be critical.

Despite all the attention focused on e-commerce and the variety of delivery services available in our new COVID-19 reality, retailers need to ensure they don’t take their eyes off their store locations by continuing to invest in in-store safety, particularly while the overwhelming majority of consumers still prefer to shop in-person.

This article appeared in Canadian Grocer‘s September-October 2020 issue.

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