"Planning ahead is very important, especially if your immune system is compromised." -Phil Lempert
Shireen: Welcome to the podcast, Phil, how are you?
Lempert: I'm great. I'm home, obviously, as many people are, and just trying to understand what the consumer behavior is all about as it relates to supermarkets, because it's starting to get a little tense out there, there are certain supermarkets. If I look at Los Angeles County where I am, it is now mandatory for shoppers to go in with a mask, and actually seeing guards or store employees. I don't want to say getting in fights, but having strong discussions with customers who say, hey, it's my personal privilege, I don't have to wear a mask, but then not allowing them in. So it's a very strange time to be looking at grocery and shopping in grocery stores.
Shireen: So talking about this strange time and strange time, indeed, what is the current state of shopper behavior? We initially saw sort of a hoarding mentality back when everything started with COVID-19. What are you seeing today in terms of just general shopper behavior at grocery stores?
Lempert: Well, unfortunately, we're still seeing some hoarding going on. Unfortunately, the stores are not fully stocked. So as a result of that, people, when they don't see shelves that are full, have a, have the mentality to say, Hey, I better buy more, because I don't know what the situation is going to be like tomorrow. Also, what we're seeing now is, you know, distancing, being very important in stores, we're also seeing grocery workers becoming infected, and dying as a result of COVID-19. So everybody's, you know, pretty tense in a supermarket environment, which is why we're seeing the kinds of increases in delivery, whether it's from Instacart, or shipped or favor any of the delivery services. And unfortunately, for a lot of people, especially that are, that are housebound, you might have to wait three, four or five days to get a delivery slot. And if you're, if you're not planning ahead, you may run out of that milk.
Shireen: Now, how about the current state for grocers themselves? What are they doing to protect shoppers to protect their workers? What are some active steps that they're taking?
Lempert: Well, a lot of groceries are doing a great job. Let me start there. Walmart, in particular, Trader Joe's. So every employee that goes into a Walmart has to have their temperature taken, if they, if they do have a fever, they're sent home with pay, and not allowed in the store. So we're seeing everything from distancing to putting up plexiglass sheets at the cash register, to protect both the worker as well as the customer. We're also seeing we're starting to see stores demand that people wear masks. As I said, Los Angeles County, the mayor made it a law that you've got to wear a mask when you go into a supermarket. And we're seeing the Union for a lot of grocery workers, 1.3 million of them standing up and saying, hey, you've got to give protective gear, everybody's talking about how these grocery employees are essential employees. But that without making it official, they can't get the protective protection equipment. So they are working hard to get the mass to get them gloves. It's a lot more than just cleaning a check stamp belt every half hour, it's really, you know, opening the store later, so that the cleaning crews have more time closing the store earlier. So again, the cleaning crews and the stocking crews have more uninterrupted time. And also, frankly, having less people in the store. So what the union is asking for is the store capacity should be 20 to 30% of normal. So you might have to wait outside what some grocers have done, and some haven't done is also marked that six foot space between people, because I drove past the Costco about a week or so ago. And they were only letting a certain number of people in. But outside there were probably 100 people and they were maybe six inches apart from each other. So we've got to be smart. And also we have to recognize that we as shoppers have a responsibility here to it's not all on the store.
Shireen: Now, what are some other steps that they're taking specifically for someone like our audience members, our viewers or listeners who use me, for people with diabetes with chronic illness? We already know through the data that's coming that while people with diabetes, for instance, are not at higher risk of contracting the virus but they're certainly at higher risk of complications as a result of this. So are they doing something specifically for this vulnerable population, you know, specifically to protect them?
Lempert: Most supermarkets now have a particular hour of the day, for either people who are older, or people who have diabetes, or other health conditions so that they can shop. The problem is that a lot of times, they are either 6am to 7am, or 7am. To 8am, which really, you know, doesn't make it very convenient. For someone who is ill, someone who, you know, might need a little bit more sleep. But what we're hoping for, and we're talking to a lot of groceries about doing that is having an hour perhaps in the morning and one in the afternoon, to make it more convenient for shoppers. The other thing that they're doing is a lot of stores now have retail dieticians, registered dietitians in the store. So they're able to help and what they can do for someone with diabetes, who goes down the shelf and can't find a product that's on their diet, they can go to that dietician, whether they do it online, whether they do it in person, and ask for other replacements, you know, I'm a diabetic, this is the food that I normally eat, this is the diet that I've been on, it's not on your shelves, helped me find a replacement. So those two things, I think are very, very important for somebody that does have a health condition.
Shireen: At some point, when we spoke before this, you had mentioned about one way lanes, can you talk a little bit more about that?
Lempert: What a lot of grocers are now doing is they're taking painters tape, and they're doing a like a big arrow on the floor. So that you can have, you know, just people going shoppers going in one direction, so that you're not having a cross with other shoppers, because frankly, gross grocery lanes are narrow, they're about three foot apart. So it's hard to distance six foot if the lane is only three foot wide. So they're doing that, but also that has some complications, because you'll find somebody you know, that has their shopping list that are looking for a product, and they're stopped, which means everybody else behind them has to stop. And if we have that six-foot distancing, it could go out into another aisle and so on. So, you know, I think that short term, it's probably a good idea. Long term, I don't think that is going to be one of the things that remains. In supermarkets, I do think we will see forever those shields, those plexiglass shields, I think we will see forever, you know, at the check stand, having a marker that says stay back six foot, you know, the average shopping cart is about four foot to begin with. So we're not talking about a big difference here for people to wait. But, you know, we are learning in the grocery industry very, very quickly, what procedures are going to have to stay in place after this.
Shireen: One of the things that, that I noticed actually recently going to go shop at a, at a grocer. But what I noticed is while I was trying to maintain my distance, it didn't seem like everyone around me was maintaining the same distance. So what would you say to that, because immediately, I went into a very defensive mode, and I just left the isle. I walked away, of course; I came back a little bit later once. There weren't as many people there, but it seemed that, you know, the, especially a specific lady who was walking toward me, she really did not care, much she was almost ready to rub my shoulder. So I took a step back and of course, walked away. But what would you say to something like that?
Lempert: Well, you're right, your experience is not alone. Even though in LA County, it is mandatory to wear a mask in a supermarket. As I said, I see a lot of people not wearing masks, or putting the mask on to go into the store and then taking them off. We're all in this together. I mean, to be honest with you, if there's somebody that did that in considered in that route. I would say to them, you know, I'm sorry, could you stop, you don't have a mask and let me pass or do just what you did, you know, walk into a different aisle. You know, I don't know how many people have to become infected and how many people have to die for us to wake up to understand that we're all in this together. I saw on Facebook. just yesterday, a post from a very political person who, you know, did a rant, because a supermarket had a security guard or actually had a police person there and told her and her husband when they got out of their car that they need a mask. And you know, she's tweeting to 2 million people about this and saying, “Why do I need a mask?” And this happened in Washington, DC, and “how many people in Washington DC died from COVID-19 anyway?” Yeah, that's the wrong attitude, we all have to be in this together, we all have to be smart, we all have to be respectful of each other's health, you know, wearing a mask is not to protect me wearing a mask is to protect you. So, you know, people have just got to realize that, and if they don't have a mask, my opinion, they should not be allowed in a grocery store, they should not be allowed, going to a restaurant to pick up takeout. We, we've got to respect you know, the health concerns of each other.
Shireen: And this goes for also people who may think they're healthy, or who may think that they can navigate their way around, wear a mask?
Lempert: Absolutely. I mean, if you look here, again, in Los Angeles, and in California, our governor and Mayor have acted, you know, very quickly, they close the beaches very quickly. You know, unlike in Florida, where they had spring break, and all these people got infected, or a bunch of people from Austin, Texas, students went down to Cabo in Mexico, and something like 70 of them got infected. I mean, this is just silly, it's stupid. And even if you do, to your point, think that you are healthy. It doesn't mean that you can't be a carrier. We're seeing very healthy people die, you know, miserable deaths, because of this. So you know, be considerate of others and be safe and, you know, stay home and be housebound and do all these things. Listen to a lot of podcasts. You know, if you missed the podcast, you know, now's your time where you can go back and listen to one that you missed.
Shireen: Great. Oh, that's a plug for us, too. All right. Who are some grocers who are getting this right? Are there grocers that are standing out more than others? Can you speak to them and exactly what they're doing?
Lempert: Yeah, I mentioned Walmart. Walmart is doing a lot of things. Right, taking the temperature and so on. Schnucks in the St. Louis market has now put up on their website, similar to a restaurant reservation where you can make a reservation for time to go shopping, so you don't have to wait online, so you don't have that hassle. Egb in the Texas area has done an extraordinary job. And especially with their retail dieticians, their CEO actually did a television commercial, suggesting to people you know, if you have to go grocery shopping, come alone. You don't have to bring the whole family with you grocery shopping, you don't have to bring your partner with you grocery shopping. If you can, you know the grocery shop for a neighbor. They want to keep as many people out of the grocery store as possible and getting them as much food as possible. A lot of them are now doing what we call click and collect. So you go online, and you order and rather than having it delivered, you drive up to the store at an appointed time that you pick 5 pm and someone brings out your groceries, it's contactless. You're never touching another human being. They'll either put them in your trunk or they'll leave them outside and you can put them in your trunk. That’s up to you. So there's a lot that is going on right now that they're really kind of cool things. And in fact, I just heard this morning. A Northern California chain it's privately owned by the name of Riley's has about 140 stores. They opened up a brand-new store yesterday. So what they found is they had this neighborhood and wasn't being served well by supermarkets. So they opened up a new store, a flagship store, right there. Now what we've seen from a lot of the change is they, they're halting remodels; they're halting store openings and so on during this because they're having problems getting supply. But rails did just the opposite. And I give them kudos for doing that and helping people.
Shireen: Now what are some tips that you could give for grocery shopping again, specifically to people with chronic illnesses, this vulnerable group, what are certain tips that you can provide to them, what can they do?
Lempert: Well again, if you can shop on Online, have it delivered for you or do a click and collect. Either one. Planning ahead is very important, especially if your immune system is compromised. Look at what foods you're going to need in five days, if you are not going to be picking it up, are going to be waiting a month of delivery services, it could take three, four or five days. So you've really got to plan ahead. Also, what you want to do is you want to think outside the grocery store. There's a lot of food service distributors who typically serve restaurants and all the restaurants are closed, that have all this food. And they are starting to sell them to consumers directly, either through delivery, or they create an open-air market in a parking lot where they bring a truck. Here in Santa Monica, there's one that has a caterer who has all their supplies, including alcohol, including toilet paper, then on the other side of the parking lot is a produce truck where you can buy produce right from that distributor. And the other part of the parking lot is a truck that sells meat and seafood. So you can look into other places besides just supermarkets, call up local gourmet stores, specialty food stores, see if they'll deliver to you very often they will, or they'll ship it to you, if that's your preference. So there's a lot of food out there, even though it might not be getting to the grocery shelves, that's more of a trucking and a transportation problem than a supply problem. However, I will say that what we've seen in the past few days is a lot of meat producing companies having to shut down their factories. And as a result of that, we are going to see higher prices and meat and shortages of meat. So again, now's the time while it's still in the stores to be able to stock up and freeze it if you can. Because in another two, three weeks, we will see meat shortages happening as well.
Shireen: And then if I absolutely do need to walk into the store and buy things, what are certain things that I should take with me from home, so I'm not, you know, so I'm not putting myself or others around me at risk?
Lempert: Well, as I said, a mask, bring gloves, bring hand sanitizer with you. If you've got any wipes, like Clorox wipes that you can wipe down the shopping cart with because most of the stores that I've gone into, and I'm visiting, you know, five or six stores a week these days to see what's going on that canister that used to be in the front with the PRL wipes to wipe your cart, well, that's empty. So bring your own, be prepared just to protect yourself and to protect other shoppers and employees that are around you.
Shireen: And then when I, when I go to checkout, and I have my credit card, and I have to swipe, what can I do? Because I'm always sort of thinking about who has touched it before me and all of that, how do I swipe my credit card safely,
Lempert: As you should. Matter of fact, what most of the stores are doing is at the same time that they're cleaning those Plexiglas barriers, they're also cleaning the credit card machine. But again, you know, get little alcohol wipes or pure wipes have one in your, in your pocket. And when you go to that credit card machine, what I do is frankly, I'm wiping down the keys, I don't want to touch those keys either the card itself, it's my card, I'm not worried about that. But I am worried about clicking the okay or typing in my phone number to get my frequent shopper discounts and things like that. So you know from the minute you get out of your car, in a supermarket parking lot till the time you get back in there, protect yourself, have wipes, have gloves on, keep your mask on. And, you know, try to distance yourself from other people.
Shireen: One of the things that I've seen, actually with shopping online, has been that the shipping times are now being pushed out way into the future. So delivery dates are weighing the future, even pickup times you can get same day pickup, it's a few days out. You know so even for someone who wants to be able to walk you wants to avoid walking into the store. What can they do if the delivery times are so far out?
Lempert: Well, one of the tricks is frankly to get on right after midnight. Because what happens, two things happen. One is the store knows what they have in inventory because they've been stocking the shelves for a few hours. And we've seen a lot of times and I've tested this probably maybe four or five times that delivery slots do open up after midnight. It could be because somebody had canceled it could be because the deliveries Service has hired more workers, for example, Instacart has hired another 150,000 shoppers, they're still looking for another 150,000. So timing is of the essence. So that's one trick that you can use to really get an earlier delivery time. Asides from that, you know, as you're ordering, refresh your browser, things do change. While you're shopping, a delivery slot might open up. Also, Instacart has a new feature that they started about two weeks ago. I think it's called flat, fast and flexible. So you might not see any delivery times. But if you click on fast and flexible, what happens is whenever there's a shopper that's open, they will deliver your water, it could be in two hours. It could be you know, instead of five days, it could be a day, it could be two days. So if you're using Instacart, use that fast and flexible. Your home anyway, you know, you're not gonna miss the delivery. So be fast and flexible.
Shireen: Okay, well, that's great. So with that Phil we’re towards the end of the interview, at this point, I'm going to ask you how people can connect with you, learn about the work that you're doing to sort of stay updated on grocery shopping on what they can do. So how can people connect with you?
Lempert: So to connect, it's really easy either to go to our website, supermarket, guru.com lots of great information there as well as links to our various videos and COVID-19 update information is on there. If you've got a specific question, feel free to email me Phil at supermarket guru.com or we're on Facebook. We're on Twitter, we're on all social media channels. It's real simple, hashtag supermarket guru.
Shireen: Great. Well, I appreciate your time, Phil.
Lempert: Thank you so much.
Shireen: Thank you.