As members of the Georgia Food Industry Association (GFIA), we have been sitting in on daily calls giving updates on the state of the Retail Food Industry…essentially (but not exclusively) your grocery stores. The Coronavirus pandemic, and individuals’ reactions to it, has affected the availability of some items dramatically. The following includes information to benefit the food retailer, the food distributor, and the general public.
I have to say, I am beyond impressed by the services provided by the GFIA as well as the ways in which the Governor’s Office is working with them. Here is some of what is going on:
Shortages – Manufacturers have ramped up and our supply chain is resilient. The greatest cause of empty shelves is panic buying combined with legitimate increases resulting from restaurant diners eating at home. For distributors, driver waivers can help you deliver more product by relaxing their Hours of Service Guidelines. Oversize and overweight restrictions may also be waived, depending on your state. Finally, local governments and communities can help by waiving their noise ordinances – in one case, delivery was postponed until the next day for 42 retailers because the driver wouldn’t make curfew. The GFIA is asking for a comprehensive, state-wide waiver.
Mask and Glove Requirements – At this time, neither food retailer employees nor drivers are required by law to wear masks or gloves. If an employee believes they are required, they may be required by their employer or supervisor. Masks and gloves are believed to do little other than create a false sense of security for these employees. Proper hygiene, sanitation, and distancing must still be practiced. Some retailers have expressed concern over the potential contamination implications of employees handling customers’ reusable bags.
WIC and SNAP – Both programs are expected to experience increased participation. Georgia uses WIC vouchers that group multiple items together, which poses a problem when a retailer is out of one or more of those items. The GFIA is working on a policy to allow retailers to make product substitutions so voucher users do not lose credit for out-of-stock items. Posts on some social media platforms suggest checking product labels for the WIC symbol (see image above) and avoiding purchase of these items so they remain available for those who need them. School feeding programs have lightened the pressure to release benefits early. Doing so is still being considered, but would likely result in challenges of social distancing and exacerbating panic buying tendencies. The GFIA welcomes ideas and input from high EBT retailers. They suggest that retailers need not be concerned about challenges surrounding compliance buys and minimum stock at this time.
Price Gouging – Retailers will receive a letter each time a price gouging complaint is filed by a consumer. In some cases, a consumer may be confused by the variations in product offerings and perceive the price variance as a price change. From consumer.georgia.gov:
Price increases on the products and services specified by the Governor are only permitted if they accurately reflect an increase in the cost of new stock or the cost to transport it, plus the retailer’s average markup percentage applied during the ten days immediately prior to the declaration of a state of emergency.
This is a simple report for your ERP partner to create for you. Eggs are an example of a product with recent cost increases and they are a WIC product. Be prepared to document your pricing in case you need to defend yourself against gouging complaints.
As you can well imagine, there is a lot of love and respect out there right now for our food retailers and critical infrastructure providers. You have our sincere appreciation for all you do (and have been doing for us all along)! Please reach out if you need more information or assistance.