OPINION: Receipts from the pandemic

What a year of change and investment for an essential industry looks like

Linda Doherty //April 12, 2021//

OPINION: Receipts from the pandemic

What a year of change and investment for an essential industry looks like

Linda Doherty //April 12, 2021//

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Senior man shopping in a supermarket with a medical face mask

As New Jerseyans look to the day the state is fully reopen for business, gatherings and life in general, one thing has remained constant throughout the ordeal: the trip to the local grocery store.

Since we surpassed a year of grappling with this lingering health crisis, it is important to reflect on the early uncertainty from this invisible enemy. The grocery and food retail stores wobbled initially, but then quickly stood as a critical lifeline for both shoppers and employees.

The lightning-fast outbreak and dramatic impact of the coronavirus created panic and emptied store shelves. There was no template for this sudden pandemic. The food industry worked closely with the Governor’s Office and other state leaders to address the many challenges, shore up the supply chain, inform the public and support our brave and dedicated workforce.
The New Jersey Food Council (NJFC) led a statewide communication effort to provide critical information and resources to New Jersey shoppers and the food industry workforce, ensuring people were still able to get food and supplies despite tight government mandates and restrictions.

Gov. Phil Murphy described the work of the food industry as “mission critical.” It has been an incredible year with great change to the shopping experience, implementation of safety protocols, unprecedented growth in online shopping and inspiring industry stories in serving our most vulnerable populations and food banks.

Let’s fast forward to today. The Food Marketing Institute (FMI) just released a new report titled Receipts from the Pandemic: Grocery Store Investments Amid COVID-19 and the Resulting Economics of an Essential Industry that highlights the massive $24 billion investment the food retail industry made in response to the sudden challenges to the nation’s shopping and food consumption habits as a result of the stay-at-home orders and restrictions.

Grocers’ dramatic and unanticipated actions included significant safety, workforce and technology investments that enabled them to service their communities during this unpredictable health crisis.

The report, based on a survey of 52 FMI member companies representing almost 40% of the nation’s food retailing industry, offers the first comprehensive cost analysis of the actions taken to safely keep grocery stores open throughout the pandemic.

Overall, the report found that food retailers have spent approximately $24 billion for pandemic-related expenses since March 2020.

Here are a few insights into ways grocers nationwide responded to the pandemic, fed our communities and invested in protective and sanitation products:

  • Increase in payroll and incentive pay: $12 billion
  • Increase in benefits: $5 billion
  • Non-Monetary benefits and vaccine incentives: $1 billion
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and other safety expenses: $1 billion
  • Cleaning and sanitation supplies, labor and other related expenses: $3 billion
  • Technology and online delivery expenses: $1.5 billion

And now, food stores play another vital, lifeline role during this pandemic. In New Jersey, grocers with pharmacies are fully engaged in the vaccination distribution effort.

As more supply becomes available, an increasing number of our local supermarkets will be able to vaccinate customers and their workforce. Our supermarket members with pharmacies are now coordinating with their grocery competitors to vaccinate their workforce to protect our frontline workers.

There is probably no industry other than healthcare that has played such a meaningful and critical role in supporting our residents during this health crisis. We look forward to reopening New Jersey and supporting the state’s economic health and recovery as a proud frontline industry.

Linda Doherty is president and CEO of the New Jersey Food Council, the trade association representing 1,200 retail food stores, wholesalers, manufacturing and service companies that collectively employ more than 200,000 associates in the state.