The Packer’s Tom Karst visited April 8 with Mike Mauti, managing partner of the consulting firm Execulytics on the Canadian retail perspective during the COVID-19 pandemic.
From initial panic buying that cleared out nearly every supermarket department, Mauti said retailers have adjusted to consumer needs, changing the placement of some produce items.
One chain, for example, put a big skid display of potatoes at the entrance to the produce department.
“We started to see some changes in how people were shopping,” he said, noting that a focus group of consumers in Canada reported they are not shopping for food as often as they used to.
“Where they used to shop once a week, maybe more than once a week, now they are looking to shop once every two weeks,” he said. Produce commodities that can last two weeks include items such as potatoes, onions, carrots and apples, he said, and those items have been gaining prominence.
If hardware produce commodities are gaining, Mauti considered what commodities could suffer because of changing consumer behavior.
“I would suspect that if we go too much further into this, and you do start to see a lot more people shopping on two week cycles, I would think some of the leafy greens, maybe some of the berries might start take a bit of a backseat to some of these more hardier items,” Mauti said.
The rising use of e-commerce also is notable, he said, swamping the availability of the service.
Before the lock-down, consumers could place an online order and perhaps receive their order later in the day. Now, online grocery pick-up and delivery slots are booked for two weeks out.
Looking ahead, Mauti believes the produce department should be in relatively good shape.
“To go into a grocery store in such circumstances and still see such vibrant product on display, in bountiful amounts, is really a testament to the work that retailers have done,” he said. Still, he said it may take retailers time to adjust to less frequent shopping trips by consumers.
“It wouldn’t surprise me to start to see shrink go up in stores, and to see some off quality on display,” he said.