With the coronavirus pandemic shutting down restaurants and foodservice businesses nationwide and pushing supermarkets to the brink to meet skyrocketing demand, the International Foodservice Distributors Association (IFDA) has partnered with FMI-The Food Industry Association to funnel excess industry resources to the grocery sector.
Under a matching program announced Thursday, foodservice distributors with unused capacity — including products, transportation and warehousing services — will be connected with food retailers and wholesalers seeking more supply and support as consumers crowd grocery stores to stock up on supplies in preparing to shelter at home, IFDA and FMI said.
“Our industries are both committed to the safe delivery of food to consumers, and we are equipped to provide service during this critical time in our country,” IFDA President and CEO Mark Allen said in a statement. “This partnership makes sense, and it is in these times of turmoil that we must step up and fill the gaps when we can to help each other where we can.”
To help slow the spread of COVID-19, many state and local governments have mandated or urged the closing restaurants, schools, businesses and other gathering places supported by the foodservice distribution industry. Soaring demand for food, water and cleaning products, meanwhile, has exceeded holiday season shopping levels and stretched the resource capacity of the food industry, resulting in replenishment delays for grocery stores.
IFDA and FMI said their ad hoc partnership fills a gap by providing economic sustainability to the $280 billion foodservice distribution sector while helping the grocery industry meet the coronavirus-related needs of consumers across the country.
“These are unprecedented times with unprecedented needs, but if we can think in terms of partnerships and problem solving, we can get through this together,” FMI President and CEO Leslie Sarasin stated. “We are committed to replenishing supplies, but we know it will take cooperation, patience and consistency to deliver results.”
Citing early economic forecasts, the National Restaurant Association reported yesterday that the restaurant industry — representing 1 million restaurant and foodservice outlets and 15.3 million employees — stands to lose at least $225 billion over the next three months and cut 5 million to 7 million jobs due to the coronavirus.
Grocery retailers, in the meantime, have been scrambling to keep essential food, grocery and health-related products on shelves. That is compelling food stores and distributors to launch emergency hiring programs and temporarily lift wages for hourly staff being pushed to the limit to keep pace with customer demand.
“UFCW members in grocery and retail stores across the country are working around the clock to make sure that families have the food and supplies they need,” Marc Perrone, president of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) International said Thursday.
Perrone lauded efforts by Minnesota, Michigan and Vermont to deem grocery employees as essential personnel and eligible for child care assistance so they can keep working.
“We applaud Minnesota, Michigan, and Vermont for recognizing that these workers are on the frontlines, providing an essential service to their communities,” he said. “As our country confronts this outbreak and its devastating impact on our economy, there has never been a more important time for strong leadership. Congress must follow the lead of these states and provide paid leave and other essential protections needed to support the brave grocery and retail workers keeping our communities strong.”
Also on Thursday, the National Retail Federation (NRF) sent a letter to President Donald Trump urging the White House to help clarify overlapping state and municipal orders defining “essential workers” and limiting social gatherings as part of efforts to fight COVID-19.
“Unfortunately, there remains a need for clear national guidance to resolve questions caused by a number of conflicting state and local orders that are triggering consumer, worker and business confusion, leading to cascading negative impacts on communities across the country,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said in the March 19 letter. “Our members report that towns, cities and counties are deviating from instructions offered by governors and state agencies.”
NRF requested that, at a national level, “essential retail businesses” include grocery stores, convenience stores and other businesses engaged in the retail sale or provision of food, pet supply stores, big-box stores, wholesale clubs and other retailers selling household consumer products (such as cleaning and personal care).
Other retail establishments that should be defined as “essential,” NRF said, include restaurants and other facilities that prepare and serve food (under rules for social distancing; pharmacy and health care services; hardware and home improvement stores; and gas stations, auto supply stores and auto repair facilities.
“Retailers are following recommendations provided by the CDC and share the immediate goal of slowing the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Additionally, many retailers are stepping up during this global health crisis to assist with drive-through COVID-19 testing sites on their properties,” Shay wrote. “Families are counting on retailers right now, and retailers are determined to be there for them. This is an unprecedented situation that demands an ‘all hands on deck’ approach, and retailers are eager to do their part.”
The list of essential businesses also should include local, regional and national transportation and delivery services that ship or deliver groceries, food and other goods as well as facilities supporting interstate delivery of goods, distribution centers, warehouse facilities, and trucking and highway rest stops, according to NRF.
“Several jurisdictions have overlooked the important role distribution centers and transportation logistic companies play in the retail industry. Retailers, grocers and restaurants cannot resupply without access to their distribution centers,” explained Shay. “Truck drivers and logistics companies need access to federal and state highway rest areas. Regrettably, some states have chosen to close rest areas they control while setting overly stringent curfews on these critical workforces serving our communities.”
NRF’s letter also noted that state and local governments enforcement of 50-person limits on social gatherings may result in long lines outside stores and unsettle consumers, who may think groceries and other supplies are in limited quantity. In turn, having hundreds of customers lined up outside stores defeats the purpose of social distancing guidance, the association added.
“When state and local governments give blanket orders to ‘close non-essential retail’ and ‘limit mass gatherings to 50 people,’ it causes panic and alarm. Consumers then swarm retailers, which exhausts existing supplies and overwhelms employees,” Shay said in the letter. “While we are working with municipal and state officials on the examples above, we ask the administration to clarify that CDC instructions to limit gatherings to less than 50 people should be relaxed or exempted for large-format grocery stores, big-box retail and wholesale clubs. Facilities with significant square footage can adequately accommodate more than 50 shoppers while effectively managing social distancing practices among customers and employees.”
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