The coronavirus pandemic has set the food shopping industry on fire. A tidal wave of consumers stocking up on products has prompted a shortage of key items on shelves and a dramatic uptick in online and curbside pickup.
It's also triggered higher prices for products. Federal officials reported that the Consumer Price Index hit its highest price increase for groceries in nearly 50 years. And experts predict that we can expect a "new normal" in everything from the way we shop to how we bring food into our homes.
According to USA Today, consumers can expect prices to continue to climb as Americans cook at home amid restaurant shutdowns. Before the pandemic, supermarkets accounted for 50% of the dollar amount of U.S food sales, and now it's at 85%.
This means that grocery stores will no longer have to offer super deals and bargains, said William Masters, a food economist at the Friedman School's Department of Food Nutrition Policy at Tufts University, according to USA Today. He added that two things will help keep prices in check: the highly competitive nature of the grocery sector and the fact so many customers are financially challenged that they will cut back on spending.
We can also expect shortages in certain items such as meat and produce — but not toilet paper — as these industries are labor intensive and are more vulnerable to coronavirus outbreaks.
Experts say that online shopping will continue to soar. Walmart's e-commerce sales rose 74% in the U.S. during its first quarter this year. Costco said its e-commerce sales nearly doubled in April. Kroger supermarkets hired more employees to beef up its online order team. In fact, Kroger and Amazon's Whole Foods are converting some of their establishments to "dark stores" with pickup-only service, according to USA Today.
The Chicago Sun Times reports that we can forget the salad bar, the soup bar, and free samples in the future. Sanitation will continue to take priority, with grocery workers wearing masks and cashiers standing behind Plexiglas.
Experts told the Times that we can also expect more pre-packaged produce to prevent handling individual items. But the biggest change, according to Phil Lempert of SupermarketGuru.com, is that supermarkets will drastically reduce the number of items on their shelves. He told the Times there will be a "hybrid" experience in which customers will order their staple items like ketchup and laundry detergent online and shop for fresh produce, meat, fish, and other items that require a more personal selection.
He said robots will prepare the online order in the back while the customer shops. Checkout would be streamlined to include both the fresh and online items for a quick and efficient shopping experience.
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