As grocery stores continue to work to keep shelves stocked during the Covid-19 pandemic, consumers are turning to convenience stores across the nation for pantry items and grab-and-go meals, and as children remain out of school, the School Nutrition Foundation is working to provide those children with nutritious meals. And in its ongoing education efforts, the Perry Johnson Registrars Food Safety Inc. has announced its lineup of webinars for the month with topics such as crisis management and food safety capabilities making up a large part of the event roster.
Convenience stores pivot to food sales during pandemic
Convenience retailers say they have seen an increase in sales of grocery staples as customers are increasingly turning to their local convenience store for pantry items.
NACS, the trade association that represents the more than 152,000 convenience and fuel retailers in the United States, conducted a recent national survey. Here are some results:
- More than half of convenience retailers (52 percent) say their grocery sales have increased;
- Convenience stores are offering more at-home products: 52 percent are adding more cleaning/toiletry items, 31 percent are emphasizing ready-to-heat meals, 28 percent are offering more multi-pack/bulk items;
- Stores have dramatically scaled back self-serve foodservice and restaurant functions but are offering new programs to allow social distancing and to enhance convenience: 14 percent are offering some sort of curbside pickup program and 11 percent have added or increased delivery options, as 66 percent have closed public seating and dining areas, 45 percent have removed customer access to self-serve foodservice like coffee, fountain drinks, bakery items and roller grill;
- Virtually all retailers (99 percent) say they have enhanced their cleaning protocols for high-touch surfaces, with regular cleaning conducted as often as every 20 minutes. Convenience stores, which sell 80 percent of the fuel purchased in the United States, have ramped up the frequency of cleaning at sanitation practices inside the store and at the pump. Nearly one in three (31 percent) retailers are providing hand sanitizer at the pump and 20 percent provide gloves; and
- Convenience retailers are supporting medical/healthcare personnel and first responders with free beverages and discounted food. Nearly half (49 percent) of survey respondents are supporting these heroes in their communities by offering free beverages and steep discounts on food, delivering free meals to local hospitals and firehouses, providing free fuel for critical community groups that provide school lunch deliveries, donating product to food banks and other programs, and supplying masks and other supplies to emergency and healthcare professionals.
“We have always supported first responders with coffee and the like to help them through their shifts,” said Douglas Dean with 76/Circle K in Tamuning, Guam.
And, retailers also stressed the importance of their teams serving customers. Nearly one in three—32 percent—said that employee conversations, no matter however brief, were the most effective means of communications to tell people about their pandemic response activities.
“It’s critical that we let our employees know we appreciate the fact they helped us hold our company together,” said Kim Robello with Minit Stop Markets in Kahului, Hawaii.
Summing up the current operating climate, Dennis McCartney with Landhope Farms in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, noted, “The emphasis on cross-contamination and customer safety is something that has been highlighted over and over during this crisis and something that will continue long after this is over. We are vowing not to relax these ‘cleaning and sanitizing processes on steroids’ and will continue to magnify their importance to our associates and our customers.”
The NACS Retailer Member survey was fielded in late March and closed April 1. A total of 105 member companies, representing a cumulative 1,828 stores, participated in the survey.
SNF launches initiative to support Covid-19 school meals
The nonprofit School Nutrition Foundation (SNF) has launched the “Help Feed School Kids Now!” fundraising campaign to support school nutrition professionals’ emergency feeding operations during Covid-19 school closures. SNF will award grants to schools to address urgent needs due to the transition from traditional cafeteria service to grab-and-go meal pick-up and delivery models.
“On a typical school day, 30 million students depend on school meals as a key source of nutrition, and school nutrition professionals have been working around the clock to ensure vulnerable students don’t go hungry during Covid-19 school closures,” said SNF Board Chair Julia Bauscher, SNS, who also serves as director of school and community nutrition services at Jefferson County Public Schools, Kentucky.
School meal programs operate on extremely tight budgets, funded by cafeteria sales and reimbursements for meals served. With revenue declines due to closures, many school meal programs lack critical funds to purchase necessary equipment and supplies or cover transportation, temporary staffing and other costs associated with Covid-19 feeding programs.
“This pandemic has forced school meal programs to overhaul the way we serve our students,” said Bauscher. “SNF is stepping up to help meet immediate needs for everything from food and packaging for grab-and-go meals to mobile carts and kiosks that allow for curbside meal service. We want to support our school nutrition heroes as they work to reach more students with healthy meals during this crisis.”
SNF’s fundraising campaign will support grants to meet emergency feeding needs. Applications will be accepted starting on Monday, April 13, and awarded on a rolling basis based on the volume of funds raised.
SNF is an independent 501(c)(3) and the charitable arm of the non-profit School Nutrition Association (SNA). Since 1964, SNF has supported school nutrition professionals nationwide through scholarships, research and professional development programs.
PJRFSI announces April webinar schedule
Perry Johnson Registrars Food Safety Inc. has announced its lineup of webinars for the month of April. With the ongoing global concern caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, topics such as crisis management and food safety capabilities make up a large part of the event roster.
- April 8, 2 p.m. EST: PJRFSI Capabilities & Crisis Management in Food Safety;
- April 9, 1 p.m.: GMP Certification for Cannabis & Hemp: Tips, Case Studies, and Where to Start;
- April 14, 1 p.m.: Global GAP & PJRFSI, a Joint Webinar on Capabilities, Covid-19 & Managing Your Risk;
- April 16, 2 p.m.: Food Safety Leadership in Times of Crisis—A Joint PJRFSI & BRCGS Webinar;
- April 22, 2 p.m.: Introducing SQFI’s Social Responsibility F2SR Ethical Sourcing Standard;
- April 28, 2 p.m.: Food Safety Certifications and GFSI & Leadership Commitment.