As the nation continues to wage battle against Covid-19, grocery retailers and affiliated businesses across the country are doing their part to try to keep employees and customers safe. In the Midwest, the Kroger Family of Cos. is taking additional protective measures and Casey’s General Stores is updating customers on how it is fighting the coronavirus. Also, the first known Covid-19-related wrongful death lawsuit in the state of Illinois has been filed.
Illinois’ first Covid-19 wrongful death lawsuit filed
The first known Covid-19 wrongful death lawsuit in the state of Illinois was filed April 6 by Tony S. Kalogerakos, principal attorney at Injury Lawyers of Illinois LLC.
Kalogerakos filed the lawsuit on behalf of the family of a Walmart employee who died from complications of Covid-19. The lawsuit filed in Cook County, Illinois, alleges willful and wanton misconduct and reckless disregard, in the March 25 death of Wando Evans, 51, a 15-year employee at the Evergreen Park Walmart store.
Evans, who worked as an overnight stock and maintenance associate at the store, first mentioned symptoms consistent with Covid-19 to store management two weeks ago but was ignored, the lawsuit alleges. On March 23, Evans was sent home by store management; two days later he was found dead in his home.
The lawsuit alleges Walmart did not initially follow the CDC’s or OSHA’s recommendations, putting not only its employees but the general public at risk. It took additional measures only after Wando’s death.
Kalogerakos said his firm also has requested an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) investigation into Walmart’s actions, especially after Walmart issued a statement indicating they are now hiring individuals within 24 hours, as opposed to its typical period of two weeks. The complaint further alleges they were well aware of employees having symptoms and not communicating such to its employees or customers.
Kroger Family of Cos. adds measures to protect customers, associates
The Kroger Family of Cos., based in Cincinnati, Ohio, has adopted customer capacity limits to further encourage physical distancing in stores. Beginning April 7, the retailer will begin to limit the number of customers to 50 percent of the international building code’s calculated capacity to allow for proper physical distancing in every store.
“Kroger’s introduction of customer capacity limits is one more way we are doing our part to flatten the curve while operating as an essential business, providing our customers with access to fresh, affordable food and products,” said Mary Ellen Adcock, Kroger’s SVP of operations. “During this national pandemic, we are committed to adopting preventive measures to help protect the safety and health of our associates, customers and communities.”
As an illustration, the standard building capacity for a grocery store is one person per 60 s.f. Under Kroger’s new reduced capacity limits, the number will be one person per 120 s.f. Kroger will begin to monitor the number of customers per square foot in its stores using its industry-leading QueVision technology, which already provides a count of the customers entering and exiting stores.
“By leveraging QueVision, our technology system that uses infrared sensors and predictive analytics, we will be able to more efficiently support our new capacity limits, creating a safer environment for our customers and associates,” said Yael Cosset, Kroger’s chief technology and digital officer.
Kroger’s new customer capacity limits joins other measures the retailer has established over the last few weeks to promote physical distancing, including the addition of plexiglass partitions and educational floor decals and airing of a healthy habits message via in-store radio to encourage customers to practice good hygiene and spatial awareness.
Kroger and its affiliates also recently have implemented the following protective and preventive measures:
- Protective Face Masks and Gloves for Associates—The Kroger Family of Cos. is encouraging associates to wear protective masks and gloves. The retailer has ordered masks for associates nationwide, with supply starting to arrive in select regions and the anticipation of all locations having supply by the end of this week.
- Associate Wellness Checks—The Kroger Family of Cos. is asking associates to closely monitor their health and take their temperature at home prior to coming to work. If they experience symptoms, including a fever, they are encouraged to contact their health care provider and stay home. Under its expanded COVID-19 emergency leave guidelines, associates self-isolating or experiencing symptoms as verified by a health care professional are eligible to receive their standard pay for up to two weeks (14 days).
The retailer started testing temperature checks in its distribution centers several weeks ago and is beginning to expand associate temperature checks to stores. Kroger and its affiliates are following local ordinances in cities or counties that mandate employee temperature checks, and associates may also request to have their temperature taken at work.
- Piloting One-Way Aisles in Select Markets—The Kroger Family of Cos. has started to test one-way aisles in select markets to determine its effectiveness as a measure to further support physical distancing.
- Waived Prescription Delivery Fees—The Kroger Family of Pharmacies is temporarily waiving fees for prescription delivery via mail or courier. To learn more about the options and availability, customers should contact their local pharmacy location.
- Continuing Kroger’s Zero Hunger | Zero Waste Commitment—As part of Kroger’s commitment to end hunger and eliminate waste in its communities by 2025, the retailer continues to allow its customers to use reusable shopping bags, provided there is not a state or local ordinance that prohibits use. The retailer encourages its customers to frequently clean and wipe down their reusable shopping bags to help maintain a safe shopping environment.
- Reduced Holiday Hours—The Kroger Family of Cos. is closing early on Easter Sunday, April 12, to provide its associates with more time to rest and be with their families. Holiday operating hours will vary by location and market.
Casey’s General Stores provides Covid-19 business update
Ankeny, Iowa-based Casey’s General Stores Inc. has provided an update on the impact from the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic on its operations, financials and supply chain, and the company’s ongoing efforts to address the challenges and ensure the continued long-term success of the business.
“The novel Covid-19 public health crisis presents significant challenges around the globe, and our hearts go out to all of the individuals and families impacted. At Casey’s, we are tremendously grateful for the selfless efforts of everyday heroes, including frontline workers and medical professionals addressing urgent needs across our country,” said Darren Rebelez, president and CEO of Casey’s. “Our primary focus is on the health and well-being of our valued team members and guests, while maintaining business continuity across our nearly 2,200 stores that remain open and continue to serve our communities as critical businesses.”
Casey’s has implemented the following changes across the company, in line with all relevant federal, local and municipal requirements, intended to help protect the safety of its team members and guests and continues to provide vital products and services to the communities where it operates:
- Increased all full-time and part-time store and distribution center team members’ pay by an additional $2 per hour;
- Provided additional operational bonuses to key field support team members;
- Provided additional paid leave for impacted team members;
- Provided additional paid flex-time for full and part-time team members;
- Designated exclusive shopping time for higher-risk guests;
- Enhanced cleaning and hygiene practices throughout the store and at the pumps;
- Closed all in-store dining and moved to full-service on key prepared food items;
- Mandated working remotely where possible;
- Implemented health checks intended to maintain well-being in all distribution centers;
- Established 6-foot markings in stores to encourage social distancing; and
- Installing plexiglass shields at Casey’s cash registers.
Casey’s will continue to monitor the situation closely and take further action, as appropriate.
“Casey’s started the fourth fiscal quarter with strong momentum, with many of our strategic initiatives maturing and accelerating business performance. However, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has caused a decline in store traffic and consumer demand across our business, and we believe it is prudent to withdraw our financial guidance for fiscal 2020. Casey’s maintains a strong balance sheet and ample liquidity to weather the near-term impacts and expects to emerge from the crisis in a position of strength,” said Rebelez.
The company owns nearly all of its assets, eliminating any lease exposure, and currently has a debt/EBITDA ratio of 2.2x, which is well under the 3.5x debt/EBITDA covenant in its private placement notes. Casey’s liquidity position is strong. After drawing down $100 million on its revolving credit facility to maintain maximum flexibility, the company still has $150 million in capacity under its facilities.
As mentioned in the March earnings call, the company recently locked in rates for the refinancing with an all-in coupon of approximately 2.9 percent. The nearest debt maturity beyond the 2020 note is 2025.
Casey’s is taking a number of immediate steps to optimize cash flow by implementing the following initiatives:
- Deferring capital spending, including new store construction and replacement stores;
- Reviewing terms of payment to suppliers;
- Reducing inventory levels throughout the store and supply chain;
- Adjusting hours of operation at almost all stores, limiting 24 hour and extended operation stores;
- Strengthening pizza promotions for guests who are seeking meal solutions;
- Reducing prepared food production to reduce in-store stale costs;
- Expanding delivery via DoorDash at 579 stores;
- Expanding online grocery assortment at all stores; and
- Making 50 additional grocery items available via DoorDash at 579 stores.
Casey’s owns and operates its own distribution centers and transportation fleet to service its stores, providing flexibility to navigate through this near-term challenge. Management is leveraging this flexibility and working with suppliers to proactively manage inventory levels and mitigate any potential risks. To date, the company has not experienced any significant supply chain disruptions.
Casey’s General Stores is a Fortune 500 company operating approximately 2,200 convenience stores in 16 states.