Selling groceries in a pandemic: ‘People are shopping less but buying more’

Selling groceries in a pandemic: ‘People are shopping less but buying more’

Liam Ryan, owner, Ryan’s SuperValu, at his Glanmire store. Picture: Denis Minihane

WITH 560 staff, Liam Ryan said educating his employees and bringing them on board was one of the most important tasks undertaken in his stores. Mr Ryan a SuperValu in Glanmire, Togher, Grange, with another in Kilmallock, Limerick and a Centra in Aherla

“We made them aware of the different guidelines in relation to public health safety and also the safety of themselves.”

Liam also put in perspex screens and ordered PPE for his staff as well as doubling the size of his cleaning staff and putting on additional people to cope with demand.

While four of his stores were already manned by security, Mr Ryan said he had to extend the hours for his security staff and also hire marquees to shelter customers queueing outside his stores.

Mr Ryan said that there seems to be very high compliance for mask-wearing in his stores, but said his staff have been told not to confront people about the need to wear a face covering.

“It is not our job to enforce the law. Staff have been told not to confront people, there could be other reasons they are not wearing masks, ailments or illnesses, there could be many reasons.

As a manager, Liam said he keeps a couple of masks in his pocket at all times to ensure he has one when needed.

In terms of security, Mr Ryan said that the main task is to marshall the floor and control numbers.

When the pandemic was first declared, Liam said he and his staff were a little anxious as they didn’t know what was happening or what was going to happen.

“My staff have performed heroically. There have been no cases of coronavirus in the stores. I used to start in the morning thinking, ‘who is going to get it?’

“That’s gone now. Everyone is so responsible, there is no fear of contracting Covid in the workplace.”

Discussing online orders and deliveries, Mr Ryan said demand has soared and he is thinking ahead to adapt to the needs of the customers.

“We have a dedicated phone service for the elderly, we took on more drivers and hired more vans. From May to June we saw huge demand. Recently it has increased again and we expect it to increase between now and October.”

Liam said he is also working on making a new online department for processing orders “We are upgrading for the winter months. Working on streamlining the process and delivering to areas at certain times, avoiding traffic jams, etc. We are becoming more professional and increasing availability.”

Mr Ryan said online deliveries are not very profitable, but he knows they are providing a much-needed service.

Going over the popular items, Liam said toilet paper, bread, flour and pasta are the basic reliables.

“There was the soap and sanitiser phase, we now have them in stock, we had trouble getting them at the start.”

Describing the shopping trends that have emerged thanks to the Covid era, Liam said people are shopping less, but buying more.

“Shopping trends are changing. People are buying bigger pack sizes. Usually, you would have people top-up shopping every day of the week, now they are doing big trolley shops.

“Early in the week, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday are fairly quiet, later in the week is busier.” Mr Ryan also said healthier premade dishes, such as salads and pastas, did not sell during the peak lockdown period.

“The deli has been decimated [with] everyone working from home and no schools [until last week]. We had to redeploy people to [the] online [department]. [The deli] is a staple of Supervalu business and we had to close counters.

“Things like salads and pasta plates, they died for four months.” Liam said hot food dinners remained popular with people buying ready-made hot lunches.

“We are getting back up and running now, the Deli counter is making a comeback.”

Looking at other changes, Mr Ryan said that there is less shopping going on now and people tend to do their shopping in one place.

“People used to shop for bargains, now people are more loyal, we have great value still and we are minding customers, but we don’t expect that trend to last.”

Discussing the profitability of the current situation, Liam admitted it is tough, but said supplies are good and there are no worries regarding a shortage of anything.

Looking ahead, Mr Ryan said he was resigned to the idea that Covid was here for the foreseeable future.

“Covid is with us for the next six to eight to 12 months. We realise that and we have adjusted our lifestyles. All we can do is keep the head down and do what we do well.

“We will continue doing what we are doing and we will follow the Government guidelines and make adjustments as needed.”

Liam said he is not as anxious about the situation as he used to be and he feels like he can handle anything that comes his way.

“We have placed our orders up to Christmas, it was difficult but we did it, we are planning up to 12 months in advance, beyond that we don’t know what will happen.

“We are hoping there will be a vaccine by March [or] April, but when that will get to Ireland we don’t know.”

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