Supermarket workers across Cork are on the frontline keeping supply chains running and shelves stocked in a mission to keep locals fed during the current pandemic.
Supermarkets and smaller shops are adhering to the Government and HSE guidelines and have implemented safety measures for both their staff and customers, including plexiglass protective screening, Covid-19 safety signage, hand sanitizing stations, social distancing markers, and safe queuing systems.
Staff who work tirelessly throughout the pandemic, although protected while at work, are still in contact with a large number of people each day and continue to risk their health by going to work in order to provide an essential service.
Some supermarkets have implemented new ways of doing business and some have even provided a new service during Covid-19.
Supermarkets such as Quish’s SuperValu in Ballincollig have been operating an online shopping service which has proved extremely popular in the last number of weeks.
The store has had to double its number of delivery vans and delivery drivers to keep up with demand. There are now a total of six delivery vans and seven delivery drivers.
Similarly, smaller local stores in residential areas have been operating a delivery service for the first time in the store’s history.
Centra in Rochestown has been delivering essential shopping to elderly cocooning residents in the area, an initiative which owner of the store Terry Murphy has taken on himself.
Larger stores such as Tesco Superstore in Wilton have seen its delivery service almost double in demand and 18 to 20 delivery drivers are on board to distribute essential supplies to people in the locality and surrounding areas in the county.
The store sees a larger number of deliveries coming into the store each day which are managed with care by a team who work with an added awareness surrounding safety measures.
Aldi in Glanmire has adapted to the new norm of plexiglass screens, regular hand washing, regular cleaning of surfaces and social distancing with the help of its customers who have given the team an extra lift during such an uncertain time.
Lidl’s warehouse in Charleville, which delivers to 50 stores each day, has continued to keep large stock of goods with little worry of any shortage of stock as supply chains remain solid.
Cork’s store managers, store owners, and employees tell of their experiences of being essential workers during a pandemic and how they have found adapting and adjusting so quickly to the current situation.
Quish’s SuperValu in West Village, Ballincollig has seen its delivery service double in demand since Covid-19.
Dave Garrett has worked with SuperValu for eight and a half years and is now the face of SuperValu’s online marketing campaign for online deliveries.
He said that “about 90%” of people using the online delivery service are those who are cocooning and cannot do their own shopping and that his line of work gives him a sense of satisfaction knowing that the elderly in the community are looked after.
Store owner Cormac Quish said that the phone-in order service which would traditionally have been used by elderly customers who are rural based is still being used by regular customers.
Mr Garrett enters “two or three” houses where people would not be able to lift the tray of food and upon entering their home asks them to wait in another room while he drops their food.
“Other than that, I just go to their doors and if they’re cocooning it’s written on the sheet we get. I’d ring them or knock and leave it at the door, then walk away and when they come out I ask if they are okay and if they are I leave and we collect the trays the next day,” he said.
Mr Garrett makes about 20 to 25 deliveries each day and there are six drivers in any given day making a similar amount of deliveries from the store.
Checkout operator at the store, Hajnajka Roscas, said that customers have been adhering to guidelines and believes that customers will be more aware when shopping going forward.
Originally from Hungary, Ms Roscas has been working at the store for over one year and found working at the store “a bit hard” at the beginning of the pandemic when people were panic buying due to the uncertainty surrounding the lockdown.
She said that after a “hectic” first couple of days measures were put in place in store for staff and customers’ protection.
The 21,000 sq foot store implemented social distancing measures, a hand washing sink and various hand sanitizing stations and operates a queuing system when the store reaches 50 shoppers where a five in, five out system is in place.
The store also has plexiglass shields at both its self-service checkouts and main checkouts. Ms Roscas often supervises the self-checkouts and has a remote screen which she can assist customers from.
Cormac Quish and his brother own both SuperValu stores in Ballincollig. The West End store has a total of 120 staff members and the smaller store on Main Street employs 56 staff.
Mr Quish said that it has been a “challenging” time but that they are doing what they can to give back to a community which has looked after them.
Fresh Food Manager at Tesco Superstore in Wilton Richard Kenneally will have worked in the store for 13 years this August and said that the current pandemic was another shopping trend that took some getting used to.
“In retail, you’re constantly adapting and reacting to how shopping habits have changed and they’ve changed over the years anyway, this is different, it’s extreme, but we’ve all adapted to it quite well,” he said.
The Togher man oversees the deliveries of fruit and veg and fresh foods coming into the store.
He said that employees at the store come to work knowing how much of a difference they are making to peoples’ lives by “getting the job done”.
He said that the biggest change was being mindful of social distancing which was “difficult at the beginning” but he said that the team makes sure that guidelines are followed.
26-year-old Jason Dunphy recently started working with Tesco again in its online shopping department through its Friends and Family recruitment drive.
Mr Dunphy previously worked with Tesco for “a couple of years” before packing up and travelling to Asia.
“I was in Vietnam in March and I had to cancel my plans and come back home because it was too risky, I didn’t want to risk my own health so I came back and done my quarantine for two weeks and then I saw that Tesco were advertising jobs and I got in contact and put in an application form and the lads helped me out with a job,” he said.
From Vietnam, Mr Dunphy was due to meet friends in Thailand, and travel on to Bali, before travelling to Australia to complete his farm work and live there for two years.
He said that “luckily” he didn’t lose out on much money as a result and that “getting home safe was the most important thing”.
He said that once it’s deemed safe that he hopes to travel again.
“ I don’t want to go away and take any risks just for the sake of travelling, I don’t want to put myself or anyone else in danger. Once it’s safe enough and the world gets back to some bit of normality as we knew it hopefully I can,” he said.
Store manager of Aldi in Glanmire, Cliona Wallace, said that keeping motivated during the current pandemic can be difficult but that customers’ gratitude for the team’s efforts has kept morale high within the store.
Ms Wallace said that customers remind staff that they are providing an essential service whereas they “just see it as doing their jobs”.
She said that although a lot of changes have been implemented in store, that it is “amazing how quickly you adapt to the new normal”.
She said that regular hand washing, social distancing and regular cleaning of surfaces is “now just part of the day”.
A marshal is in place at the door to manage the number of customers in the store at any one time and customers queuing must adhere to two metre social distancing.
Hygiene stations with hand sanitizer and disinfectant for handles of trolleys and baskets are in place at the entrance to the store, and markers on the floor and audio recordings which play throughout the store reminds customers to respect social distancing.
Plexiglass screens are in place at the tills and cleaners regularly sanitize tills and staff areas throughout the day.
Ms Wallace said that after the initial panic buying that occurred that the general working environment has remained relatively normal.
“Aldi has been providing us with daily updates and have been following HSE advice. We have an app that also provides information and offers ways to help us keep positive in these difficult times.
“The individual stores have also been very supportive of each other helping each other out when needed,” she said.
She said that since Covid-19, the safety of her staff and customers has become her priority.
“I want our customers to feel confident we are doing all we can in these challenging times for everyone,” she said.
Owner of Centra in Rochestown Terry Murphy has been busier since Covid-19 catering for locals in the suburban residential area.
Mr Murphy said that when people are at home, the store is generally busier. He said that a lot of locals pop into their local store because it’s easier than queuing for a larger supermarket.
The Centra store is “bigger than a normal Centra” and carries an extensive range of products which attracts “an awful lot of basket shopping”.
Mr Murphy has been working in the store since 1985 and has been the owner since 1995. He currently works alongside the store manager Mary McGroarty and said that working during the current pandemic has been “significantly more challenging” but that he feels lucky that he can stay open.
Mr Murphy has a total of 55 full-time and part-time employees who have been adapting to the new norm by doing business slightly differently to protect themselves and customers.
“There have been changes to how we restock the shop with a view to maintaining suitable social distancing. Very busy areas of the store are stocked very early in the day when it’s not as busy so staff aren’t interacting as such with people.” He said that he has had “so many people” thanking him and his staff for the great job they are doing which he finds “really satisfying”.
Mr Murphy has been running a delivery service from the store for the local cocooning elderly which is a new service put in place since Covid-19.
He said that a particularly challenging part of the job is being conscious of the amount of people he meets on a daily basis when trying to protect his family at home.
“We’re going back home and seeing people who have been inside all day and you’re conscious that while you’re at work you’re meeting people and people might be only seeing you or a handful in the store but you’ve been meeting people all day throughout the day and do you do become very conscious of it,” he said.
Logistics manager of Lidl’s warehouse in Charleville Donal Egan oversees the goods-in department and looks after the inbound pallets coming into the warehouse.
Mr Egan said that it has been extremely busy since Covid-19 and that the warehouse received an extra 17,500 pallets in the months of March and April compared to the same time last year.
The warehouse would receive approximately 12,000 pallets a week which is managed by a team of 32.
Mr Egan has worked with Lidl since August 2016 and said that standards have “really ramped up” in regards to social distancing and hand sanitizing since Covid-19.
Mr Egan said that there was a “touch of panic buying” at the start of lockdown but that Lidl’s supply chain and logistics network never stopped.
“We’ve always had enough toilet tissue, enough pasta and coffee in stores. We have 86,000 packs of tissue in the warehouse at the moment so that’s enough to supply 1,200 peoples’ families for a year,” he said.
The warehouse receives products from all over the world and delivers to 50 different stores in the country from “Clifden in Galway all the way down to Skibbereen in Cork”.
He said that the extra demand has meant that some staff members are working longer shifts but that they get a day off for working longer hours.
“Lidl always promotes a work life balance and a positive work environment when they're here so if you’re working 40 hours, you might do it over four days now instead of five,” he said.
He said that people working to keep shelves stocked during the pandemic “should be proud”.
“The more you think about it, you’re feeding the country and the staff here have really stepped up to everything that’s been asked of them and no job has been too big and no store has not got their delivery,” he said.