Kroger said stores nationwide will post limits by Tuesday on the number of shoppers permitted inside stores at a given time to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus pandemic.
On Monday, Kroger said the shopper limits will vary by store size. But under Kroger’s new reduced capacity limits, the number will be 1 person per 120 square feet.
So a traditional grocery-pharmacy “combo” store of 60,000 to 75,000 square feet would allow 500 to 625 shoppers at a time. Larger Marketplace stores that are 125,000 square feet or larger would permit more than 1,000 shoppers at a time.
Smaller format stores, like Downtown’s 45,000- square-foot location, would only allow about 375 at a time.
Kroger is the nation’s largest supermarket chain. Besides Kroger stores, the grocer operates several regional supermarket chains in 35 states, including Fred Meyer, Harris Teeter, Ralphs, Mariano’s, Fry’s, Smith’s, King Soopers, QFC and others. The company employs 460,000 workers nationwide and operates nearly 2,800 stores.
Before the pandemic, Kroger typically handled 11 million shoppers a day.
Kroger said it used 50% of the international building code’s calculated capacity as its standard to ensure the social distancing of customers.
“During this national pandemic, we are committed to adopting preventive measures to help protect the safety and health of our associates, customers and communities,” said Mary Ellen Adcock, Kroger’s senior vice president of operations.
Also on Tuesday Kroger said it was seeking to boost shopper and associate safety through additional steps:
• Kroger said it’s encouraging associates to wear protective masks and gloves. The company has ordered masks for associates nationwide. Supplies have arrived in some regions with all locations expecting supplies by the end of this week.
• Kroger said it’s following local ordinances in cities or counties that mandate employee temperature checks. Associates may also request to have their temperature taken at work. The company began testing temperature checks in its distribution centers several weeks ago and is beginning to expand associate temperature checks to stores. Currently, employees are encouraged to take their temperature before heading to work.
• Kroger said it will also test one-way aisles in certain markets to determine to effective way of encouraging social distancing. The company didn’t specify what markets will be tested.
• Kroger said it would also temporarily waive prescription delivery fees via mail or courier. Customers can contact their local pharmacy for further details.
Kevin Garvey, the president of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 75 – which represents 30,000 retail workers in Western Ohio, including the Cincinnati region, told The Cincinnati Enquirer, part of the USA TODAY Network, said Kroger has struggled to obtain protective gloves, masks and hand sanitizer, but the situation is improving.
Kroger will be able to supply workers who want them with one mask and set of gloves per shift, Garvey said.
“They’re delivering masks to the stores and there’s plenty of gloves – hand sanitizer is still hit or miss,” Garvey said. “Everybody – retail, hospitals, police – wanted these PPEs. So basically, you had to wait your turn.”
Over the weekend, Garvey disclosed three local Kroger employees had tested positive for the COVID-19 virus and had been sent home on sick pay. He grimly predicted there would be more.
Garvey said retailers and other employers were caught flat-footed, unprepared to a surge in demand for protective equipment. He added the union has been pressing government officials to recognize retail workers effectively as first-responders, facing similar exposure hazards as hospital workers or police.
The latest safety measures by Kroger join other moves in recent weeks, such as installing 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 has reserved special shopping times for senior customers and others more vulnerable to infection in Cincinnati and other markets. The company has also cut operating hours in several markets to allow extra cleaning and restocking.
The new caps on store traffic come after Gov. Mike DeWine ordered Thursday retail businesses to set limits on the number of customers allowed in stores at any given time. Ohio left it to stores to cap traffic because retailers operate differently.
The order takes effect Monday at 11:59 p.m., but Cincinnati-area stores will have been closed for three hours under its current COVID-19 operating schedule. DeWine’s order is in effect through May 1.
On Saturday, Walmart began limiting the number of customers who can be in a store at once. Their new rule: stores will now allow no more than five customers for each 1,000 square feet at a given time, roughly 20% of a store’s capacity.
Under Walmart’s new rule, a typical supercenter of 200,000 square feet would only allow 1,000 shoppers at a time. A store associate will monitor the count at the door. Once a Walmart reaches its capacity, customers will be admitted inside on a “1-out-1-in” basis.