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6 Things You Won’t Be Seeing in Grocery Stores Anymore

Say goodbye to self-serve stations.

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Man with face mask walking and shopping in supermarketFG Trade/Getty Images

Supply and demand affect product mix

The coronavirus pandemic has shifted almost everything about our lives, and the way we shop for groceries is no exception. “We saw as consumers for the first time how fragile the supply chain really is,” says Phil Lempert, founder and editor of The Lempert Report and SupermarketGuru.com. Even major companies that produce our favourite (and now hard-to-come-by) brands have had issues keeping up with manufacturing and distribution to meet pandemic-level demands.

“I think over the next few months we’re going to see a lot of brands eliminate some SKUs,” Lempert says, referring to stock-keeping units, or individual products within a brand’s lineup. “We probably have too many products to begin with,” he says, noting that the average supermarket in the United States has 42,000 different products—or did, prior to the pandemic

In today’s environment, when the goal is to get in and out of the store as quickly as possible, too much product choice can overwhelm. Many of the products and services we’ve long taken for granted in grocery stores have already changed or been eliminated. While some things may eventually return, many will not.

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Young girl in front of empty shelf in a supermarket, panic buying and hoarding conceptArtMarie/Getty Images

Unlimited quantities

We used to be able to buy as much of any product as the store had in stock. But when coronavirus-related lockdowns began in March, people started hoarding sanitary supplies like toilet paper and household cleaners. That depleted the supply chain, which is still catching up. That means stores will have to place limits on these items for the foreseeable future.

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Salad Bar IngredientsJuanmonino/Getty Images

Self-serve stations

Say goodbye, probably forever, to salad bars, olive and pickle bars, hot food bars, and any other in-store bar where customers can serve themselves, Lempert says. “They’d seen a decline in sales the last five or six years anyway.” And salad bar tongs were never cleaned like they should be, either. Now, in the age of COVID-19, we understand that sneeze guards just aren’t sufficient to prevent transmission of virus particles from infected shoppers to utensils and open containers of food. “This is the death knell” for self-serve stations, Lempert adds.

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Shoppers Drug Mart in Calgary, AlbertaPhoto: Jeff Whyte/Shutterstock

24-hour service

Many stores previously were open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, offering convenience for shift workers and other night owls. But when the pandemic began, most stores cut back their hours, and Lempert says it’s unlikely we’ll ever see 24-hour operations again. “We don’t need them,” he says, “and in order to clean properly or stock properly, the stores need to be empty.”

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butcher shop fresh cuts raw beef meat chef steaksgolubovy/Getty Images

Specialty meats

The selection of cuts available in the meat case has dwindled. Meat producers have had to temporarily close plants, and those that remained open with skeleton crews had to focus their efforts on producing more basic products, such as bone-in cuts. Add to that the fact that large orders from restaurants and schools are down substantially, and it’s no surprise that meat suppliers have had to adapt. “You may not be able to get the cut you like… so you’ll get a different cut,” Yossi Sheffi, director of transportation and logistics at MIT, told Boston radio station WBUR in May.

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Special PricesFangXiaNuo/Getty Images

Frequent sales and promotions

Many food brands, as well as some grocery chains, have discontinued sale pricing, at least for the time being. According to MarketWatch, companies like Kellogg, J.M. Smucker, and Mondelez International (maker of Oreos and other snack foods), have decided to halt sales and promotions while the pandemic continues. The move is to prevent consumers from crowding stores and stockpiling products in an environment where the supply chain is having difficulty keeping up.

Lempert says it’s also hard to print a sales circular when you don’t know what’s going to be delivered and be available on the shelves. He does expect promotions to come back to some degree, but not to their pre-pandemic levels, noting, “It’s expensive for manufacturers, and the supply chain costs go up.”

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Close up of a woman using a self checkout machineJGalione/Getty Images

Touchscreens

Before coronavirus entered our world, touchscreens were ubiquitous—showing up not just at supermarkets but also at fast-food restaurants, gas stations, and airport check-in counters. But the average supermarket checkout screen is touched by 350 different people each day, Saurabh Gupta, director of Out-of-Home Product at Ultraleap, told SmartMarketNews.

Now that we understand the infection risk these devices pose, experts expect that something—though we don’t know what—will replace them. Until then, use your non-dominant hand to touch them and spritz on some hand sanitizer immediately after.

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Originally Published on Reader's Digest