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Our Unsung Heroes: What We Can Learn from Supermarkets During Covid-19

Back in March when Covid-19 first gripped the UK, it’s fair to say that we Brits went into something that resembled apocalypse mode. First, we ran to Boots and queued up outside at 6 am to buy our daily ration of hand sanitiser. Then we legged it to our nearest supermarket and raided the toilet roll aisle, fighting to buy up every bottle of disinfectant and bleach. It was a strange time, and for a month or so, toilet roll packets were seen as holy rolls of gold.

Thankfully that period of the pandemic is more or less over, and we’re so thankful that our supermarkets are back to being the lush haven of consumable goods that we rely on.

Now in June as we continue to queue outside our local shop however, it’s worth reflecting on just how well our national supermarkets handled the sudden onset of lockdown.

As essential businesses, food retailers had to react to the pandemic in a way, unlike any other industry. In a matter of a few short weeks, stores nationwide had to change their delivery rules, implement barriers for cashiers, place appropriate signage and manage orderly queues outside every shop.

Larger supermarkets have adopted respective nation-wide strategies which have helped to manage their wide aisles and spaces, while small, independent stores have had to get a bit more creative. Maloney’s Budgens store in Virginia Water, Surrey ensured that safety and welfare were always put first.

For store owners Vince and Dennis Maloney, the challenges of Covid-19 highlighted the importance of community and close-knit business relations. We chatted with Heidi, Vince’s partner about the experience of running a small, independent supermarket during a global pandemic and through her words, extracted a few life lessons that we can all take away.

Put your best foot forward

When the world is going into meltdown, it’s important to remain calm and maintain a cheery, orderly manner. Heidi explains: “our first point of call was to employ a front of store person. He greets people, offers protective gloves, sanitiser and staggers the number of customers. As a smaller shop, our narrow aisles need crowd control”.

Sharing is caring

While smaller stores were also subject to March’s toilet roll ransack, Heidi found that their independent suppliers were quick to step up to store shortages.

“Because we’re independent, we can do things a bit differently. When the shop ran out of flour, we contacted our local bread supplier and sourced flour for our customers through them. They now regularly supply us extra flour. It’s great to call on these close relationships when times are tough”.

Pass on the goodness

Much shorter queues at local, smaller stores have meant that many local residents are choosing to shop at Budgens over big superstores like Tesco Extra, and throughout lockdown, the store has enjoyed a higher than usual turnover.

“We’ve also been able to take on a few new staff members to help in these busy times. One local girl lost her job at a local pub which had to close its doors, so we took her on”.

Be kind to each other

Now more than ever, big supermarkets are intimidating to the elderly community and those within the higher risk bracket. Heidi comments on the increased number of elderly customers visiting the store since the pandemic began.

“We’ve had a lot of lovely compliments from people who have had a positive experience thanks to our staff simply being cheerful and talkative. I think people are wanting sincere social interaction and they can get that from a local, independent store.”

As lockdown begins to ease, residents of towns and villages around the country are finding a stronger sense of community on their local high street than they once knew prior to the madness of Covid-19.

People have been brought together by staying apart and with many discovering the virtues of their small, local stores, perhaps food shopping habits will be forever changed by this unusual time we’re living through.

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