12 Things You Won’t Be Seeing in Grocery Stores Anymore
Coronavirus has changed not only the way we shop, but what we'll be able to shop for, as well.
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 favorite (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 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 lead to 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.
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, household cleaners, and paper towels. 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. It may be for the best; consider these reasons why this is the perfect time to break up with toilet paper.
Rainbow matchstix carrots
Prior to the pandemic, Bolthouse Farms offered more than a dozen varieties of baby carrots and now that’s down to four, the company’s CEO Jeff Dunn told The Wall Street Journal. The company has eliminated rainbow matchstix and French-cut carrots presented in an assortment of purple, red, and yellow hues. You can still buy orange Matchstix carrots, though, and baby carrot options remain plentiful.
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, anyway. 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 says. Some grocery chains are trying to adapt; for example, at Publix, employees scoop out desired items for customers, while some H.E.B. stores have stocked their chilled bars to hold prepacked meals from local restaurants, according to CNBC.
Coca-Cola announced it was discontinuing Odwalla, its line of smoothies, protein drinks, and premium juices. The company states the decision was the result of “consumers changing what they want so rapidly” and the Odwalla brand “enduring ongoing financial challenges.” Lempert says supply chain issues probably led to this decision as well. “Refrigerated distribution is much more expensive than non-refrigerated, and its [Coca-Cola’s] supply chain is primarily built for non-refrigerated.” Find out the 7 things that are disappearing from Target.
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.” Here’s why all McDonalds’ aren’t open 24-7.
Don’t panic—they’re not all going away. But J.M. Smucker Co. is stopping production, at least temporarily, of some of its reduced-fat and reduced-sugar frozen PB&J sandwiches, according to the WSJ. This aligns with the trends Lempert sees. “Many people are snacking more, eating a lot more comfort food and more sugar-laden food.” Reducing our intake of fat and sugar doesn’t seem to be a high priority right now, though Lempert says it’s too soon to tell if that’s a dietary change that will stick it out for the long haul.
The selection of cuts available in the meat case has dwindled, partly due to coronavirus outbreaks in meatpacking plants. 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. As a result, beef and pork production in May were down 25 percent and 15 percent, respectively, from a year earlier. “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.
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 coronavirus 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.” Big box stores are making changes, too; find out 6 things you won’t be seeing at Costco anymore.
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. Finding new ways to touch buttons is one of the 13 everyday habits that could (and should) change after coronavirus.
Lean Cuisine Chicken Carbonara
Nestlé announced it was discontinuing several varieties of Lean Cuisine, saying their sales didn’t warrant the slowdown in production they caused. If you were a fan of Chicken Carbonara, with chicken, fettuccine, asparagus, bacon, and a creamy sauce, you might want to learn to make it yourself, because it’s one of the casualties. “While chicken is hot at the moment,” Lempert says, explaining its price point and health qualities make it a favorite, “the carbonara sauce in this dish is the antithesis of health,” which may explain why sales are down. Frances Zelazny, chief marketing officer of Signals Analytics, says an emphasis on health in general and immune health, in particular, are driving a lot of consumer decisions during the current crisis.
If you’re in a state where supermarkets can sell beer, you might not find your favorite variety of Heineken in the cold case anymore. The company eliminated up to 30 percent of its offerings in some areas due to coronavirus-related factors. Laurence Debroux, the company’s chief financial officer, said on a conference call that social distancing measures mean fewer employees now work each shift, slowing production, according to an industry newsletter. Debroux reportedly said that the changes are meant to be temporary but anything was possible. “What the crisis offers is a chance to think about business in a whole new way. I am not saying that everything will come back.” If you can’t find your usual brew, consider these must-try craft beers from each of the 50 states.
Coin-operated kiddie horses
If you, your children or grandchildren ever rode a coin-operated horse near the entrance to a supermarket, cherish those memories. The next generation of kids may miss out, thanks to the virus and the sanitation challenges it presents. In Colorado, King Soopers stores, owned by Kroger, is removing the penny horses from all its stores, where they have had an ongoing presence since 1947. The upside? If the stores aren’t willing to bring them back, individuals can “adopt” a horse and take it home. Next, read on to find out the things you won’t be seeing in Walmart anymore.
For more on this developing situation, see our comprehensive Coronavirus Guide.