By: Doug Baker, Vice President, Industry Relations, FMI 

Rewriting the playbookThe food industry is no stranger to responding to crisis. We’re often prepared to handle the natural disasters that sporadically take place across the country because we can track where a storm is going, predict where a fire is headed or define the areas being affected by a drought. Knowing these things enables us to at least have a notion about the timing and the degree of the emergency. This modicum of warning allows grocers and their supply chain partners to ensure customers receive the necessities they need in times of crisis. However, when it comes to responding to the national emergency brought on by COVID-19, the industry is rewriting the playbook on crisis response in real-time. This emergency is nationwide and is affecting different regions in different ways.  

I recently participated in a webinar hosted by Consumer Goods Technology to share first-hand perspectives on what we are doing in response to the pandemic in order to cope. Here a few takeaways: 

Retailers are Working to Increase Safety Protocols 

To heighten personal safety and engender a deeper comfort level among associates and shoppers, retailers are using various tactics in their stores to implement the important protocol of maintaining safe social distance. Every store looks different, so the measures retailers are taking vary in accord with the unique needs of their setting. For example, some retailers are putting up stanchions and floor decals to indicate where shoppers should stand to help them measure  the appropriate amount of space in queues and in the store. 

Additionally, we're piloting “pick-up only” at stores. Grocery stores support numerous communities with different needs, so there are a variety of measures/scenarios being tested throughout the country. For our members, keeping employees and customers safe is top-of-mind, while aligning with CDC guidance.  

Working Across Legislative Jurisdictions 

For the first time ever, a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) declaration covered the entirety of the United States, including Washington D.C.—not just for interstate commerce, but intrastate as well. Relief has come across the supply chain in forms of Hours of Service and Weight waivers. We continue to seek relief around noise ordinances at the state and local levels. While the FMCSA does not plan enforcement over such licenses, state and local authorities could still foreseeably do so if their state has not offered reprieves for drivers. If your state has limited access for renewals—but not issued guidance on renewals—you would fall under the FMCSA’s waivers.     

Industry Collaboration 

Our industry is at its best when the public needs us the most. Collaboration has been key for food retailers and suppliers during this unprecedented time and ensures the supply chain stays viable at this critical juncture.  

Additionally, FMI is actively working with association partners to keep the supply chain nimble amid the COVID-19 crisis.  International Foodservice Distributors Association (IFDA), United Fresh ProduceNational Fisheries Institute (NFI) and North American Meat Institute (NAMI) have formed an ad-hoc partnership motivated by the widespread consumer needs fueled by the coronavirus pandemic. The partnership is a matching program that connects foodservice distributors that have excess capacity (products, transportation services, warehousing services) to assist food retailers and wholesalers in need of additional resources to fulfill the skyrocketing needs at grocery stores. We also recently partnered with the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States in their launch of an online portal to assist hundreds of distillers who are producing hand sanitizer to help alleviate the national shortage created by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

There’s a lot of uncertainty, but to me, one thing is crystal clear. In this fight, we are all in this together.  

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