For the first time in nearly 40 years, Quality Foods on Vancouver Island will close all their stores for Easter Sunday. The move is a thank you to employees who have been working under challenging conditions since coronavirus was deemed a pandemic by the World Health Organization in March.
“For the last 25 or 30 years we’ve always closed early, at 6 p.m. on Easter Sunday,” Quality Foods president Noel Hayward said.
The idea of closing for one day over Easter weekend received immediate support from the public as well as employees, Hayward said. “They’ve been working really, really hard and it’s a well-deserved day off. What better way to do it than Easter Sunday?
“We’re really proud of what they’re doing,” he said of Quality Foods’ employees. There are 1,200 working between the chain’s 13 grocery stores, located primarily on Vancouver Island.
The chain has been in overwhelming demand since mid-March, as people’s shopping habits have changed in the time of COVID-19 restrictions.
When the Canadian health agency recommended people stock up with a couple of weeks’ worth of food in case of self-isolation “it kind of went nuts,” Hayward said. “We all saw the panic buying of the bathroom tissue. The biggest increase on any item has been on yeast, because everyone’s baking at home.”
Suppliers are still catching up to demand on many items, he added.
Online ordering and home deliveries also spiked, and Quality Foods’ technical department expanded its system to accommodate increased traffic.
“Normally we have 200 (home deliveries) per week online. Last week I’m proud to say we did 1,200. There were as many as 2,500 people shopping online at once.”
The online shopping site has been streamlined to include certain delivery windows, so people don’t have to wait for weeks for their groceries. Quality Foods is also increasing the amount of deliveries it can do per day while limiting people to prevent those who were ordering groceries several times per week, Hayward said.
He also has a tip for people who have been having difficulty processing their orders: disable your popup blockers so you can access the payment processing window. Customer service representatives have been taking a higher than normal volume of calls from people, and that is one of the most common difficulties people are facing.
Staff in the brick-and-mortar stores have scrambled to keep up with safety measures, from installing plexiglas shields between cashiers and the public, to creating one-way aisles in some stores, sanitizing the handles of buggies and the tills after every customer. Employees have also been instructed to wash their hands every 20 minutes, Hayward said.
Foot traffic in stores is down 40 percent but the size of people’s buggies has doubled in the past month. “People tend to shop once a week like they did in the past. The size of their orders is more than double what it used to be.
“In all our time in grocery service who would have thought we would be considered essential service?”
Once the Easter holiday is over, Hayward said shopping for seniors will resume from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. daily. As for the best time to shop while social distancing? “After 6 p.m. it’s quite quiet,” he said.