The Wall Street Journal: COVID surge means staffing troubles for grocery stores

Some U.S. supermarkets are reducing hours and cutting services as Covid-19’s Omicron variant infects cashiers, baggers and stockers, deepening grocery chains’ staffing challenges.

Across the country, supermarket workers are calling out sick after contracting Covid-19 or getting exposed to the virus, executives and employees said, prompting retailers to manage operations with fewer workers, while shopper demand for groceries remains high. Some grocers said they are hiring new employees, using temporary employment agencies and overscheduling available staffers to keep stores open, though some said they worry about continued pressure on their workers.

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Before the Omicron variant hit the U.S. Northeast, seven-store supermarket chain Stew Leonard’s was finding its way back to normal, according to Chief Executive Stew Leonard Jr. In-store customer traffic was increasing, curbside pickup and home-delivery orders declined, food samples returned to store aisles and buffets reopened, he said.

The chain, which runs locations in New York, Connecticut and New Jersey, has reached a 90% employee-vaccination rate, Mr. Leonard said. But Covid-19 cases surged over the past month: The week before Christmas, Stew Leonard’s had around 30 of its 3,000 employees in quarantine or isolation, according to the CEO. By Dec. 26, it was 100, and last Thursday, the company was missing over 200 employees to Covid-19 infections and exposures.

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