According to The New York Times, 42 states across the nation, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, have enacted a shelter in place directive, in one way or another urging citizens to stay home to help slow the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). There’s not one industry that hasn’t in some way been impacted by this “new normal,” but in a time when many are fighting to stay afloat, there has been an unprecedented demand placed on our grocery partners.

This demand, stemming mostly from the simple fact that the majority of meals are being eaten at home, is driving grocers and retailers to expand quickly. As grocery and warehouse design consultants, we’ve been actively working with some of the top industry names to help them adapt their business models to meet their customers’ needs. And throughout our conversations, we’ve seen several common strategic design initiatives (and challenges) relating to the need for short term solutions while also preparing for a potential a paradigm shift that may remain long past this pandemic. Below you’ll find some of the top trends in grocery and warehouse design as a result of COVID-19.

  • Additional grocery distribution warehouse infrastructure. The increased demand for online orders and delivery requires an equivalent increase in shelving and warehouse capacity. This includes new distribution and surge expansion of existing facilities.
  • Increased storage for additional stock. As consumers increase their shopping quantities to respond to the shelter in place orders, stores are finding the need for more storage of dry and refrigerated goods.
  • Creating/maintaining a positive customer experience. While online ordering and pick-up isn’t necessarily a new service for many of our clients, for many customers this is the first time they are buying their groceries this way. And as such, retailers want to make their shopping experience pleasant and seamless, even as the demand for these services has outpaced the ability to fill the orders. Retailers know this may be the key to retaining their online business long after this pandemic has passed.
  • Modifications for employee safety. Changes to the traditional grocery shopping experience have required grocers to increase the number of working employees; which brings with it another challenge of employee safety. Spaces like breakrooms are being modified to accommodate social distancing, and in many stores plexiglass has been installed at checkout where maintaining a six-foot distance is not doable.
  • Implementing infection control policies. Whether they’re closing early to provide additional time for rigorous cleaning procedures, unloading deliveries, and stocking shelves, or using floor signage to remind shoppers to observe social distancing or use one way aisles, big names like Hy-Vee, Sprouts, Target, and Walmart are all taking measures to limit the potential spread of infection in their stores. Trader Joe’s has taken it even further and is limiting the number of shoppers allowed in the store at a time.
  • Future planning for a post-pandemic consumer base. Store layouts for new builds, renovations, and expansions are seeing alterations to accommodate social distancing in egress/ingress and larger aisles. But perhaps most importantly, they are designing for flexibility, creating spaces that can ramp up/down delivery, and/or storage space should it be needed.

It has become evident, if it wasn’t before, that grocery stores and warehouses are a key part of the American infrastructure, and we’ve seen them step up to serve our country during this pandemic. However, the impact of this time will continue to be felt, by consumers and grocers alike, long after stay at home orders are lifted. Identifying which of these measures should become lasting design changes will be key. To do our part to maintain public health and safety now and when the COVID-19 curve flattens, we’re working with our clients to develop designs that take into consideration what we know for certain yet are flexible enough to adapt to all the future unknowns.

If you’d like to discuss design options that can help your warehouse or grocery environment address life during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, contact us here.


About the Authors

Tony Welter

Grocery Practice Director | Principal
Tony Welter, a vice president and our grocery practice director, found his home at Henderson in 2001, and since then, his grocery and refrigeration industry expertise has helped shape supermarket trends for many top grocery retailers, likely including one in your neighborhood. He is a master at staying on the forefront of current trends in an ever-changing industry. One of the ways he does this is by representing Henderson nationally on the ASHRAE Refrigeration Committee. Tony knows the importance of efficiently delivering cost and energy savings on projects while maintaining the quality that is a staple of Henderson’s designs. Backed by ongoing research and significant experience – including a highly successful tenure as our director of refrigeration – Tony is sought after to speak nationally at grocery and refrigeration conferences. A family man through and through, we’re fortunate Tony is an integral part of ours at Henderson.