Here's What It's Like to Be a Grocery Store Employee During the Coronavirus Pandemic

We talked to a Trader Joe's employee about working at a grocery store in the midst of a global health crisis.

TJ's Coronavirus
Photo: Frederic J. Brown/Getty Images

Not all heroes wear capes. Sometimes they wear Hawaiian shirts (or polos). That's certainly the case for the crew members at Trader Joe's (and other grocery stores) working hard to keep us healthy and nourished in the midst of pandemic. We asked a Trader Joe's employee our burning questions about what it's like to be a grocery store employee during the coronavirus outbreak.

This employee (who asked not to be named) has been a crew member at Trader Joe's since 2011. She says her role as a crew member means she ensures customers have a fun and friendly experience by teaching them about products, helping them find their favorite items and discovering new ones, stocking the shelves and working the register.

What Has Your Experience Been Like Working at Trader Joe's During the COVID-19 Crisis?

"I feel taken care of and respected by my store's leadership team, my coworkers and the company leadership," she says.

This employee says that every crew member is on board with Trader Joe's health and safety protocols and guidelines, and that everyone working in the store is practicing them. Trader Joe's corporate team has made her and her crew members feel that there is nothing more important to the company and its leadership than the health and safety of its employees.

"The leadership is proactive, responsive, clear and transparent in their communication with us," she says. "Trader Joe's number one value is Integrity, and it's never been more obvious to me than with how they're handling this crisis."

What Is Trader Joe's Doing to Protect Your Safety?

This employee says Trader Joe's was ahead of the curve in stopping all food and beverage sampling weeks ago (which sadly means no more fresh coffee for the crew). The company is following all federal, state and local health advisories and has even temporarily closed several of its stores where an employee has tested positive for coronavirus.

"We've been cleaning more often than usual, especially in high touchpoints like restrooms, the breakroom, doors, door handles, hand baskets, shopping carts and registers," she says. "We are encouraged to wash our hands often, especially while we're assigned to the register."

What Is Trader Joe's Doing to Protect the Safety of Its Customers?

Besides the things mentioned above, this employee says there are two or three employees at the main entrance from open to close to ensure only a certain number of people can be in the store at once. Customers are asked to practice social distancing while they wait in line and before entering. They are also given a dose of hand sanitizer when they walk in and as they leave. You can learn more about how Trader Joe's is caring for customers, here.

"The customers should feel safe while shopping, with more space than normal around them," she says. "We're using every other register to allow crew and customers more space, and we're putting tape on the floor to mark a six-foot disance between the cashier and the next person in line."

What Items Have Been Selling Out in the Last Few Weeks?

This employee says her store was initially running out of the essentials—frozen foods, fresh meat, eggs, dairy, beans, pasta, rice, toiletries and hand sanitizer. After the pandemonium stores experienced a few weeks ago, Trader Joe's decided to limit the number of items customers could buy, but now the limits have been released as demand is slowing back down.

What Are Your Biggest Frustrations Working for a Grocer During the Coronavirus Pandemic?

This employee says most of her frustration comes from seeing customers who are only buying a few things at a time.

"Why increase your exposure and our exposure to you?" she says. "I wish people would think about what they really need for one to two weeks at a time to minimize exposure."

She also hasn't appreciated customers' frustrations regarding the temporary policies during this time, which she says are put in place for their safety.

"A customer told me that he thought we could be letting more people into the store at once, and that felt frustrating and uncompassionate to me, as someone who's being exposed to hundreds and hundreds of people a week," she says. "I think I speak for us all at Trader Joe's—the more people in the store, the more we feel stressed and concerned about our health."

This employee is also a registered dietitian and says she also wishes people would stock up on more nutritious staples, like nuts, seeds, dried fruit, trail mix, fresh juice, kombucha and whole grains. She said while loading up on produce with a short shelf life might not make a lot of sense for your family right now, there are plenty of options that last for weeks at a time, such as oranges, apples, grapefruit, potatoes, celery, onions, carrots and squash.

How Is Your Team Continuing to Make Trader Joe's a Bright Spot in Someone's Day During This Difficult Time?

"Trader Joe's is always working to be the bright spot in someone's day," she says. "It's what we do, and what we're known for. We need and want to care for our customers and be more attentive than ever, because of how stressful and fragile this time is. I think we're making everyone's day simply by honoring their safety and health with our hygiene practices, and by being organized. Every day customers tell us they appreciate that."

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