Winnipeg grocery stores are seeing rising demand for home deliveries as more of their customers self-isolate amid a rapid increase in COVID-19 infections.
Food Fare owner Munther Zeid said his five stores have been taking more-delivery orders as COVID-positive Winnipeggers isolate and others stay home to try to avoid exposure to the virus.
Zeid is prepared for demand to increase even further if coronavirus cases continue to go up or tighter restrictions are imposed by the province.
"We’ve seen about a 25 to 30 per cent increase in deliveries to people isolating due to COVID in the last two to three weeks," Zeid said by phone at his Portage Avenue and Mount Royal Road store in St. James. "It’s not as much as the beginning of the pandemic.
"God forbid, if it goes back to what it was like when COVID started we know what to expect. We’re prepared."
At that time, his employees were doing about 200 deliveries a day per store, working as late as 2 a.m. to complete same-day orders.
Recently, they have been completing up to 50 deliveries a day per store as case numbers have soared and temperatures plunged over the holidays.
That figure was about double what they would do on an average day in pre-COVID times.
Zeid was appreciative of COVID-positive customers who take steps to eliminate contact on doorsteps and, in some cases, warn staff of their status.
"They’ve been very nice and saying, ‘Drop it at the door,’" he said.
Despite rising demand, Zeid and Scott Clement, owner of Dakota Family Foods on St. Mary’s Road in St. Vital, said their stores were still able to process same-day deliveries placed before noon.
Manitobans who have to rely on grocery deliveries while they isolate could face limited options, depending on where they live.
Some of the larger chains do not offer at-home delivery in Manitoba via their websites, but offer the service through a third party.
In some cases, the delivery area is limited to Winnipeg.
Independent stores have had to quickly adapt to customers’ needs during the pandemic, Zeid said.
"The owners of locally owned stores live in the neighbourhoods. They understand. They make things work. We can react a lot quicker to situations," he said.
Some weren’t offering online ordering or curbside pickup when the pandemic began.
The number of home deliveries at Dakota Family Foods has picked up and the store has added drivers to keep up with orders, Clement said.
Demand was "overwhelming" during Manitoba’s first wave of COVID-19, he said.
It was much lower when the second and third waves hit.
Since then, there has been a substantial increase during the fourth wave, he said.
The latest wave has been fuelled by the highly contagious Omicron variant and has brought a succession of record-setting daily case numbers.
Clement believed a rise in the number of people isolating due to COVID, along with cold weather over the holidays, had contributed to the recent bump in deliveries.
"I would say yes, absolutely. We’re seeing new customers. I would think it has something to do with the fourth wave. We are getting a lot of people not in our immediate area calling in for deliveries," he said.
Customer traffic inside his store appeared to be lower in the mornings, he said.
As demand for deliveries went up for various reasons, Dakota Family Foods increased its roster of drivers by about 50 per cent.
"We’ve never had this many delivery drivers," Clement said, adding the store also extended the hours of staff who pick and pack groceries for delivery orders.
Clement and Zeid said their drivers are required to follow public-health orders and wear protective gear such as face masks.
In-store staff who are picking and packing the orders are also required to wear personal protective equipment.
Grocery stores also appeared to be facing increased demand for curbside pickup.
Some larger chain stores in Winnipeg didn’t have any available slots until later in the week or on the weekend, according to online booking systems on their websites.
"I used to be able to book something two days in advance. Since the second week of December, I’ve noticed you’ve had to plan further in advance," said shopper Kim Scherger. "The wait is now at least a week."
On New Year’s Day, Manitoba reduced the isolation period for fully-vaccinated residents who have tested positive for the virus from 10 days to five.
Those who are not fully vaccinated must isolate for 10 days after the date of their test as long as their symptoms are improving and they do not have a fever.