Since the COVID-19 Ides of March, I constantly ask my members “how are you, how is
business?” Recently I asked my colleagues at Ohio Grocers Association, Ohio Restaurant Association and Ohio Association of Convenience Stores the same question. And because I force myself to find slivers of good news, I also wanted to know how our industries are delivering better outcomes during this crisis. Their answers paint a troubling picture of lost sales, jobs lost and closures. But without exception, everyone relayed a lesson or best practice that they hope will carry them forward.
Nationally, the pandemic has rocked our industry and its customers. Sales in “on-premise” businesses like restaurants and theaters, which account for nearly half of all beverage sales, nearly ground to a halt. Approximately 33,000 movie theaters closed. Six million restaurant jobs were lost, and an estimated 25 percent of closed restaurants will not reopen.
Additionally, there are many other venues where on-premise sales were lost as venues like theme parks, concert halls, festivals, malls, stadiums, hotels and colleges and universities which remained closed or have re-opened in a reduced capacity.
Big picture impact on our industry and our customers already cost an estimated 9,000 direct annualized beverage industry jobs. This means $707 million in lost wages. The economic picture darkens when one considers our industry’s indirect jobs in retail and hospitality where over 183,000 jobs were lost, accounting for $4.9 billion in lost wages.
Why such a huge job loss in these areas? The math is simple and devastating. When you look at all the on-premise venues mentioned above, their combined lost sales are nearly $17 billion. Sales hemorrhages like that cannot be absorbed.
In Ohio, we are still sifting through the economic rubble. The COVID-19 caseloads are climbing again as of this writing. Finding ways to operate a business in a pandemic has lead to a number of innovations among grocery stores, restaurants and convenience stores but their struggle is not over, nor is the fear and fatigue that plagues employees working on the front lines of our food and beverage supply chain.
A central theme of this innovation whether you are bottling beverages, operating a grocery store, running a restaurant, or serving customers in a convenience store, is adaptability. Survivors in these sectors were able to pivot operations. For example, our members cross trained on-premise employees to help with huge grocery store channel demands.
For our customers, strong customer service in Ohio grocery stores buttressed everything from cleaning protocols to restocking to new delivery methods. Likewise, Ohio restaurants quickly scaled up social media presence, ordering apps and delivery systems. Convenience stores leaned into their commitments to serve customers with dedicated employees and increased safety protocols.
We are still answering the simple question “how are you?” “how is business” and will be for many months and possibly years to come. Our members and their customers show up daily, work until exhaustion and look toward a brighter day. Godspeed on that brighter day.