Phil Lempert on the Pandemic's Effect on the Retail Grocery Industry

Phil Lempert is a television and radio news reporter, newspaper columnist, author, consumerologist, and food marketing expert. For more than 25 years, Lempert, an expert analyst on consumer behavior, marketing trends, new products, and the changing retail landscape, has identified and explained impending trends to consumers and some of the most prestigious companies worldwide. Known as The Supermarket Guru®, Lempert is a distinguished author and speaker who alerts customers and business leaders to impending corporate and consumer trends, and empowers them to make educated purchasing and marketing decisions.

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The new R5 report on Walmart is titled "Yes, It's That Bad." The report includes a series of photos Mushkin took at 3 Walmart supercenters in Pennsylvania on March 25. The images show empty meat cases, piles of unattended cardboard boxes from the back of the store crowding aisles, and an array of mostly empty center-store shelves. He decided to visit more than 50 stores across the country starting in January of this year. His report comes on the heels of Walmart’s Annual Investors Meeting at which CEO Doug McMillion was quoted as saying, "Our first priority is to continue to earn [customers'] business when it's time [for] the stock-up trip, to be the best and first place they shop."

To be fair, we are still in the midst of the pandemic and no retailer is operating at 100%. Mushkin pointed out some good news in the report as well: updated store facades—fresh paint, updated signage, well-stocked produce displays just inside store entrances. But he also points out that in the stores he visited he found unattended cardboard boxes from the back of the store crowding aisles and a collection of mostly empty center-store shelves. Walmart has led the industry for many years in many ways and as a result of their leadership and investments has I would argue made the nation’s supermarkets more efficient and profitable. Yes, I am a fan of McMillion and Walmart and frankly hope and urge Mushkin to visit the same stores post-pandemic and issue another report with those findings.

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