Western study will look at impact of COVID-19 on restaurants and grocery stores

The impact of the pandemic on retail food businesses, specifically restaurants and grocery stores, will be studied by Western University researchers.

The study is moving ahead, in part, because of the province’s allocation of 20-million dollars in new funding for COVID-19 research.

15 projects will share in the money, will most focusing on the medical response to the virus.

The study on retail food will be unique.

Without question, it is a new world in the industry. Grocery stores are booming with long lines of masked customers and nervous employees. While at the nation’s restaurants patio furniture is covered, and some buildings have been boarded up.

Are there lessons to be learned, from the painful sights?

‘Yes’ says a Western research team conducting the study into resilency of the retail food industry.

It is directed by Jason Gilliland, a professor of Geography.

"This was our response to Covid. We’re not coming up with vaccines. We’re not coming up with new ways of treatment, but we also saw their are impacts beyond the health impacts, there are social and economic impacts”.

The study, ‘The Food Retail Environment Survey for Health & Economic Resiliency’ has been given the acronym ‘FRESHER’.

It asks for businesses and retail food workers to complete information and interviews online.

Gilliland says the data collected will be used to shape the government’s response to the retail food industry, should a second wave of COVID-19 hit.

“We can then feed [the data] back to the government to say that we need more programs like this. These programs are being affected. We are going to try to share all these stories on the web portal”.

The study began a month ago, and already findings show a disturbing trend for independent restaurants.

“From the restaurant sector, what we’ve seen is that some small restaurants have already closed. They’ve already decided that’s it is the end of the road for them. And that’s really sad”.

And with prices rising in the grocery stores, Gilliland believes measuring food sustainability before another wave, or another disaster, is crucial.

“COVID is affecting the whole food supply system from growing to food waste. This is something we have to pay careful attention to, and really work hard to keep these small businesses alive”.

Gilliland also says the long-term mental health of retail food workers needs to be explored further, as the impact of the pandemic grows.

“No one has studied the mental health issues grocery store workers are going through right now. And I know just from friends it’s a very stressful situation."

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