- Supermarket chain Hy-Vee will roll out an automated shopping cart cleaning system next month in more than 200 stores, the company announced in a press release.
- The sterilization system, to be introduced at locations in eight states across the Midwest, fully cleans and sanitizes all surfaces of a shopping cart after each use.
- The system employs a hospital-grade disinfectant that kills 99.9% of germs and viruses including SARS-CoV-2, which causes the novel coronavirus, according to a spokesperson for the distributor of the sanitization system, Ultra Green Packaging. It can sanitize between one to two carts per second and has a dry-in-place disinfectant.
Entrepreneurial solutions to fix the reputation of grocery carts as harboring germs, viruses and disease-carrying microbes have been on the market for years. PureCart, another automatic cart-wash system, was launched in 2006 and rolled out to dozens of stores across the U.S.
Predictably, guidelines on grocery shopping issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during the COVID-19 pandemic suggesting that shoppers disinfect shopping carts before use has caused more shoppers — and grocers — to pay attention to cart sanitation practices. A self-sanitizing shopping cart handle, originally launched in 2015, was reintroduced to the market this summer. Bluewater Technologies Group is also marketing a system to automatically sanitize shopping carts.
Ramping up the frequency and rigor of sterilization practices since March created unexpected costs for grocers, so Hy-Vee’s turn to automated solutions like the Sterile Cart is likely a cost-saving endeavor as well as a way to signal to consumers that the brand is taking cleanliness seriously.
Cleanliness during the COVID-19 health crisis has become a marketing and trust-building tool for grocers, as stores have scrambled to make their robust sterilization practices as visible to consumers as possible and central to their brand’s image. Automated cart disinfectant stations are an obvious solution, which also free up workers to complete other tasks. Both Ahold Delhaize and Walmart have invested in cleaning bots to roam around their stores — another visual cue to shoppers that sanitization is actively occurring.
As with any news of automation in grocery stores, the question of whether sanitation robots will displace workers is up in the air. Hy-Vee did not address the issue in its Sterile Cart announcement, though Walmart has previously responded to such concerns by suggesting that jobs displaced by cleaning tech solutions would be made up for in new employment opportunities in its online grocery operations.