- Hy-Vee will distribute more than 3 million free face masks to customers that enter its stores starting Monday, July 27, according to a company press release. The retailer said the initiative, called “Mask it Up to Shut COVID Down. It’s Your Choice,” is meant to support the CDC’s recommendation to wear face coverings in public.
- Employees will be stationed at the front doors of all stores to hand out masks to customers who are not already wearing one. Customers will also see signs, employee attire and other reminders around the store about its mask initiative.
- Hy-Vee’s employees have been required to wear a mask since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it will not require shoppers to wear them.
Hy-Vee told Grocery Dive it is handing out masks at no cost in order to ensure as many shoppers as possible wear them. The retailer isn't requiring face coverings like a lot of other food retailers because enforcing that policy is very difficult, Christina Gayman, director of public relations at Hy-Vee, told Grocery Dive in an email.
Gayman said not enforcing masks protects its associates from confrontational issues with customers who strongly oppose the measure. Retailers like Target, Ralphs and Dollar Tree have all experienced confrontations with customers that turned violent.
“Instead, we are being realistic and responsible by handing out masks and educating our shoppers. We are doing something about it versus just saying something about it," wrote Gayman.
In many of Hy-Vee’s locations across the eight states it operates in, there are local mandates that require people to wear masks in public. Hy-Vee says it is continuing to follow the guidance of government officials.
Like Hy-Vee, Southeastern Grocers initially said it would not require shoppers at its banner stores to wear masks in order to protect its associates from violence, but reversed course after significant backlash. Other major retailers to issue mask mandates include Kroger, Walmart and Albertsons. Walmart created the new role of "health ambassador" in its stores to work with shoppers who don't want to wear masks. According to Bloomberg, these workers are instructed to listen to noncompliant shoppers and talk with them, but should not physically bar them from entering stores.
The National Retail Federation has called on stores to set chain-wide policies requiring customers and employees to wear masks.
“Shopping in a store is a privilege, not a right. If a customer refuses to adhere to store policies, they are putting employees and other customers at undue risk,” the NRF noted in a statement.