- Whole Foods will start offering disposable face masks to all customers who do not have them as they enter its stores within the coming week, the company’s parent, Amazon, announced in an April 30 blog post. The supermarket chain also said it will request — but not require — that customers wear masks while shopping. Whole Foods does require its employees, along with Prime Now shoppers and others who work in its facilities, to cover their faces while performing their jobs.
- Amazon indicated that it has ample mask inventory to meet its needs. The company said it has so far provided more than 100 million masks to its workers around the world, including those who work at Whole Foods locations, adding that it expects to spend more than $800 million during the first six months of 2020 on masks, hand sanitizer, wipes and other items to protect people who enter its facilities.
- The announcement came as workers for Whole Foods, Amazon, Instacart and Shipt, which is owned by Target, prepared for a May Day strike today. The organizers of the strike have a host of demands, including that the retailers retroactively pay all workers who have taken unpaid time off until the companies’ facilities “are safe for workers,” according to a press release. The organizers also want the companies to close facilities that have employees who test positive for the virus for at least 14 days while continuing to pay all workers at those locations.
Amazon’s decision to provide masks to Whole Foods shoppers sets it apart from other food retailers as calls for people to cover their faces in public places like supermarkets grow. But, like other grocers, it has stopped short of mandating that customers wear masks — even as Costco has announced that it will compel shoppers to wear a face covering starting on Monday. Costco has not said if it is considering supply masks to customers who arrive at the store without one.
Whole Foods will enjoy an advantage in parts of the country where authorities have made it mandatory for consumers to cover their faces while shopping for food. Several states, including Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, and Rhode Island, require supermarket customers to wear masks, as do a number of local jurisdictions.
The Minnesota Grocers Association on Wednesday recommended that shoppers cover their faces when entering supermarkets, although the state has not made it mandatory.
Amazon providing face masks to Whole Foods customers comes as it faces a slew of negative publicity related to how it has reacted to the pandemic. In addition to drawing the ire of workers who say it has not taken adequate measures to keep them safe, the company has been accused of not keeping the public informed about COVID-19 cases detected among Whole Foods workers. Regulators have also reportedly been in touch with Amazon regarding its practices, with New York Attorney General Letitia James telling the company that it may be operating in violation of federal law, according to Retail Dive.