How to Address Retail Labor Shortages for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Beyond

Thanksgiving Labor Shortages

Canadian Thanksgiving marks the unofficial start of the holiday season. From now until New Year’s Day, it’s “go time” for grocers.

From October to December, food retailers see an influx of shoppers in arguably the busiest time of year. Not only are these shoppers short on time and patience, but they are also demanding their favorite stores to be fully stocked with specific seasonal items and prepared foods, and that they provide top notch service.

Prior to the pandemic, most grocers would prepare for this influx by hiring more staff or contracting seasonal staff to meet the demands of more shoppers. However, as we all know, the pandemic has exacerbated retail labor shortage issues. Staffing has become a real problem for grocers, but this doesn’t mean your retail experience needs to suffer.

This post will explore how technology can address your retail labor shortages and keep your customers happy this holiday season.

Outlook on the grocery store labor shortage

At FMI‘s 2022 Midwinter Executive Conference, EVP and Chief Economist for The Conference Board, Dana Peterson stated, “Our belief is that labor shortages are here to stay.” And she’s probably right. Although the industry is adding jobs, recent Indeed data suggests 40 percent more job postings for food preparation and service than the pre-pandemic baseline. However, there are not enough people in the workforce to manage consumer demand. Many of the older generations of workers in the industry have opted for early retirement, and the less experienced workers replacing them aren’t sticking around.

Fresh departments within the retail food space are feeling the brunt of the grocery store labor shortage as this is one of the most complex areas. Produce, meat, seafood, and prepared food departments rely heavily on employees’ expertise to ensure product conditions are maintained, shelves are stocked, and customer expectations are met. Having fewer employees makes it harder to meet these expectations and increases the risk of a decline in sales and customer loyalty.

How to address retail labor shortages

Implement Food Production Automation Technology

One way to address labor needs is by leveraging technology that requires minimal training and is easy for employees to use. Many shoppers will be inclined to purchase time-saving items like pre-prepared foods during the holiday season. Food production automation technology, like Invafresh’s Recipe Management solution, provides product costs, data sheets, quality control and regulatory nutrition, enabling grocers to list all the ingredients for each menu item. 

As a result, little training and cross-training is needed. Now managers can prioritize hiring for bench strength instead of food service experience. Ultimately, food production automation technology enables fewer employees to do more.

Prioritize Omnichannel Grocery Operations

According to the latest Brick Meets Click/Mercatus Grocery Shopping Survey, e-grocery sales remain at pandemic levels, with August 2022 e-grocery sales totaling $8.5 billion compared to the pre-pandemic August 2019 online sales of $2 billion. This means that it’s likely that many shoppers will remain online to do their Thanksgiving and holiday shopping. Not only will this result in less foot traffic in stores, (a plus for those with limited staff) it is an opportunity to boost revenue through item upselling and suggestion features included on many e-commerce platforms.

or example, asking shoppers if they would like to add more of an item to their cart or even suggesting things that pair well together, based on what is currently in their cart (I.e., wines and cheeses). Additionally, many grocery chains are turning to third parties like
DoorDash to take care of food delivery for online orders, further reducing the need for a large staff.  

Use AI and automation

Finally, grocers are turning to labor automation and sales-driven AI technology to allocate their staff more strategically based on anticipated demand. Automation software is often powered by predictive analytics and machine learning algorithms, that enable grocers to efficiently build employee schedules. In many cases, this technology takes care of demand forecasting and inventory management tasks forecasting and inventory management so that department labor can be reduced or redeployed to customer-facing activities. The benefit of using this technology is that it not only optimizes store operations but can also alleviate staff burnout and increase employee retention.


In an environment where consumers buy fewer products from fewer retailers, grocers must prioritize value and experience. While labor shortages have the potential to be an issue this upcoming holiday season, some steps can be taken to minimize the impact they have on the customer experience. As consumer preferences and habits rapidly change, adopting technology, especially ones that make use of AI and predictive analytics is the key to winning over the customer and coming out ahead of the competition.  

About Invafresh

With a combined 500+ years of Freshology experience, the heritage of Invafresh has enabled fresh food retailers to create extraordinary store operations performance and differentiated customer experiences. As the leader of Freshology, Invafresh is deployed in over 350 grocery retailers spanning a global reach of 35 countries with more than $100 million of Fresh revenue being transacted daily, to provide AI/ML demand forecasting, merchandising, replenishment, and sustainability and compliance solutions.  

Learn more at About Us | Invafresh.

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