My phone calendar is still haunted by the past. “interpack” runs across the screen for today, while an alert pops up to remind me that the Sweets and Snacks Expo starts next week. Candy Industry’s Kettle award event lingers there on May 19.
In an alternate reality, I would have been in Germany today, and then rushing back to cover the Expo.
But that is not our reality. So instead, I’m sipping espresso at home and writing columns in my pajama pants and a dress shirt because I have a Zoom call later. March feels like it was three years ago. But I also can’t believe we’re already in the middle of May.
Everything is different, and yet, more change is coming.
I already have new rituals. On Thursday mornings I check the news sites for the latest unemployment numbers, and then quickly look for context. One thing is clear — so many people have lost their jobs in the last few weeks that nobody will ever again say, “Since the Great Depression.” Henceforth it will always be simply, “Since COVID.”
My grocery shopping habits also have changed dramatically over the last couple months.
Although he eventually tested negative, my boyfriend had symptoms back in March. While we waited for the results, which took about 10 days, we were told not to leave the house at all — not even to go into the local convenience store near our house.
The county health department called us every day to make sure we were following the rules. We eventually had to ask his brother to drop off groceries.
The whole ordeal only lasted a week and a half, my boyfriend didn’t even have the virus — but it changed my entire grocery shopping routine. While I used to casually go to the local market every other day or so, only grabbing what I needed, now, it’s a weekly trip. And I buy everything in bulk — even candy. I never want to have to even think about running out.
I don’t know when I will be comfortable enough to go back to my old shopping habits. Or if I ever will. In fact, I’d grab groceries online, if the option was available in my rural area.
“On Snacks.com, consumers can choose from more than 100 of their favorite Frito-Lay products from a variety of iconic brands like Lay's, Tostitos, Cheetos and Ruffles, as well as dips, crackers, nuts and more,” PepsiCo said.
Sites like that are guaranteed to forever alter how we think of grocery shopping. And it won’t be the only permanent change.
Twitter announced this week that employees can work from home “forever.” Now that managers have seen how easy it is to let staff work remotely, other companies will likely follow suit. And if an economic recession lingers, cutting office space will be a relatively simple way to save money.
I’m really curious to see how industry events may be impacted by all this. ECRM already is hosting virtual meetings. I’m guessing they will go back to in-person events as soon as possible, but if the virtual meetings are successful, perhaps some version of them will be offered permanently between the annual in-person conferences.
We did get word this week that, as of now, NACS is moving forward as planned. The global event for all things convenience is slated for Oct. 11-14 at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
But even organizers admit to a lot of uncertainty.
“The organizations are working with local, state and federal agencies, health officials and venue partners to ensure everyone’s well-being,” read a message to attendees. “They also have extended the cancellation policy to 30 days pre-event to offer registered attendees maximum flexibility. As public health guidance is updated, any changes to the delivery of content and experience at the 2020 NACS Show will be shared with registrants and exhibitors immediately.”
Whether or not NACS takes place will serve as another touchstone for how things are going. If we are all willing to navigate airports, sleep at hotels and walk the halls of a convention center by October, perhaps things will go back to normal sooner rather than later.
But if NACS ends up being canceled and other fall events follow — it’s unlikely we’ll ever see “normal” again.