Long lines for Miami’s grocery gift card giveaway shows need — but why only Publix?

Miami’s city government has spent about $2.3 million of federal COVID-19 relief funds on grocery gift cards to give to residents, part of a series of financial assistance programs meant to help those hurting in the pandemic — but some commissioners are questioning the administration’s decision to only purchase from Publix.

Long lines seen at distribution locations across each of the city of Miami’s five districts this week show a great need among residents. At an event this week, Mayor Francis Suarez noted the difficulty with serving a limited number of people with available funds.

“We were able to help 500 people in our community get much needed support and help for their groceries during this difficult time,” Suarez said on Wednesday. “It’s very sad to see how many people came and the fact that we had to limit people.”

The limitations created by only distributing Publix gift cards are also resonating in some districts where people shop at stores that are more affordable and closer to their homes, such as Sedano’s Supermarket, Presidente Supermarket, Fresco y Más and Milam’s Market.

“For most of the elderly we have, Publix is just too far and more expensive,” said Commissioner Joe Carollo, who represents Little Havana, the Roads and part of Shenandoah.

The city chose Publix as the sole vendor for the first bulk purchase, which came with a 5% discount on each card, according to administrators. On 10,000 cards worth $250 each, Publix discounted $12.50 per card. John Heffernan, the city’s deputy director of communications, said the city initially bought the first batch of cards from Publix “because of their ability to meet the tight time constraints required to quickly implement the programs.”

The money for the gift cards came after Miami-Dade County disbursed federal CARES Act relief funds in November. The city has until Dec. 31 to spend the money, under federal rules. With about $1.2 million out of $3.55 million left to purchase cards, the city might make some changes.

Commissioner Alex Díaz de la Portilla is sponsoring a resolution on the Dec. 10 commission agenda that would give the city flexibility to purchase VISA cash cards of different amounts that would allow people to go to their preferred market, or perhaps to purchase medicine.

By providing cards of $100 to $125, Díaz de la Portilla said the money could be stretched farther to reach more households.

“The residents are the ones that should have the choice of where to shop and what they need to buy. Not government,” Díaz de la Portilla told the Miami Herald. “This should only be about what’s best for our residents.”

The commissioner said residents in his district, which includes Allapattah and Grapeland Heights, would be better served if they could take gift cards to their local preferred markets — especially those without cars who walk to the nearest market.

“Maybe it’s easier to go to one vendor and buy everything, but why not go to local vendors in our community?” Díaz

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The Future Of Grocery Shopping And The Need For Automation

Consider how people in ancient Rome shopped for food — it’s not much different from how people shop today. Certainly, there were no frozen-food sections back then, but similar to today, people went to nearby markets and handpicked their fruits, vegetables, meats, and breads. Maybe the supply chain wasn’t as complex, but the experience was close to the same. But now, after 2,000 years, grocery shopping finally seems to be in for a drastic change.

Current Trends In The Grocery World

It is interesting to note the mix of recent trends in the grocery world — some have occurred repeatedly over time (the plagues and pandemics that caused shortages of foods and increased demands) while others are very new.

  • Demand: Recent health and safety concerns brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic are causing families to eat more meals at home. This is in turn boosting overall demand at grocery stores, both in-store and online. U.S.-based grocers have seen a 10% increase in year-over-year demand, and grocers that were not well prepared to handle the increased volume are now scrambling to prepare their supply chains for the future.
  • Urbanization: Populations migrating to metropolitan areas is another trend that is not new but has accelerated in recent years. As a result, grocers are bringing more stores closer to consumers but with less shopping space. These smaller store formats require the supply chain to deliver goods more frequently and in smaller quantities to be more reactive to replenishment needs. This trend will continue even through COVID-19 has caused a momentary pause in some cities.
  • Tracking: Food safety has always been a concern. However, since 2011 tracking and regulating the food supply chain has become more focused to meet standards set in the Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA) in the United States and other, often more stringent regulations, in other countries.
  • Health and Safety: Consumer purchasing behaviors have historically revolved around three attributes: quality, assortment, and price. And while they remain important to the consumer, health and safety is the new priority, and grocers have had to adapt their offerings and operations to support it.
  • E-Commerce: The latest trend is the boom to e-Commerce grocery shopping. Digital sales accounted for 1–3% of total grocery sales pre-COVID-19. Within a matter of weeks, digital volumes have been fast-tracked and now account for approximately 10% of total grocery sales in 2020. Very few grocers were equipped to handle the low levels of e-Commerce orders before, but everybody is challenged by the high levels now.

Upcoming Changes To The Customer Experience

The grocery customer experience will undergo a significant transformation. Some of the areas that will change:

  • In-Store Experience: The in-store experience at grocery stores has remained largely unchanged for many years. Other verticals such as general merchandise and apparel have already faced the need to make big adjustments and found ways to
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Startups like Papa, which pairs elderly people with ‘grandkids on demand’ to help them with common tasks like grocery shopping, could be the future of healthcare. Here’s an inside look at how it works.

The gig economy is coming for healthcare.



Courtesy of Papa; Yuqing Liu/Business Insider


© Courtesy of Papa; Yuqing Liu/Business Insider
Courtesy of Papa; Yuqing Liu/Business Insider

Startups like Papa, which provides “grandkids on demand” to seniors, hire mostly young part-time workers as outside contractors to help with chores, troubleshoot technology issues, or just sit and talk with seniors, many of whom have remained isolated during the coronavirus pandemic.

Big technology companies like Uber and Instacart popularized the gig model, but contract workers are nothing new in the world of home healthcare. With the advent of the gig economy, new home care startups have become empowered to introduce more flexibility and cost-savings into the industry by relying on a constantly rotating cast of always-on workers accessible via an app. 

Business Insider spoke with nine Papa Pals, as Papa’s fleet of on-demand grandkids are called, and Papa founder and CEO Andrew Parker to get a sense for what it’s like to work as a gig worker in healthcare during a pandemic.



a man and a woman taking a selfie: Florida-based Papa Pal Dejah Cason with Papa member Evelyn Perl. Papa


© Papa
Florida-based Papa Pal Dejah Cason with Papa member Evelyn Perl. Papa


Most joined this summer after hearing friends’ positive experiences working with Papa, but others have worked for Papa on and off for years as they finished up school or managed their outside obligations. Business Insider reached out to Pals independently in addition to three conversations with Pals that were facilitated by Papa.

Video: Businesses Come Together To Transform Non-Profit Workspaces (CBS Minnesota)

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Here’s the inside look of what it’s like to work as a Papa Pal.

The Pals shared a near-unanimous belief that they were doing good through their work providing companionship on-demand to elderly individuals. Many said they would continue calling or running errands once the pandemic subsides.

Others voiced some concerns with not being able to schedule shifts in advance, an issue Parker said an updated version of the app will address later this year. 

There is also some concern among experts that the gig model won’t be sustainable once the pandemic ends if health plans don’t see enough impact to warrant continued support of this type of care.

Subscribe to Business Insider to read the full story:

Investors are betting $1.4 billion that gig workers can transform an essential but invisible part of healthcare. Here’s an inside look at one startup leading the charge.

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Why are shopping limits back at grocery stores?

Have you noticed some empty shelves again at the grocery store this past week? Shoppers are stocking up again, in what some are calling “Pandemic Hoarding 2.0.”

As COVID’s second wave surges, shoppers are grabbing toilet paper and cleaning items again.

Inside stores, shoppers are stocking up on toilet paper, paper towels— and even Coca-Cola products. That’s why many chains, such as Kroger, Publix, Safeway, Wegmans and Stop-n-Shop have signs up again limiting shoppers to just two of many items.

“We did proactively put a limit on those items,” Kroger spokesperson Erin Rolfes said. “Really were are just trying to make sure everyone has a chance to access the products.”

She said Kroger, which is the nation’s largest grocery chain, is seeing people hoard items like toilet paper, tissues, paper towels, wipes and hand soap.

Every grocery chain around the country was caught off guard back in March because of their limited, just-in-time supply chains.

This time they say is very different.

“The pipeline of products is really strong,” Rolfes said. “We are sending great shipments every day from our warehouses to our stores. The goal is to make sure everyone has access to the products.”

Kleenex and Scott doubled their toilet paper output over the summer.

Grocers like Kroger stocked their warehouses with as much as they could find.

The only thing truly in short supply: disinfectant wipes.

“We are seeing that our supply chain is strong, but they are still trying to react from what happened in the Spring,” Rolfes said.

As long as everyone keeps to just two of each item, she feels supplies should hold up this time.

Most Target and Walmart stores have had limits on cleaning supplies since March, and those policies have not changed.

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