Grocery baggers are a common sight in many supermarkets in Mexico, especially in big cities like Mexico City. They are usually elderly people who volunteer to pack customers’ purchases in exchange for tips. For many of them, this is their only source of income and a way to stay active and social. However, the coronavirus pandemic and changing consumer habits have threatened to put an end to this decades-old practice. According to Rest of World, elderly grocery baggers in Mexico are being replaced by self-checkout and home delivery services; those who stay are making half as much money as they used to.
Self-checkout machines allow customers to scan and pay for their items without interacting with a cashier or a bagger, and the impact on the elderly baggers is significant. Volunteer packers at stores like Walmart say they’re receiving 50% fewer tips than before the pandemic. Some of them have been laid off or have quit due to the lack of customers who need bagging.
Raúl Franco Hernández, 80, has been working for six years as a volunteer grocery packer at a Walmart Express supermarket in Mexico City. Every day, over a four-hour shift, he bags groceries for tips, working alongside the cashier—usually a young clerk who scans the groceries and slides them to Raúl…to pack while the customer pays. He told Rest of World that before the pandemic, he and about 20 other packers at the store earned up to 450 Mexican pesos (about $25) a day. But when the store fully reopened in late 2021, three self-check-out…(machines)…had been installed in place of two human cashier stations. It now has only eight grocery packers, and Franco Hernández said his daily income has dropped to about 200—250 pesos (between $11 and $14).
The situation has sparked protests and petitions from the baggers and their supporters, who demand that supermarkets respect their rights and dignity. They argue that they provide a valuable service to customers and society, and that they deserve fair compensation and recognition. In some places in Mexico, teenagers are baggers, but in others the elderly were given spots under a program arranged many years ago with the government’s National Institute for the Elderly. Walmart said it had notified the Institute in December that the arrangement would not be renewed.
So, the future of grocery bagging in Mexico is uncertain, as technology and consumer preferences continue to evolve. Some supermarkets may keep the tradition alive, while others may opt for more automation and convenience. The elderly baggers may have to adapt to new realities or find alternative sources of income and socialization. Or stay at home and eat less.
~ text written by Bing ChatBot and edited by Richard Russell
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