Winn-Dixie reversed its stance on masks this week, mandating that all customers wear face coverings while shopping in stores.
Last week, Winn-Dixie said it would not require shoppers to wear masks in its stores, even after its competitors announced that they would. But the southern grocery chain changed its mind a few hours after President Donald Trump tweeted that "it is patriotic to wear a face mask."
"Beginning Monday, July 27, we will be requiring masks to be worn by customers to help reduce the spread of [COVID-19]," Joe Caldwell, the director of corporate communications and government affairs for Southeastern Grocers — Winn-Dixie's parent company — said in a statement, adding that the company believes wearing masks in stores should be mandated by the law.
In an email to CNN Business, Caldwell denied the change in policy had to do with the president's tweet.
The company "truly listen[s] to our customers, associates and communities. It was their feedback, combined with our desire to impress upon our shoppers how seriously we take their safety and the safety of our associates, that influenced this change," he wrote in an inital email. "We know masks play an important role in stopping the spread of this virus, and we updated our policy to reflect that."
Asked by CNN Business to confirm the president's tweet had no bearing on the decision, Caldwell responded in another email repeating that the company "made [our] decision based on feedback and the desire to impress upon everyone the safety of masks."
Winn-Dixie operates more than 500 stores in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi — all states that Donald Trump won in the 2016 election.
Late last week, Kroger, Kohl's, CVS, Target, and Walmart all announced they would require customers to wear masks in every U.S. location. And the National Retail Federation, the industry's largest lobbying group, also called on companies to require masks in their stores.
But last weekend, Caldwell called masks a "highly charged issue" in an email to the Washington Post, around the same time that Florida — where the majority of Southeastern Grocers stores are located — reported more than 12,000 additional cases of COVID-19.
"We do not want to put our associates in a position to navigate interpersonal conflict or prohibit customers from shopping in our stores," Caldwell said.