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Coffee and Small Talk: How a Dutch Grocery Chain Builds Human Connection

Watercolor art of two people standing and drinking coffee

Amid the deluge of emails, texts, instant messaging, chats, and video conferences we’re navigating at work, it’s easy for some of us to feel talked out on a daily basis.

On the flip side, there are others who are starved for connection and the sense of belonging it can bring, like senior citizens, who can feel isolated or left behind as our tech-driven society moves forward at lightning speed.

In the Netherlands, a grocery store chain has embarked on a mission to combat societal loneliness, using an old-school, low-tech approach at everyone’s fingertips: communication and kindness.

Jumbo, a prominent grocery chain, has created slow-moving checkout lanes designed specifically for aging shoppers. These lines, called kletskassa, Dutch for “chat checkouts,” allow older shoppers to linger and talk to the cashier instead of being hurried along, or looked at with irritation, or given the side-eye. The grocery chain has also established in-store coffee corners that offer free coffee and a place for seniors to sit and chat. Both efforts are tied to a federal Dutch initiative on curbing loneliness and building human connection.

“Many people, the elderly in particular, can feel lonely,” Colette Cloosterman-Van Eerd, a top executive at Jumbo, told “As a family business and supermarket chain we have a central role in society. Our shops are a meeting place and that means we can do something to combat loneliness… It’s a small gesture but it’s a valuable one, particularly in a world that is becoming more digital and faster.”

Since its inception in a single store in Vlijmen in 2019, the approach has spread to 200 Jumbo store branches across the Netherlands. Although they were originally intended for seniors, these lanes are open to anyone who wishes to slow down, engage in conversation, or simply take a break from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Whether it's a young person who has recently moved to a new city and seeks companionship or a senior longing for connection, these venues provide an opportunity to make meaningful connections in unexpected places.

In an era where digital communication connects us instantly across vast distances and technological advancements streamline our daily tasks, it's important to remember the power of genuine human interaction. Efficiency and convenience have their place, no doubt about it, but sometimes what we truly need is to take a step back, offer a warm smile, and engage in small talk with the people around us.

So the next time you find yourself rushing through your day, take a moment to pause. Look up from your screen. Notice the people around you. Engage in a friendly conversation. Behind each face, there’s a story waiting to be heard. Simple acts of connection and kindness make a difference in fostering a sense of belonging at work and in our communities.

What’s important isn’t just how fast we can make it through our days, or how much we can achieve, but what kind of experiences and connections we create along the way.

And if you feel like you have lost the art of chit chat, here are a few easy comments to start a conversation — and the sentiments detected by our Reflect AI:

“Your outfit is lovely.”

A Reflect AI response bubble with a happy face emoji and the word "optimistic"

“Are you having a good day?”

A Reflect AI response bubble with a happy face emoji and the word "happy"

“It's nice to have human connection.”

A Reflect AI response bubble with a happy face emoji and the word "nice"

“I enjoyed our time in line together.”

A Reflect AI response bubble with a praying hands emoji and the words "that's respectful"

Carolyne Zinko is the editorial director of Alphy.

Photo generated by DALL-E AI

Reflect AI by Alphy is a SaaS platform that flags harmful language, including topic, tone, “isms,” confidence, mindset and appropriateness. Our AI language classifier detects risks in emails prior to send, flags conversational missteps (and successes) in video meetings in real-time, and upskills individual communication with targeted and personalized microlearning.


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