Industry Viewpoint: A love letter to grocery stores

pfkAs our society is faced with uncertainty, navigating the rough waters of COVID-19, the grocery stores have found themselves on the front lines of serving the public and keeping shoppers safe. Quickly shifting strategy, meeting shopper demand, abbreviating hours and reconfiguring staffing to support the surge of customers.

While unfortunate, this situation is a reminder of just how important our grocers are, and the impact they have on the communities where they are located. Since the early 1900s when my great grandparents opened their small local store in southwestern Pennsylvania to today, the local grocery store has forever been known as a place where you are likely to see neighbors, pick up a new recipe, grab a prescription, maybe donate to a local food drive, support a Girl Scout Troop and ultimately stock your home’s shelves with the items your family needs to live. Many of us go through these motions so mindlessly we often don’t recognize the magnitude of not having access to our local grocery store.

I had a chance to check in with Mike Roberts of Harps, which is justifiably recognized in this issue as Produce Retailer of the Year, when writing this month’s column and learned a lot about how departments within the Harps organization are working together to ensure the store is stocked with needed items. Mike talked to me about the steps Harps is taking to keep shoppers safe and help those at high risk. Like many retailers out there, they are doing all of the right things to stop the spread of COVID-19. As it often does, our conversation went to cycling numbers and budgets across departments and that’s when Mike paused and said, “You know, at the end of the day, what we are really here to do is serve our community.”

Mike is right and it’s evident now more than ever. Take a minute to look at grocers across the country at this very moment. What you’ll see is designated times to keep at-risk shoppers safe, pay raises being instituted for workers who are taking a risk going to the store every day to serve the public, waived delivery fees for home delivery and even in-store meals from local restaurants for purchase. The list of ways these grocers are meeting this virus head on goes on and on, and I have no doubt it will continue to go on as public needs arise in the coming weeks.

In my nine years at Produce for Kids, I’ve been able to connect with some pretty passionate retailers and produce suppliers. I feel lucky knowing there are so many in our industry that understand the value of making a difference in our communities and realize that when you become a trusted source for your shoppers, you have a life-long customer.

As you glance across our industry it is crystal clear things are being done quickly and done right with ethics and community in mind. We should be very proud to call this industry home.

When the dust settles from this pandemic and life returns to normal, the lasting impact of our local grocery store will remain. They don’t just meet us in times of need, uncertainty and worry, but also in the best of times. They sponsor our children’s little league team, supply food to our local food banks, run fundraisers in stores and help us feed our families.

(Amanda Keefer is the managing director of Produce for Kids)

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