The concept is simple enough. Globally, up to 40 percent of usable food is wasted a day. And yet, one in seven people don’t have enough to eat.
So, connect the food to the people.
Logistically, it’s a little trickier. That’s where the Pittsburgh- based nonprofits 412 Food Rescue and Food Rescue Hero swoop in.
“Good food belongs to people, not landfills,” said David Primm, head of partnerships and growth with 412 Food Rescue.
Started in Pittsburgh’s 412 area code about six years ago, this PFMA associate member works to get usable, perishable food items to its community. “We’re preventing perfectly good food from going to waste and redirecting that to people who are food insecure,” Primm said.
The best part—food retailers are in a perfect position to help. “Nearly half of the food that’s wasted is actually wasted at consumer-facing businesses. That’s your members, that’s grocery stores and other retail outlets, it’s restaurants and institutions,” said Jennifer England, senior director of partner success. “We make sure that food gets to people who need it by leveraging our technology to reach out to volunteers so they can take it to where it needs to go.”
412 Food Rescue and Food Rescue Hero make this process easy for their partners, in part, thanks to well-designed technology. Food rescue can be labor intensive without the right tools, England said. With such a highly distributed network, it’s inefficient to schedule truck pickups for small quantity donations at multiple locations. Fortunately, England said the organization’s cofounder has a background in tech startup and created the Food Rescue Hero app. This purpose-driven technology makes it easy to connect food retailers, volunteers and community members in need.
A food recover program using 412 Food Rescue’s technology and operations has no downside. There’s no value to food in the garbage.
“We have over 12,000 volunteers in our network, and by using our technology, we can let them know, ‘Hey, there’s food available at this grocery store that needs to go to this low-income housing site, can you pick it up?’” she said.
That technology allows them to increase their impact. 412 Food Rescue generally covers the 412 Pittsburgh and Allegheny County area code. By using the Food Rescue Hero app, they are able to extend their reach and work with 13 cities in the U.S. and Canada, three of which cover new service areas in Pennsylvania.
The organization also is very agile, working hard to keep the food rescue process simple. Instead of telling partners they have to bend to the schedule of 412 Food Rescue, England said they ask donors what works best for them. “We want to serve our partners whether it’s our food donors, our nonprofit partners or our volunteers. We want to meet our partners where they need us.”
As food insecurity intensified over the course of the pandemic, the nonprofit shifted and evolved its operations. Access to good food became more important than ever. Just as many consumers relied on grocery delivery, 412 Food Rescue and Food Rescue Hero began making home deliveries. This change provided a way to get quality food to the most vulnerable populations.
In its sixth year of operation, Primm said they’ve reached a major milestone. “We just hit that 20-million-pound mark here in our region. That’s through the great effort and support of our food donors and a lot of the PFMA members.”
One PFMA sponsor and member, Giant Eagle, joined 412 Food Rescue as a food donor in 2019. They already have recovered 2 million pounds of food.
Primm and England have heard many myths and misconceptions surrounding food donation. Some businesses think they have no food to donate. Others fear a lawsuit from potentially getting someone sick. And some donors have been burned before from volunteer no-shows. That is where 412 Food Rescue can provide their expertise on everything from food preparation to tracking donation pickups and dropoffs to laws that protect food donors.
Primm said one of the most common misconceptions about food donation is that potential food donors don’t realize how much food they are able to donate. When 412 Food Rescue consults with food retailers, the retailers often are surprised to hear the results.
Recently, when Primm approached a PFMA member about food donation, they explained they had nothing to provide. After speaking with the produce and baking managers, he helped the store identify items that could be donated. Within two weeks, that store donated 3,500 pounds of food, which equates to 3,000 meals. The retailer saved usable food from being wasted, provided nutritious food to those in need and gained financial benefits from the donation through tax incentives.
“There is zero value in wasted food,” Primm said, “but together, working with your members and other food donor partners, we’re able to create this value that impacts the entire community.”
England encourages anyone who remains on the fence about food donation to try it firsthand as a volunteer by downloading the Food Rescue Hero app. “A food recovery program using 412 Food Rescue’s technology and operations has no downside,” England said. “There’s no value to food in the garbage. It’s a win-win-win to donate food."
What are your top three legislative priorities in 2021? My top priority remains closing Pennsylvania’s digital divide by bringing high-speed broadband internet to every home across the Commonwealth. I’m also focused on protecting our energy jobs in the coal and gas industries and fixing our broken property tax system so we can fairly fund education.
What are the important issues facing your district? As highlighted in the most recent Census data, the rural and industrial areas of Pennsylvania are losing population. It’s imperative that we find a solution to grow our tax base and keep people here with good paying, family sustaining jobs. We can do that by investing in our infrastructure, expanding broadband service and running new water and sewer lines to keep the next generation here in older portions of the Commonwealth that once relied heavily on the coal and steel industries. It starts with keeping the coal and steel jobs we still have, and then diversifying our economy to include new business growth.
Where do you shop locally for food? My family has shopped at the locally owned Giant Eagle in Dry Tavern, Greene County, for many years. The Throckmorton family owns two Giant Eagle’s in my district, and my family sometimes makes a stop several times a week to pick up what we need. I grew up in the Dry Tavern community and having this grocery store here is a major asset to all of us.
What is your favorite vacation destination? The beach! My husband Jack and I love to take our kids and grandkids to the Carolinas in the summer for a family vacation. There is nothing more relaxing than a quiet afternoon listening to the waves and a giggle or two from the grandkids. With the COVID-19 pandemic, we have canceled our vacations, but we are itching to get back to the water next year.
I’m proud to say I’m a middle-of-the-road legislator that works with both sides of the aisle on any issue.
What are the biggest challenges for grocers in your district? The grocery store owners are quick to tell you that they need employees. Most people know that it has been difficult for many small businesses to find employees to run their stores over the last several months. When the COVID-19 pandemic began, grocery stores were slammed as restaurants closed and people were afraid to dine out. Those essential workers are now facing fatigue and burn-out, and there isn’t a line of workers waiting to relieve them. I’m hopeful, as we continue to conquer the pandemic and the economy recovers, that people will be looking for work and can fill these roles.
What are your biggest challenges and successes as a legislator? I have several achievements of which I’m proud, but I’m particularly proud of my legislation for corrections officers. My district contains two state prisons that employ thousands of corrections officers and staff. On a tour of SCI-Fayette, the corrections officers asked me to get them a pepper spray mechanism to combat violent prisoners. We passed legislation that gave those officers that spray and they say it’s made their jobs safer, protected them, and curbed violence inside the walls.
The biggest challenge remains the partisan politics that haunt the Capitol. I’m proud to say I’m a middle-of-the-road legislator that works with both sides of the aisle on any issue. Too often, my colleagues get caught up in talking points, speeches and what plays best on social media for them back home. I wish we could turn the cameras off and just get some work done. That’s what the people who elected us sent us here to do.
What is your favorite food or meal to cook? My husband Jack is the cook in our house. The man can whip up just about anything, but his chicken and noodles from scratch are to die for! I’m thankful that with my schedule, he makes sure there is dinner on the table. I love to make my mother’s homemade bun recipe. You can use those buns with just about anything. At Christmas time, the family can’t wait for my peanut butter balls and nut rolls.
What do you like to do for fun? We live on my husband’s century-old family farm. Our daughters have built houses on the property and have raised their kids there. We just love having them so close, spending time with them and our grandchildren whether in the barn or in the pool.
PFMA welcomes three associate members and one retail member.
Joining in June as an associate member, Cozen O’Connor Public Strategies is a bipartisan lobbying firm that provides government solutions from the local to the federal level. Their experts know how to work with modern political institutions. They steer clients to success by staying informed, practical and persuasive.
Stephen Gould Corporation began as a family-owned business 80 years ago, and today is the largest independent custom product and packaging solutions provider in the U.S. The company provides personalized service and draws from its global network with 40 locations in six countries. Stephen Gould, an associate member since June, excels in design, production and logistics and connects networks of vendors, designers and engineers to bring each each project to life.
Pennsylvania-based Victory Brewing Company also joined as an associate member in June. What started as a hobby between two friends has led to 25 years in the craft brewing industry. This year, Victory celebrates its growth as a world-renowned craft brewery and the second-largest craft brand family in Pennsylvania.
Scenic Ridge Foods LLC joined PFMA as a retail member in May. Located in Loganton near Lock Haven, Pa., Scenic Ridge opened in 2012, and in 2017, moved to its current location in an old elementary school building. The family-owned store offers groceries, snacks and bulk foods. Specialities include locally made products like yogurts, raw milk and ice cream; a bakery with fresh breads, sticky buns, pies and more; discount grocery items; and a full deli. Also in the building is a fresh donut shop.
What are your three legislative priorities in 2021? Milk dating SB434 will put PA milk/dairy farms on the same playing field as surrounding states; removing PPE from the Farm show building so we can use the building once again for it’s intended use—to showcase our No. 1 industry in Pennsylvania; making sure that agriculture does not get cut in our budget.
What are the important issues facing your district? Workforce shortage, revenue shortage and lack of tourism.
Where do you shop locally for food? I have a grocery store around the corner from my house; I use it as a convenience store. I also have a produce stand nearby to get fruits and vegetables.
What is your favorite vacation destination? I am very adventurous, so I like going many different places. One of my favorite places is at the bay on my boat, crabbing and fishing.
What are the biggest challenges for grocers in your district? Right now, I would say recruiting and retaining employees.
What are your biggest challenges and successes as a legislator? The biggest challenge is getting the press to get it right. My biggest success is getting HB 544 signed into law (landowner liability protection act) Act 98.
What is your favorite food or meal to cook? I love to make pasta dishes inside, but I equally enjoy flipping steaks on the grill.
What do you like to do for fun? I am an aviator. Flying to destinations for golf, fishing, hunting, etc., is definitely one of my favorite pastimes.
What’s the secret to making it in business more than a century? “Be nice, be fair, be productive,” said Mike Pronio, third-generation family owner of Pronio’s Market in downtown Hershey. “It’s simple.”
Beneath towering coaster tracks and behind the latest strip of chain stores, just two block from Chocolate Avenue, is a neighborhood staple. The current store, built by Mike’s father, Vince, in 1962, sits at the corner of Caracus Avenue and Valley Road. This family-owned and operated market has served generations of Derry Township natives with one-of-a-kind-products and unmatched service.
Pronio’s customers are looking for something special. The store carries freshly cut and ground meats, locally made products, fresh produce and high-quality Italian items. Pronio’s is well known for its homemade meatballs, strombolis and famous sausage. They’ve even started a line of coffees named after their dogs.
The market is for “people who are looking for a quality product, a fair price, and a clean store with family service,” Mike said.
Beyond what’s in the shopping cart, customers know that at Pronio’s, they will be treated like family. Shoppers and employees know each other. Bags always have been taken out to the car at no extra charge. James Pronio, Mike’s oldest son, grew up helping in the store and continues to do so as time allows. “Customers are looking for a personal experience,” he said. “They know the baggers, they know the Meat Department. In essence, you’re being served by family and friends, and your needs feel like they are met.”
Maintaining those relationships through the years has contributed greatly to Pronio’s success, and dedicated customers continue to show their support. As the store prepared to celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2019, one longtime customer in his 70s used his own time and money to create a 30-foot anniversary banner—which he promptly climbed up on the roof to install. “I don’t think his wife knew that,” Mike said.
“There is a kinship, a family-friendly mentality here. People know it comes back to that mentality,” James added.
Pronio’s has about 35 employees who measure their time at the store not by years, Mike said, but by decades. They have served generations of families. When the world flipped upside down in 2020, their loyalty enabled the local market to meet demand and provide a safe shopping experience.
“Business was up 30 to 40%, and people were lined up at the door every morning,” Mike said. “A lot of people wanted to come into a smaller store because it felt safer. And we managed because our employees stuck with us.”
As the area continues to grow and larger businesses pop up along the main roads, Mike knows that in reality, Pronio’s shouldn’t exist. Decades ago, the town was known for farm fields, orchards and small businesses. Today, he is one of few small businesses remaining near the main road. But, James said, their size allows Pronio’s to remain small and agile. Their dedicated staff is productive and efficient. And they work hard to meet customer requests.
“We don’t stray from our values,” James said. “We’re not trying to be the trendiest. We offer solid products. It’s about slow, steady, consistent growth and making sure the customers’ and employees’ needs are met.”
Their success, in large part, comes back to these relationships.
“I like the idea of knowing who’s coming through these doors. We talk, we tease. People support this store and want to see it strive and survive,” Mike said.
He cherishes the chance to continue his family’s legacy and hopes to do so for years to come. “The opportunity was there, and this was the chance of a lifetime,” Mike said of taking on the family business. “I’ve been given a gift, an opportunity no one gets.”
New associate members cover a range of services and products, including equipment, energy, gaming, tobacco and food waste.
Four associate members joined in March. Originally started in San Antonio, Texas, nearly 40 years ago, Facility Solutions Group (FSG) has since grown to one of the nation’s largest lighting distributors and electrical contractors. FSG helps businesses build new electrical and lighting systems, and it services and retrofits old systems. With their “Around the Nation, Around the Corner” philosophy, the company offers the resources of a nationwide provider with the feel of a local business.
Based out of Washington, D.C., Juul Labs is on a mission to transition the world’s billion adult smokers away from combustible cigarettes, eliminate their use and combat underage usage of its products. Their product is an Electronic Nicotine Delivery System (ENDS), designed and intended to be an alternative to combustible cigarettes for adult smokers. The company believes that noncombustible products like ENDS, also known as vapor products, can offer adult smokers a potentially less harmful alternative to combustible cigarettes and, in so doing, reduce the harm associated with tobacco. Juul Labs does not want any non-nicotine users, especially those underage, to try our products, as it exists only to transition adult smokers away from combustible cigarettes.
PLM and Associates, LLC, is a manufacturer’s representative firm in Easton, Pa., that has been in business since 1997. Founder Phil Mele is an alumnus of the Saint Joseph’s University food marketing program, which also is a PFMA associate member. PLM carries food display equipment lines that keep food appropriately warm, cold and dry.
Venture Gaming LLC is a terminal operator of Video-Gaming Terminals (VGTs) in the state of Pennsylvania. Its mission is focused on keeping establishment owners compliant and maximizing their revenue. Venture Gaming will handle consultation, installation and service of VGTs in truck stops throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
In April, 412 Food Rescue became a PFMA associate member. 412 Food Rescue was founded in response to the disconnect between food waste, hunger and environmental sustainability. This nonprofit company, located in the Pittsburgh area, rescues primarily perishable food items and provides it to its nonprofit partners for distribution. 412 Food Rescue delivers food to organizations that serve those who are experiencing food insecurity.
Thank you to all our members for your support!
What are your top three legislative priorities in 2021? My top three legislative priorities for 2021 are sustainable recovery from the pandemic with a specific focus on job creation, education and agriculture/environmental issues.
More specifically, as we come away from the pandemic, I want to be sure to restore our colleges and universities to their full capacities in terms of learning as well as addressing learning loss and education funding from grades K-12. With agriculture issues, we need to focus on food insecurity and improving our food system. I also hope to focus on how we can promote a more sustainable economy and environment.
What are the important issues facing your district? The most important issues facing the 11th senate district are our recovery from COVID-19, lingering unemployment issues and education equality issues.
Where do you shop locally for food? I visit multiple grocery stores, both large chains as well as some of the regional stores. I go to farmer’s markets and, as soon as produce stands are open, I shop those as well. I’m constantly amazed and gratified by the ample availability of high-quality food products in our markets.
Even before the pandemic, I noticed a trend of more families cooking meals at home. ...I’m hopeful this lasts as sharing a meal is good for families, however one defines family. It’s great bonding time.
What is your favorite vacation destination, and why? Colorado, as I love the landscape and outdoor activities available, but primarily because my daughter and grandchildren reside there.
What are the biggest challenges for grocers in your district? Recovering from the pandemic, most certainly the biggest challenge was the unpredictability of the food supply and preparing for unimaginable disruptions. Consumer education is also a challenge as prices have gone up. Education to help consumers understand these issues would be useful.
Even before the pandemic, I noticed a trend of more families cooking meals at home. It’s likely that trend will continue and many of our markets are responding by having a wider array of fully prepared meals for consumers to take home and reheat. I’m hopeful this lasts as sharing a meal is good for families, however one defines family. It’s great bonding time. But it also presents a new challenge for grocers. How will they respond to these new consumer habits?
What are your biggest challenges and successes as a legislator? The greatest challenge of being a legislator is getting your bills considered by the full assembly and working across the aisle to promote legislative initiatives. I consider the recent expansion of the hemp industry as one of my greatest successes, as well as legislation to help individuals returning to the workforce after incarceration obtain occupational licenses. I’m also proud of the work I did to help Pennsylvania voters more easily and conveniently exercise their right to vote.
What is your favorite food or meal to cook? Anything with ground turkey. I’m a miracle worker with ground turkey! I love to cook, and I focus a lot on ethnic recipes. I have a bookshelf full of cookbooks and a drawer full of clipped recipes that I cycle through. I have a magnet on my kitchen refrigerator with the message “Cooking is love” and I truly believe that.
What do you like to do for fun? Gardening, traveling, reading and, honestly, working as a State Senator. This job is something that I really enjoy doing. It’s an honor to be able to serve my constituents.
It’s been said that you can’t know where you are going if you don’t know where you’ve been. After a tumultuous year in the convenience store industry, it can be challenging to picture what lies ahead. But Paul Rankin, vice president of Country Fair, Inc., said that’s where the company turns back to what it knows best.
“The company mission statement is Country Fair Cares,” Rankin said. “We really try to support our team members, our customers and the community. Those are really the focus.”
That focus has helped the company excel. In 2019, Country Fair was named one of Forbes top mid-size companies to work for. Country Fair operates 72 c-stores in Northwestern Pennsylvania, Western New York and Eastern Ohio, and is listed as 16th-largest employer in Erie, Pa. The company also is a huge contributor to the community through its fundraisers and food bank donations. The relationships established with team members, customers and its community have helped Country Fair manage a year like no other.
As the world shut down last March, daily commutes and routines changed. Like the rest of the c-store industry, Rankin said Country Fair experienced a reduction in foot traffic, fuel sales and foodservice. As major employers and schools in the area kept employees and students home, Country Fair took a hit, especially during its busy breakfast traffic.
“We had a significant decline on customer count, which was difficult, because one of our major commodities—foodservice—was reduced significantly. I think for almost any convenience store in Pennsylvania, that’s a large share of their business,” Rankin said.
According to the Association for Convenience and Fuel Retailing (NACS), fuel sales decreased 26.1 percent from 2019 to 2020 when a quarter of the U.S. workforce began working from home. Prepared food sales decreased 7.4 percent across the industry last year as new pandemic regulations impacted self-serve stations.
But there was a bright spot. “We saw wine sales skyrocket, and beer sales did exceptionally well,” Rankin said, noting that PFMA was vital in getting alcohol sales to their stores.
We wanted to comply with all the safety, and that was a great deal that our team members carried out... And they did a great job.
To revive foot traffic, Country Fair moved quickly on adapting new safety protocols. “We’ve always believed in a lot of customer interaction,” he said. “The thing we had to do was just concentrate very early on putting plastic shields around our checkout areas, we were early on masking, and we went to almost full sanitation of everything.”
Although these changes provided new challenges for workers, Rankin is proud that the company experienced very little turnover. “We were real happy that we were able to retain our team fairly well. We had our lowest turnover last year of about 40 percent, which, for our business is a pretty low number,” he said. “I was just so pleased that so many of our people believed in us, stayed with us, and dealt with it. …We wanted to comply with all the safety, and that was a great deal that our team members carried out, but boy was that a tough one. And they did a great job.”
Country Fair is now bringing back many of the products and services they had discontinued in 2020, some with modifications. Thankfully, Country Fair’s customer loyalty is helping them to rebound. Its commitment to customers and to the community for the last 56 years is helping immensely, Rankin said.
“We try to do a lot of things for our customers. We’re very customer centric in any way that we can be, and it helped us a lot,” he said. “Obviously, versus 2020, our numbers are great, dealing with what the pandemic is. But 2019 becomes the key number. I think we’re finally hitting 2019 sales again.”
The c-store industry is competitive, and the pandemic has accelerated many conveniences driven by technology. Rankin said they plan to look at incorporating more technology and delivery options in the future. “The phone has become more and more key.”
For now, Country Fair is concentrating on what makes them different. “Part of what makes us distinct is Country Fair Cares. …Country Fair cares about three things—team members, customers and community—and that’s what makes us different from other people.”
Committed to the community
“Cheers” got it right—sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name. That’s a concept that the Boyer’s family has embraced as a neighborhood grocery store chain, and it’s a feeling that Dean Walker intends to preserve.
It’s been more than two decades since Walker joined the Boyer’s Food Markets family. Walker took the helm as president 10 years ago, and he and his team have worked with Boyer’s to transition ownership over that time. As the remaining Boyers retire, Walker will assume ownership of the supermarket chain this year. He’s positioning Boyer’s for a successful future by balancing its tradition of community with upgrades and modernization of its stores.
Boyer’s started as a local corner grocery store in 1949, embracing and maintaining a neighborhood feeling. “Boyer’s operates smaller footprint stores than most of the national competition,” Walker said. “We are in smaller, often rural, communities and need to maintain the identity of the neighborhood grocer as a point of differentiation to the larger national chains.”
That neighborhood feeling means focusing on unmatched service. Compared to larger supermarket chains, Boyer’s size might appear to be a disadvantage in some instances, Walker said. But this independent grocer has an edge when it comes to convenience and assistance. “We try to use our size as an
advantage. In and out quick, but your able to get basically everything you want and need in a smaller, more friendly footprint.”
As the chain expands, it’s important to maintain the local feeling. Walker said that’s possible by working closely with the communities they serve. “We’re hiring staff from within these communities, giving the kids in the towns a place to work, working with the local organizations and supporting all of their events. We’re just like one of your neighbors.”
Walker acknowledged that it can be challenging to keep up with larger companies that have access to more resources. “Customer’s expect the same website experience, the same online ordering experience or the same retail prices as companies that have endlessly larger buying power, staff and resources than we do,” he said.
“We have an ongoing remodel program, and we reinvest literally every dollar we make back into that program. We’re able to do a major remodel to one or two stores every year, and every store has been touched at least once in the last 10 years. We are already cycling back through stores for a second and third time.”
As Boyer’s continues its rennovation program, its Tamaqua store prepares for a revamp. Altough this location is one of the smaller stores, it is one with high-volume traffic. This is the first store to get more than just equipment and decor upgrades.
“This remodel will include our first-ever building expansion,” Walker said. “A 5,000-square foot addition out the front of the building will allow the entire store to be remerchandised, and every perishable and refrigerated department will be expanded. This will include a brand-new relocated bakery department, produce department and fresh foods to go in the new addition. The entire focus on this remodel and expansion, besides replacing old cases, is to expand perishables and add more fresh food to go.”
Two retail buildings also will be constructed and attached to the store, housing a relocated PA Wine and Spirits store and a proposed beer distributor. The three businesses will all be accessible through the main entrance, creating a convenient, one-stop shopping experience for Tamaqua customers.
The Tamaqua remodel is a huge project for Boyer’s that will require a lot of resources through the spring, Walker said. Once that project is complete, they will shift their focus to the next store on the list.
”We already have the next stores chosen for upgrades, and once Tamaqua is complete, we’ll begin a smaller project remodel, and a larger one behind that. It never stops, we’ll just continue to reinvest constantly to make as many improvements as we can with every resource we have available.”
This dedication and commitment to their stores always circles back to Boyer’s first priority—its customers.
“We pride ourselves on our customer service,” Walker said. “We train on it endlessly—we’ve branded it as ‘Red Shirt Service.’ We hope every customer leaves feeling that we care, they matter, they’re important and that we do everything possible to meet or exceed their expectations.
Masks, vaccinations and sanitization fogging machines had never been concerns for Andrea Karns, vice president of marketing and sales at Karns Quality Foods. Yet 2020 ushered in its own worries and rules.
“For a grocery retailer, these are conversations and thoughts that we never knew we would be in a position to have,” Karns said.
When COVID-19 hit the scene nearly a year ago, the food retail industry quickly adjusted procedures for customer and employee safety. Deemed essential services, grocery stores remained opened, but faced an unknown battle against a new disease. Workers who have faithfully left their homes to keep supplies and services available to their communities now wait to receive the vaccine.
“We have been able to operate, and I recognize how fortunate we are to have been in that position,” Karns said. “At the same time, the drawback is the same. We have been operating and working to traverse the pandemic at the same time as society. As a company, we had to make decisions for the health and safety of our shoppers as well as our team members during unknown times.”
As the medical community and government worked to develop guidelines and regulations in response to the pandemic, Karns said they were doing the same and looking to other countries or states for additional guidance. Staying proactive allowed Karns to implement temperature testing before it was a state mandate and to quickly order and operate sanitization fogging machines in its stores. Most recently, all Karns locations completed upgrades to their air handling filtration systems, providing additional protection to team members, shoppers and vendors. Even though some practices have been relaxed, Karns said their nine locations continue to monitor customer traffic to ensure it remains appropriate for the size of the store.
“We layered onto the mandates to make sure we were taking every step possible to keep our team members, our shoppers and our vendor partners safe and to keep everyone healthy.”
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Karns said they have maintained staffing. The roles have changed over time, though, to accommodate new rules, for example shifting employees out of salad or hot bar positions to maintenance or cleaning. “We didn’t cut our labor hours, we’ve just shifted those hours into different tasks and duties,” Karns said.
With its quick response to safety and sanitation, Karns Quality Foods, like other grocery stores across the nation, found itself receiving praise for the dedication of its hard-working team. While so many industries went remote this past year, those working in grocery retail continued to leave their homes to provide essential services. Karns said early support for essential workers was welcome, but that seems to have fallen to the wayside in recent months.
Karns believes the state has done its best to recognize and support grocery workers to this point, but the vaccination process has left her “hugely disappointed.”
“Early in the pandemic, essential workers, grocery workers, were being applauded and praised, and there were demands for recognition to be in place,” she said. “The vaccination situation of being in 1B, then being in 1B while other people were expedited into 1A, for a lot of my team members, has been a deflating moment.”
Many of the concerns and questions Karns hears from employees revolve around the availability of vaccines and mask wearing. Many of the answers remain unknown at this point. Karns said her team often asks what vaccination will look like for them, when they can expect to receive a vaccine and if they can anticipate the establishment of a clinic for workers.
For employees working outside of the home, it is extra challenging to track and schedule vaccination appointments. “That’s not a luxury a lot of our team members have, to be able to have that freedom, that accessibility to the internet and that time,” she said “We are all working, we’re all working outside of our homes in the stores where we can’t just be on our phone refreshing or on a desktop to get these highly coveted appointments.”
Karns Quality Foods does not have pharmacies in its stores. Karns said they are working to connect with local or national chain pharmacies to establish some type of program or clinic for employees. They have shared the estimated number of employees eligible to receive vaccines with several pharmacies, but at this time, pharmacies don’t have enough information about their vaccine supplies to offer such a program.
When vaccines are available, Karns said the company has established an incentive program to make it easier for team members to take the time needed for vaccination. Employees will receive a $50 payment in total for getting their vaccination, and managers are encouraged to provide flexible scheduling when possible. Karns hopes that this gesture provides a thank you to employees going out of their way to get vaccinated.
“Communities have to come together to make sure folks are able to get it when you have those appointments,” she said.
In the meantime, Karns looks toward the future with cautious optimism. Even though she foresees the need to continue wearing masks through this year, and essential worker vaccination remains a challenge, she has noticed cooperation from customers as mask mandates and other regulations continue.
“The compliance from our shoppers has greatly increased over the last few months. People have come to embrace or surrender—maybe a little bit of both—the best practices of shopping with only one person per family and wearing a mask properly. I’m only hoping that continues to increase.”