IGA CEO John Ross has penned an open letter to American shoppers, asking them to stay calm, trust in IGA retailers and the supply chain, and avoid panic buying. Read the letter below and share with your shoppers in-store or on social media.
We’re only a few months into 2020, but it seems safe to say this will be a year like no other for nearly every industry on the planet—and the grocery industry in particular.
Coronavirus has created a landslide of new concerns for the grocery business—over the supply chain, shopper behavior (who knew “panic buying” would become such a common term?), and of course, the safety of our employees and our customers.
"Our stores at IGA are working hard to stay in stock, satisfy demand, and keep shoppers safe," says IGA CEO John Ross. Furthermore, Ross is confident in the supply chain. "The American food industry is a marvel of modern logistics. We can get fresh food from almost anywhere in the world to any part of the USA—even the most remote areas of our amazing country, daily. Now it's just a matter of letting the supply chain catch up with demand."
“It really is an unprecedented time, but rest assured people are working around the clock. It’s quite remarkable to see how quickly [retailers and wholesalers] are coming together and stepping up to serve,” says Laura Strange, senior vice president, communications and external affairs for the National Grocers Association.
And while IGA retailers and wholesalers are clearly rising to the cause, with no clear end in sight, IGA is developing as many resources as possible to aid members during this uncertain time. Consider this four-point plan created with input from IGA China and other IGA retailers’ experiences to help you cope with COVID-19's impact on your business and keep your employees, shoppers, and yourself safe.
1. TUNE IN
IGA has created the IGA ALERT website and a weekly eNews delivered via email each Tuesday to keep you informed about the most recent updates from the CDC and federal government, as well as resources from IGA, NGA, FMI, and other reputable organizations. We encourage you to visit the website frequently as updates are being made constantly. Subscribe here so you never miss a weekly IGA Alert eNews. You can also find each week’s eNews in the IGA Alert archives.
It is, however, important to note that many advisories in this pandemic are coming from state and local sources, so pay attention to your local elected officials, state-level industry associations, and wholesaler to stay on top of the constant updates. FMI has compiled a web page to provide information from state-level industry sources to help.
2. PREPARE FOR THE LONG HAUL
So far, the stages of the virus in the U.S. have been very similar to what China has experienced. IGA China’s Zhe Zeng, who has team members in the thick of the outbreak in Wuhan, outlined these three phases in the progression of the virus in China, and how each has impacted retailers' abilities to serve shoppers.
- Stage 1: No quarantine, panic-driven hoarding (approximately 60 days)
- Stage 2: Indiscriminate house-arrest style quarantine, where stores had to create a delivery system for heavily quarantined communities (30 days)
- Stage 3: Tiered quarantine, gradually getting back to normal (60 days plus)
A recent Nielsen report has broken the stages down even further, identifying six key consumer behavior threshold levels and the anticipated spending patterns for each.
Both models point to a prolonged outbreak with significant changes to frequency and the way people shop, which means the most important thing you can do right now is prepare for the long haul by creating and activating a protocol to protect employees and shoppers and provide the most reliable service possible.
Likely your biggest protocol needs will revolve around the following areas: safety, staffing, and supply.
- Make sure your associates know first and foremost that anyone who is not feeling well needs to stay home. Check out the "Prepare" section of IGA ALERT for employer tips for building a staffing plan during the Coronavirus crisis.
- Stores that are struggling to maintain staffing—whether because of illness or because associates need to take care of others—can consider shifting store and department hours, and look into the possibility of temporarily hiring people who work in the restaurant industry who have been laid off due to restaurant closures.
- IGA Licensed Distribution Centers are working hard to replenish high-demand products as quickly as possible. In the meantime, many IGA stores (and other stores across the country) are placing limits on the amount of products purchased, and continuing to work with local farmers to provide supplemental meat, dairy, and produce. It's important to note, however, that everyone agrees that the supply chain will catch up to the current need.
Think about ways you can use your independent creativity and flexibility to serve your customers better. Here are just a few of many recent examples of what IGA retailers are doing:
- Fowler IGA in Fowler, Indiana, plans to expand their at-home delivery that’s currently offered to senior citizens, says owner Steve Rettig, with no delivery fee for in-town orders.
Lunch relief program
Special hours for seniors
Looking for more ideas or want to share what you’re doing in your store? Visit the IGA ALERT Best Practices page.
The global pandemic we’re experiencing is unprecedented, which means employee and shoppers alike are justifiably anxious. Transparent communication with both parties is crucial—even if what you’re communicating is distressing.
The first step is letting your shoppers know what you’re doing to deliver a safe and reliable shopping experience by posting the "Promise" sign in stores, on your website, and on social media.
Speaking of social media, it is quickly becoming one of the most impactful ways to deliver important information and connect with shoppers, and it’s one area where independents have a leg up on the chains.
“Independent retailers have a lot of experience communicating directly with their shoppers and associates in an open and honest way on social media, and that’s proving to be invaluable right now,” Strange says, citing Facebook posts that are keeping shoppers informed, like these from McKim’s IGA and Carlie C's IGA.
Some retailers are taking a lighter approach by using humor to diffuse tensions, like these messages from Rivertown IGA and Thompson's IGA.
One more important piece here is to make sure shoppers recognize how hard your associates are working to keep serve their communities during the outbreak,, Strange says. With that in mind, NGA has started a #SupermarketSuperheroes hashtag for recognizing those standout efforts, and IGA will be sharing our retailers' best practices throughout this crisis with the hashtag.
Be sure to include the #SupermarketSuperheroes hashtag when praising your associates on Facebook or Twitter, and share your stories with us on IGA Alert so we can push out your posts on the IGA Corporate and Shopper Facebook pages as examples of all you’re doing to serve your communities during this uncertain time.
*Editor's note: This article was updated on November 22, 2020 to reflect the latest IGA resources and CDC guidance.