When you work in retail, you come to expect things to go wrong. Freezers break down; trucks come late; people get sick and can’t work shifts; products sell out faster or slower than expected and both create unique problems of their own.
In fact, you could make a case that fixing things is a retailer’s job. Great retailers are the ones that figure out how to handle all the things that go wrong every day. Stuff happens, you fix it, and we move on.
Sometimes however, bigger things go wrong. I am specifically talking about when an associate behaves in a way that is counter to your policies, to your values, to your brand. Because we are in a labor-intensive business, often with a large number of entry-level associates, retailers are always at risk of someone’s behavior going really wrong.
Recently there was news about animal mistreatment at a dairy that supplies milk to the Fairlife company, one of many brands distributed by Coke that sells well in our stores. Animal rights activists caught some behaviors on camera that I don’t think any of us would be proud of.
Having worked in retail for my entire career, I have seen similar things happen. Unsafe product handling behavior, truck drivers drinking or using drugs at work, sexual harassment of both fellow associates and shoppers, and a hundred other things that ranged from unfortunate to horrific. Simply put, the odds are against any big company. When you employ thousands of people, you are bound to have a few that don’t use good judgement, and inevitably, a few that are simply bad people.
The best defense against these kinds of events is a good offense, which means having preemptive, direct, and clear expectations of how we expect our associates to behave.
I’d ask you to think about your own stores. Do you have a value statement that talks about how you expect associates to behave? Do you have written and posted policies on issues like drug and alcohol use, sexual harassment, proper customer service? Most retailers say ‘yes’ when I ask this, but if you survey their newest associates it is often amazing how little they know. And posted policy signs have a habit of disappearing over time. They fade, freezers get put over them, they fall off the wall and aren’t replaced.
In short, creating and maintaining policy in a retail culture is hard. And sometimes it slips through the cracks.
So, in thinking about the Fairlife controversy, I ask, what should IGA’s policy be on fair treatment of animals that in turn, show up as food in our stores? If one of your shoppers—or perhaps your own child or grandchild—asked you how you feel about the videos that were posted online, how would you respond?
If you ever worked on a farm, you know that these animals are a business. They aren’t pets, they are your livelihood. And yet, every farm kid knows the difference between treating their livestock and poultry with respect versus purposefully abusing them.
When these issues come up, I always put my thoughts through this lens of my daughter when she was a little kid. What would it take for her to be proud of how our industry works?
What we do at IGA is heroic. We feed our communities, providing healthy and fresh food to people who might not otherwise have access. We employ tens of thousands of local associates and support local suppliers and farmers, helping to keep our communities healthy and growing. And we give back to our local markets, supporting community events, charities, noble causes. Our kids should be proud of what we do. And they should be proud we set high standards for our suppliers, too.
Officially, IGA supports the published industry standard for animal treatment, as published by our partners at FMI:
We believe animals should and can be raised, handled, transported, and processed in ways that ensure they are clean, safe, and free from cruelty, abuse, or neglect.
For policies and values to be effective, they must be representative of the entire organization. At IGA Corporate we are currently reassessing the values and procedures that support the brand—including the fair treatment of animals—and we want your input.
Does this statement reflect your values? What goals should we set to ensure IGA continues to live up to this policy? And is it something you and your family would be proud to show your shoppers who become concerned about our supply chain?