Independent grocers are known for their ability to pivot in response to market conditions or customer demand, but 2020 threw them a major curveball in the form of a pandemic that, despite the rollout of vaccines, isn’t over yet. In recognition of the unique challenges presented by the worst public-health crisis in more than a century, Progressive Grocer made the decision to honor those resilient independents that were the most creative and undaunted in overcoming the myriad difficulties presented by COVID-19.
Of course, the coronavirus wasn’t the only issue that independents had to deal with this past year. For some, there were massive wildfires, while others faced the floodwaters of disastrous storms. A few powered through planned remodels and construction projects at what might have seemed an inopportune time, while others rolled out e-commerce platforms for the first time, or greatly ramped up existing programs, in response to circumstances. All met the moment by continuing to serve their communities through countless uncertainties, providing safe havens not just for shopping, but also for fellowship and fun. Beyond the walls of their stores, these extraordinary grocers — many of them the mainstays of their small towns — reached out more than ever to help the hungry, the jobless and the hopeless, with inspiring results. In a particularly poignant twist, there were instances where grateful communities repaid years of caring actions by in turn raising funds for, or offering free services to, their beloved local grocers to help keep them going.
What PG’s 21 honorees, whose store counts range from one to 42, share in common, along with a steely determination to succeed despite the odds, is a vast capacity for joy. In the midst of calamity, these retailers created gorgeous displays, offered in-store music concerts to uplift shoppers’ spirits, and even arranged for kids to receive a socially distanced visit with Santa.
Additionally, in another Outstanding Independent award departure, PG has bestowed its first-ever Visionary designation on Vegan Fine Brands, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based concept that may consist of just one location now, but whose founder/CEO, Steven Smith, is determined to take to underserved areas across the country. Despite their often small size, independent grocers have never been afraid to dream big, whatever the obstacles, and that quality is still very much in evidence with Vegan Fine Brands and PG’s other Outstanding Independents.