President and CEO of FMI - The Food Industry Association
“I thank thee, friend, for the beautiful thought
That in words well chosen thou gavest to me,
Deep in the life of my soul it has wrought
With its own rare essence to ever imbue me…”
In this excerpt from the 1900s poem, "Gratitude," author Lucy Maud Montgomery thanks a fellow poet for a simple gift: acknowledgement. Montgomery’s words show how much it can mean to simply have one’s life, or one’s labor recognized by another. This type of small gesture always matters but it goes even further when expressed in the trying context of a 23-month-old pandemic that has completely disrupted our lives, businesses, relationships and customer interaction.
Upon reflection, at the height of the pandemic-induced panic and confusion, shoppers expressed appreciation for what they were experiencing in their local stores. While many businesses and restaurants were forced to close their doors, the essential nature of food workers meant that our industry took on the responsibility and the privilege of serving and feeding our communities during the pandemic, while simultaneously providing a small sense of certainty and normalcy during an uncertain time. To that end, we at FMI created Supermarket Employee Day in 2021 as an annual occurrence on Feb. 22 to celebrate the work our industry does at every level to keep America fed and safe.
Investments Among Employers
Grocery employees’ tremendous effort and dedication were recognized by retailers with increases in salaries and benefits as well as almost $10 billion in bonuses throughout the pandemic. In addition to bonuses, retailers invested $700 million in non-payroll related benefits, like training, education, free meals and gift cards. This same investment in people continues today as our industry competes for talent. Last year, the food industry witnessed a full spectrum of celebratory events for Supermarket Employee Day, including state and local proclamations; programs that invited customers to nominate supermarket heroes; reward sweepstakes; video tributes; headquarter celebrations; appreciation campaigns throughout the supply chain; social media campaigns; and in-store activities.
Giving Back to Communities
The pandemic reinforces the critical role grocery stores play in their communities. Increasing community-focused support programs was a priority for food retailers during the pandemic. Consequently, 73% of retailers said that community programs were extremely successful for them, even more than personalized customer service and customer loyalty programs. A major component of community support and social responsibility involves charitable donations,and 90% of respondents said they have quantifiable goals and implementation timelines for their charitable efforts. Grocery stores regularly support their communities – whether it’s at the request of the local Parent Teacher Association or neighborhood sports team – and their investments in 2021 did not falter.
Investing in DEI, Talent
Additionally, 73% of our members that responded to "U.S. Food Retailing Industry Speaks" said they have now set measurable goals and time frames for diversity, equity and inclusion as they pertain to hiring and recruiting, while 70% have improved their overall DE&I efforts in their organizations, including the implementation of training programs and hiring team members dedicated to DE&I initiatives. The food industry strives to reflect its community through its workforce and management.
Embracing Grocery Shoppers
We witness in FMI’s "U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends" surveys that Americans believe their primary stores continue to serve them well during the pandemic, and furthermore, they trust their stores. In fact, the primary store ranked just behind “my family,” “my friends” and “my doctor,” among this intimate circle of advocates for their personal health. While this sentiment remains strong throughout these months of the pandemic, the supply chain challenges now put an undue burden on our associates to carry the weight of what consumers are feeling across industries in terms of inflation. While the average American doesn’t need to buy a used car every day, he or she does need to buy food, and consumers are acutely aware of incremental costs on their grocery bills.
Uplifting Industry Workers
We must reenergize the respect our frontline food industry employees experienced when they were needed most, and what better catalyst than our second annual Supermarket Employee Day, which is on the National Day Calendar for Feb. 22.
Small gestures make a big difference in our lives, and Supermarket Employee Day reminds us of the good work our industry contributes each day to making a difference. My message to leaders of the industry is one that will pay it forward: Participate and engage with your employees and encourage your customers to express empathy and gratitude on this national day. Make your business stand out by touting the investment you make in your people. Set the tone and serve as an example of the culture you try to impart among your employees. Most importantly, offer a “thank you” that is sincere, meaningful, relevant and sustainable.