Bill Ivany, president of Tree of Life

Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures; grocery retailers and food manufacturers have implemented such measures to ensure that Canadians continue to have access to safe food. Grocers have modified their in-store practices and suppliers have changed manufacturing processes and their supply chains to address unprecedented demand. “In Their Own Words”  brings the behind-the-scenes stories to Grocery Business' readers.

Bill Ivany, president, Tree of Life Canada

Crisis leadership initiatives

By being deemed an essential service, we took things very seriously and acted early by forming a task force that meets daily to review the situation and determine further actions required as influenced by the needs of our employees’ health and safety, government ad health authority recommendations, as well as the needs of our customers and clients.

This served us well in making sound decisions around:
- Cancelling all business travel and company events
- Putting rules in place around self-isolation
- Implementing new procedures for our offices and warehouse facilities, such as no visitors, enhanced cleaning and disinfecting, additional sanitizing stations, physical distancing, providing PPE, employee temperature checks and health questionnaires before entering our buildings among the measures.
- For our employees we worked on getting everyone working from home that we possibly could, we enhanced communication around our actions pertaining to COVID-19 and within functional departments, provided increased Temporary Essential Services compensation to our warehouse staff and frontline retail sales reps, tracking illnesses, and executed a short employee survey to gauge their wellbeing in this new environment.
- Supporting the communities where we have offices and facilities by making incremental cash donations to their local food banks through our Canada Cares Committee  

Impact on the supply chain

As an essential service, we understood, and took very seriously the importance of keeping goods flowing through the supply chain, especially as we started experiencing rapidly increasing demand.

We acted early and quickly in doing our best to put measures in place to protect our warehouse employees and provide them with additional “essential services” wages during the pandemic.

We did our best to adjust our inventory levels to meet the surge in demand, as an importer of goods from other parts of the world dealing with long lead times, we did experience in-stock challenges with certain shelf stable products like rice, oatmeal, grains, etc.

This occurred as a result of simply not being able to get product into Canada from overseas quickly enough, as well, our supplier partners had difficulty in keeping up to the increased production requirements resulting from consumer demand.

Your business takeaways from this experience 

Not necessarily new lessons learned, more concrete confirmation of what we already knew:
- Our employees are our most important asset and their health and safety and that of their families must be our priority and come before anything else
- The ability to be nimble, make decisions and respond quickly is key when dealing with a situation that can change by the hour.
- Communicate often and be as transparent as possible
- Support and care for each other, especially in uncertain times, like we now find ourselves in.

I want to thank retailers for their quick response to the pandemic, from the actions they took to protect their employees and customers in the stores, to the co-operative and collaborative approach they have demonstrated with suppliers, all are very much appreciated.

My greatest wish as we come out of this crisis and move into the future of the “new norm” is that the enhanced trust, transparency, communication and responsiveness to each others’ needs continues.

I hope that our customers spend less time in dealing with suppliers trying to make money on “the buy” and instead, we all spend our collective time trying to make money on “the sell.” By working together as we are now, in a co-operative and collaborative manner, our mutual purpose of providing essential goods to Canadian consumers will be much better served. 

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