Dan Bregg, president of Buy-Low Foods

Since the pandemic began, the grocery industry has been at the forefront, rapidly adapting and implementing measures to ensure that Canadians continue to have access to safe food. “In Their Own Words”  brings the behind-the-scenes stories of retailers and suppliers to Grocery Business' readers.

Dan Bregg, president, Buy-Low Foods

Crisis leadership initiatives

In the weeks before the declaration of a global pandemic, we had started a process of discussing the potential impacts should Covid-19 come to Canada and immediately before the declaration, we formed a Covid-19 Task Force that met daily – virtually of course – in the initial weeks of the Canadian experience, a process which continues today, albeit on a less frequent basis. The Task Force was made up of cross functional and cross divisional roles in the company to ensure that we had input and ideas from all aspects of the business.

From the outset, we had as a guiding principle that the protection of the health and safety of our people and our customers had to come first – always.

It is not only people’s physical health that needs to be considered in a crisis. The impact on mental health has been equally if not more at risk through this situation. Communication and resources have to be committed to doing the best we can to support the mental health of all of our people when dealing with the stresses of a crisis and we need to make it okay to share our feelings and fears.

With having a cross-functional and cross-divisional view on the Task Force, we were able to consider the impacts on our people and our processes through every aspect of the business and plan strategies and responses accordingly – then we took advantage of the skills and expertise of everyone to produce operating procedures, communications, checklists and processes to minimize the impact to our people, customers and business to the greatest extent possible.

At Associated Grocers, we made the decision to act as a primary resource for independents to help them with social distancing communication to customers, guidance and assistance in understanding and complying with changes in operations that they needed help with to be able to stay open as primary food providers in their communities. We provided documents and checklists that they could adopt to immediately have tools to support the many new practices that were needed as a result of the Pandemic. Because of our commitment to the independent, we passed along everything that we produced to the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers so that CFIG could make them available to all independents in Canada, not just our Associated Grocers customers.

Given our position as both a retailer and wholesaler across the three western provinces, we were invited to participate in discussions with government early on and throughout the pandemic and I believe that our participation has benefited both our company and government – whom I would say have done an admirable job of managing this crisis – in guiding practices and principles to be followed in ensuring the safety of the public and to bringing a quick reduction in the panic that we saw in the initial week after the declaration of a global pandemic.

Impact on the supply chain

Without a doubt, the pandemic has had a significant impact on the supply chain and highlighted the interdependence that exists between all members of the supply chain.

Overall, I would have to say that the supply chain in Canada is relatively resilient and, in most cases, has recovered from the initial panic buying that occurred relatively quickly.

There are still challenges in some areas – largely due to the effects of demand that no one could have forecast, along with pressures from people not able to work in the same way as they had been prior to the pandemic.

Throughout the pandemic I have advocated and will continue to advocate that in circumstances such as we have been, and by something continue to be, experiencing, that the Supply Chain needs to adjust its thinking to ensure that the wholesalers and retailers that serve the rural, remote and First Nations communities need to be given priority in allocation of product and resources. These communities are typically hours away from the major commercial centres of their provinces and if the small independent or First Nations store that serves the community doesn’t have the product the community needs, there is no other choice, there is no second location they can go to without hours long travel.

Business takeaways from this experience

Your strength is your people and it is the team that will determine whether you succeed or fail in the response to the crisis. There has never been more truth to the saying “No ONE is smarter than all of us”: use the ideas from everyone on the team.

Communicate, communicate, communicate – open, honest communication goes a long way to calming fears, ensuring that crisis responses are carried out the way they were intended – or if they need to be revised because of unexpected or unintended consequences, there is an open forum for fast feedback and revision.

Mistakes are going to be made. Be nimble: quickly assess, learn, adjust and move on.

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