The Food Industry Association kicked off Supermarket Employee Day, a new industrywide campaign to recognize the efforts of the grocery sector’s workforce.

FMI proclaimed Feb. 22 as Supermarket Employee Day in mid-January. The trade group noted that the importance of supermarkets as the “backbone of their communities” and their workers as “frontline heroes” came to the fore during the coronavirus crisis, leading to the call for a “new holiday to recognize employees at every level for the work they do feeding families and enriching lives.”

“When FMI proclaimed this new holiday to recognize the 6 million employees that comprise our nation’s food industry, nobody ever could have imagined how much this celebration would be embraced,” FMI President and CEO Leslie Sarasin said in a statement on Monday. “In this short window of time, supermarkets and food manufacturers are coordinating a broad spectrum of activities to honor our industry’s frontline heroes on this first-ever Supermarket Employee Day.”

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To spur industry participation in Supermarket Employee Day, FMI created an online suite of turnkey tools and resources to help members mark the occasion according to their individual brands and budgets. Tools include messaging, logos, proclamations, ideas for celebration plans, infographics, templates for stickers, buttons, posters, press releases, and methods to “unlock talent and potential” among teams, FMI said.

“Many thousands of industry members have been visiting FMI’s website and accessing our planning tools,” Sarasin noted. “We know the food industry has a full spectrum of events planned, which include state and local proclamations for Supermarket Employee Day, programs that invite customers to nominate supermarket heroes, reward sweepstakes, video tributes, headquarter celebrations, appreciation campaigns throughout the supply chain, social media campaigns and lots of in-store activities.”

More than 40,000 stores sell food and groceries in the United States, and millions of supermarket employees work daily to keep shelves stocked and provide their communities with essential services, FMI said, adding that grocery workers’ dedication remained unswerving through supply chain disruptions and other challenges amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Supermarket employees have earned our gratitude, which is why we are creating an annual holiday to celebrate them,” Sarasin stated. “The fact is that they always have been frontline heroes during periods of crisis. In the face of natural disasters and now especially during a global pandemic, these folks keep communities going.”

St. Louis-based Schnuck Markets is celebrating the first Supermarket Employee Day by shining the spotlight on its store associates. Customers are being urged to honor their “favorite heroes” in social media posts using the hashtags #SupermarketEmployeeDay and #SupermarketHeroes.

Schnuck Markets is encouraging customers to show their appreciation for ‘frontline heroes’ in social media posts. (Image courtesy of Schnucks)

And as a “thank you” to essential workers, Schnucks is giving all associates with a Schnucks Rewards account 5,000 points, valued at $10, to use for a break meal. Break rooms at all stores also are being stocked with snacks in honor of Supermarket Employee Day, added Schnucks, which operates 112 stores in Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin.

“Our teammates have stood strong and continued on the Schnucks’ mission to ‘Nourish People’s Lives’ during the pandemic. They are true heroes, and we are thrilled to honor and celebrate them,” Schnucks Chairman and CEO Todd Schnuck said in a statement. “When COVID-19 forced many to shelter at home, we were able to stay open because of our teammates’ dedication, and because of our teammates’ willingness and enthusiasm for trying new things, we have continued to adapt and serve our customers and our communities every day.”

Meanwhile, SpartanNash is recognizing Supermarket Employee Day by offering all retail associates an “Associate Appreciation” discount of 20% off at all company-owned stores, as part of other activities. The Grand Rapids, Mich.-based grocery wholesaler and retailer said store associates also will be featured on the company’s Facebook and LinkedIn pages to honor teams and individuals for their efforts.

“At SpartanNash, we have nearly 13,000 retail associates who come to work each day, keeping shelves stocked and providing our customers and communities with the essential food, medicine and groceries they need,” commented Tom Swanson, executive vice president and general manager of corporate retail at SpartanNash. “Our family of retail associates have continued to adapt throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and they truly are our frontline heroes. On Supermarket Employee Day, and all year long, we want to honor and celebrate the essential role they play at SpartanNash.”

Overall, SpartanNash owns and operates 154 retail stores in Michigan, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin under the banners Ada Fresh Market, D&W Fresh Market, Dan’s Supermarket, Dillonvale IGA, Econofoods, Family Fare, Forest Hills Foods, Fresh City Market, Martin’s Super Markets, No Frills, Pick’n Save, SunMart, Supermercado Nuestra Familia, ValuLand and VG’s Grocery.

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In recognition of Supermarket Employee Day, SpartanNash is offering all retail associates an ‘Associate Appreciation’ discount of 20% off at all company-run stores.

“We invite our customers to stop into their local SpartanNash store on Feb. 22 to congratulate and thank our local supermarket heroes,” Swanson added. “Our retail associates have tirelessly served our customers throughout the pandemic, and I can’t think of a better day to say thank you for all they have done and continue to do.”

In West Michigan, Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss, Kent County Board of Commissioners Chair Mandy Bolter and Grand Rapids Chamber President and CEO Rick Baker joined SpartanNash in its Supermarket Employee Day efforts by signing a proclamation that designates Feb. 22 as a day of honor for the more than 23,500 food retail workers in Kent County.

“Where would we be without the dedication and commitment of our essential workers throughout this pandemic? They deserve our sincerest recognition for the work they have done to support the more than 650,000 residents in Kent County,” Bolter said in a statement. “We are very thankful for them for their courage and contributions to our communities.”

The proclamation noted that “supermarket employees provide all residents with access to safe, healthy and affordable food and work diligently to enhance the health and well-being of each customer” as part of its Supermarket Employee Day declaration.

“The service of these compassionate individuals has been and continues to be critical to the health and safety of our city,” Bliss commented. “Every positive interaction with their customers and their exceptional commitment to safety leaves a tangible and lasting example of courage.”

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Natural Grocers said Supermarket Employee Day adds to its Crew Appreciation Month all during February, in which the retailer recognizes the efforts of its honored store, distribution and corporate teams.

Lakewood, Colo.-based Natural Grocers that it not only has joined in on FMI’s Feb. 22 Supermarket Employee Day campaign but also has highlighted its employees’ efforts throughout February via its 3rd annual Crew Appreciation Month.

Reflecting its good4u Crew founding principle, Natural Grocers said that all during February it has honored store, distribution and corporate teams for their dedication, hard work and community support of their communities. Employees have received weekly “gratitude gifts,” including special edition “Rooted in Health” hooded sweatshirts; a gift bag of natural and organic food, drinks and household essentials; organic herb seed packets; a choice of their favorite drink and organic produce item; and ladybug tenure pins marking milestones with the company.

Natural Grocers noted that it instituted a hero pay and bonus program in March 2020 that continues into 2021. The investment, totaling about $14 million as of Dec. 31, includes a permanent $1 wage increase for hourly associates plus periodic discretionary bonuses during the pandemic.

With 160 locations in 20 states, the natural and organic grocery chain added that its crew has kept not just store shelves stocked but also those of local food banks. In 2020, the good4u Crew helped raise more than $750,000 for local food banks in the markets it serves, helping those with food insecurities gain access to nutritious groceries, the company said.

“Throughout a year that has been like no other we’ve ever experienced, grocery retailers and millions of their associates have remained a direct lifeline for communities around the country,” according to Kemper Isely, co-president of Natural Grocers. “Even in the hardest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have witnessed strength, resiliency and compassion every day from our crew towards their fellow community members. We are proud to join with the food industry in recognizing and celebrating our heroes in aprons and, for now, face masks.”

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ShopRite’s Facebook page is sharing a video featuring ShopRite associates and celebrating their efforts in recognition of Supermarket Employee Day.

ShopRite, part of the Wakefern Food Corp. grocery retail cooperative, marked Supermarket Employee Day with its member owners honoring associates in a range ways. Some stores offered catered lunches, treats and decorated breakrooms for associates. And, in one example, Bracey’s Inc. and the Bracey family, which owns and operates the ShopRite of Birney Plaza in Moosic, Pa., arranged for the mayor to visit the store and deliver an official proclamation for Supermarket Employee Day.

In addition, ShopRite’s Facebook page shared a video featuring ShopRite associates and recognizing their efforts. ShopRite is also sharing associate profiles on its website to highlight and thank associates who have gone the extra mile to fight hunger in their local communities. The hunger-fighting heroes on the website were chosen for their fundraising efforts as part of ShopRite’s annual Partners in Caring annual campaign with General Mills, and their pictures will be featured on limited-edition Cheerios boxes this spring, ShopRite said.

“For 75 years our supermarkets have been serving local communities,” stated Joe Colalillo, chairman and CEO of Wakefern, whose retail network includes 279 ShopRite stores and 363 supermarkets overall in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island. “And the key to our success is our family of associates who provide the service, support and smiles our customers and neighbors count on, especially during difficult times. Today and every day, we thank our associates for their dedication.”

This article originally appeared in Supermarket News.