Independent Grocers Answer the Call in Crisis

April 17, 2020

COVID-19 pandemic brings out the best in store operators and suppliers

Independent grocers are showing strength, resilience and creativity during this unprecedented time in history, ensuring access to food and other essential goods in a period of soaring demand that’s testing the limits of the nation’s supply chain.

Examples of independent grocers stepping up for their communities are many. Here are just a few:

Harps Food Stores

Kim Eskew, chairman and CEO of Arkansas-based, employee-owned Harps, helped ease consumers’ concerns in a video posted to the retailer’s Facebook page on March 27, thanking them for their patience and understanding during the COVID-19 crisis.

“We’ve been selling products faster than our warehouse can supply us,” Eskew said. “We are a resourceful industry that is determined to meet this new level of demand.”

In response, Harps is looking to hire up to 1,500 new associates. “We’re also looking to secure products from other sectors of the food industry that have been negatively impacted, such as restaurants,” Eskew said.

Eskew offered consumers updates on deliveries of high-demand products such as ground beef, cleaning supplies and toilet paper. “We’re looking for the products you need daily and securing them from any source we can,” he said. “Sometimes that means we have to pay a higher price.”

Eskew also recognized Harps’ supplier, Associated Wholesale Grocers, for new hires and ramping up its own efforts to meet demand. “Everyone in the food industry is stepping up to meet the needs of the American people,” he said. “Thanks for the understanding way you have responded to this crisis.”

“I think it is going to take several months for things to get back to normal,” Eskew added.

“I want to thank all of our nearly 5,000 associates for stepping up to the challenge,” he said. “While everyone else is trying to avoid the crowds, our associates work every day where the crowds are, playing a critical role in supplying our communities with food.”

Harps is offering free Instacart grocery delivery to high-risk customers through the end of April.

View Eskew’s complete message here:, along with other examples of Harps’ efforts on the retailer’s Facebook page.

Buehler’s Fresh Foods

Ohio-based Buehler’s has launched “Best Time to Shop,” a new way for Buehler’s customers to determine the busiest and slowest times in its stores.

Shoppers are invited to use these charts ( to choose a less busy time shop, which should help limit the number of people in stores at any given time and allow them to more easily practice social distancing.

Every week, Buehler’s will analyze sales by store and project the following week’s customer counts into 2- and 3-hour segments. Online charts for each store will show color-coded daily time segments: red for the busiest times, yellow for average and green for slowest shopping times.

Lowe’s Markets

Even a disastrous fire that destroyed the only grocery store in tiny, rural San Saba, Texas, couldn’t stop Lowe’s Markets from making sure the town’s 3,100 residents could get the food and other essentials they need.

A March 20 fire resulted in a loss of most of the structure. But since the store is the only source of fresh food within 30 miles, a groundswell of support and volunteer help resulted in Lowe’s reopening for business in less than a week. City officials and Lowe’s management collaborated to establish a temporary location within five days, ensuring availability of groceries to the community.

Construction included moving interior walls, rewiring and stocking the new location with groceries, with the initial two trailers of food brought in with help from the San Saba County Ministerial Alliance.

The complete store can be found here: / /

Rouses Markets

In recognition of the hard work and dedication its associates have shown during the pandemic, Louisiana-based Rouses Markets is giving bonuses in April to all of its hourly store employees, and will accelerate quarterly bonuses for store managers and department heads.

In all, Rouses plans to spend $1 million on bonuses, meals and other benefits for the retailer’s 7,000 employees.

“I have never been more proud of our team than I am today,” CEO Donny Rouse said when announcing the bonuses. “They have been absolutely remarkable in taking care of our customers during an incredible time of need.”

In addition to offering free meals to all store workers during the pandemic, Rouses closed for business on Easter Sunday and made it a paid holiday to give its team time to rest and be with their families. Rouses employees also have free access to health care providers from home through an online portal.

The full story can be found here:

Additionally, Rouses is partnering with some well-known New Orleans-area restaurants to sell their signature dishes in Rouses stores, a welcome boost as most of the foodservice industry has been forced to close for anything other than takeout or delivery until further notice.

The partnership was the brainchild of Rouse and James Breuhl, the retailer’s vice president of perishables. Starting with hummus and pita from Chef Alon Shaya’s modern Israeli restaurant Saba, and turtle soup plus grits and grillades from Chef Tory McPhail at the legendary Commander’s Palace, the program grew to include dishes from New Orleans institutions like Galatoire’s and Ye Olde College to additional restaurants in Baton Rouge and Lafayette, La.

As of April 7, sales of restaurant partner meals in Rouses’ deli cases surpassed $95,000. The program has also allowed restaurant to retain or rehire staff member.

Additionally, Rouses is exploring ways to bring in festival food vendors that typically sell thousands of portions to attendees of New Orleans events that have been cancelled due to the pandemic. “We’re trying to provide our customers with items they long for all year and feel they may be missing out on,” Marcy Nathan, Rouses creative director, told FSR Magazine.

Find the full story here:

Wakefern / ShopRite

The New Jersey-based retailer cooperative donated 12 trailers to move hospital equipment to four pop-up field hospitals around the state being set up as a preparedness measure.

Gov. Phil Murphy in his March 25 daily press briefing praised the company for its assistance in transporting the equipment that was received from the federal government. The overflow medical facilities are intended to house critically ill patients who don’t have COVID-19, to alleviate stress placed on existing hospitals.

Meanwhile in Philadelphia, Brown’s ShopRite Grocery Manager William Banks was recognized as a hero by local media.

“It’s my job and I take my job seriously. I provide people with food. It’s like land and food. You’re gonna need those two things. They’re not going anywhere, so I take a pride in that — a pride in what I do,” Banks told Fox 29. “I show up every day because it’s what I want to do.  It’s not like I’m a daredevil. I like my life. I have two daughters at home, a wife. I wanna live but at the same token this is what I do. This is what I came to work to do.”