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How natural products brands can assist employees during the COVID-19 crisis

PCC Markets employee
Front-line employees are keeping the economy rolling, and natural products brands are showing their appreciation.

COVID-19 caught the world by surprise, and while some industries are suffering greatly, others, such as grocery stores, are thriving. It’s put a spotlight on how important the health and well-being of natural product manufacturers' and retailers’ staff are—not just during a pandemic, but every day. 

Many companies, including the world’s largest retailers, are hiring thousands of new workers and offering bonuses and protections for staff amid the coronavirus outbreak. Amazon, Walmart and Target announced $2 per hour pay increases for the next several weeks, and companies within the natural products space are showing love for their workers as well. 

UNFI recently announced several new policies including two weeks of additional paid sick leave for associates diagnosed with COVID-19, up to two weeks of additional paid leave for associates if a UNFI facility is closed due to COVID-19 and a temporary $2 per hour bonus for all workers. In addition, the company is allocating more funds to UNFI Assist, its corporate social responsibility program, to support associates experiencing financial hardships due to COVID-19. 

PCC Community Markets, the largest consumer-owned food cooperative in the U.S. operates 13 stores within the Puget Sound Area, the first region to be seriously impacted by COVID-19. Store teams immediately became essential to support their communities; the co-op instituted its own $2 per hour pay increase for all workers, canceled cooking classes and placed social distance signage throughout stores. In addition, the company is providing supplementary resources for employees like access to a free assistance program that can help with a range of challenges from emotional well-being to legal and financial issues. 

“Our leadership team is doing everything possible to provide timely updates to keep staff informed and aware of any changes, and store staff is going far beyond the usual to keep our customers’ needs filled,” said Terry Deblasio, Health and Body Care Merchandiser for PCC Markets. “Receiving a temporary raise in pay along with our ongoing benefits is a great acknowledgement of our staff’s commitment, and our customers are most appreciative as well.”

At Sky Organics, the leadership team instituted several policies aimed at protecting workers during the coronavirus outbreak. In addition to shifting its entire team to remote work, they are providing all employees with hand sanitizer and encourage consistent team communication by holding regular team meetings through video calls. Most importantly, they are keeping everyone employed at full salary with full health benefits that also extend to their family members. 

“We know that times are tough, and no one should have to worry about job security while navigating this pandemic,” said Dean Neiger, co-founder and vice president of business development. “Every member of our team is valuable, and we all carry different responsibilities that blend together to contribute to the company’s success. It’s important for us to frequently check up on one another.” 

There’s no arguing that the pandemic will have some tragic consequences, but there is a silver lining among the current challenges. COVID-19 has sparked a much-deserved appreciation for front-line workers who provide essential goods and services. Neiger said he also sees opportunities for learning in the wake of the current crisis. 

“As people spend more time at home, we are unsurprisingly seeing a greater interest in consumers wanting to cultivate a home space that is clean and natural,” he said. “As people see how easy and cost-effective it is to live a green, conscientious lifestyle, we foresee a continual upward trend in the natural channel long after this pandemic has passed.” 

Natural products brands are uniquely positioned to meet these needs. Sky Organics already has a strong online business model, but Neiger says creating layered marketing strategies will be even more important for operators and producers in the future. 

“With so many people now relying on online platforms such as Amazon and to fill the gap created due to social distancing, brands will have to place greater emphasis on maintaining a strong, multi-channel strategy,” he said. “Think about restaurants that had a strong delivery business before the pandemic—they're much more likely to survive now than restaurants that relied predominantly on walk-ins. The same applies in our industry.” 

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