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AGAWAM — Farmers in Western Mass. are invited to apply for Local Farmer Awards of up to $2,500. These awards are for capital/infrastructure improvement projects related to growing, harvesting, and processing that will help farms compete in the marketplace. The Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation, in partnership with Big Y and with the support of other funders, is entering the ninth year of the awards program, which has helped more than 235 farmers carry out a total of 474 projects.

Some examples of how the awards have been used include electric fencing, no-till equipment, irrigation improvements, frost-free water systems, feed troughs, and shade cloth for greenhouses.

“Farmers don’t typically ask for help,” philanthropist and project founder Harold Grinspoon said. “They are genuinely appreciative of these awards and use the money in creative ways for projects to help their farms grow.”

To be eligible, farms must have gross sales of $10,000 or above and either be a member of buy-local organizations Berkshire Grown or Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) or farm in one the four counties of Western Mass. For a full list of eligibility requirements and application information, farmers are encouraged to visit www.farmerawards.org. The deadline for applying is Jan. 31.

Daily News

BOSTON — The Baker-Polito administration announced that Massachusetts residents who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits can now use their electronic benefits transfer (EBT) SNAP benefits to buy groceries online from Big Y.

Big Y is the latest retailer in the Commonwealth to accept EBT SNAP online. It joins Amazon, BJ’s, Daily Table, Geissler’s Supermarket, Shaw’s, Star Market, Stop & Shop, and Walmart, as well as Aldi, Brothers Marketplace, Hannaford, McKinnon’s Supermarkets, Price Chopper, Price Rite Marketplace, Roche Bros., Sudbury Farms, and Wegmans via Instacart. Across all eligible retailers, Massachusetts residents have spent more than $240 million in SNAP benefits to date, buying groceries online from eligible retailers.

“Along with continuation of SNAP emergency allotments, SNAP online purchasing is one of several tools the administration has utilized to combat food insecurity for Massachusetts individuals and families,” said Marylou Sudders, secretary of Health and Human Services. “More local retailers in the program both supports households that receive SNAP benefits and also brings economic support to our local businesses and communities.”

Big Y customers can now use their SNAP benefits when purchasing their groceries online through the Instacart marketplace. Shoppers must enter their EBT card as the form of payment on their Instacart account and select items from the list of EBT SNAP-eligible products as part of their Big Y order. Similar to using SNAP benefits to purchase food in a store, benefits can be used to buy SNAP-eligible foods online, including fresh produce, frozen foods, dairy, and eggs. For more information on using SNAP benefits via Instacart, visit www.instacart.com/ebt-snap.

“At Big Y, we are always striving to enhance the shopping experience for all of our customers,” said Christian D’Amour, director of E-Commerce at Big Y Foods. “We are so excited to now offer this valuable benefit and flexible shopping option to our customers and their families.”

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — This fall marks the one-year anniversary for myPicks Online Ordering, Big Y’s e-commerce platform. In recent years, Big Y has seen an explosion of online ordering and an increased customer demand for another way to shop. These factors led Big Y to enter the e-commerce realm and launch its myPicks Online Ordering platform.

“We understand just how busy people are these days and want to make sure we are offering our customers another option for shopping,” said Christian D’Amour, director of E-commerce at Big Y Foods.

According to D’Amour, Big Y is continuing to gather valuable feedback from customers and is working hard to develop new ways to improve customers’ online experience. Recently, myPicks launched an upgraded website with improved functionality that will make possible services like home delivery powered by Instacart and the ability to accept payments via EBT and SNAP benefits. It has expanded pick-up windows to include same-day order and pick up, and continuew to expand its offerings of fresh and local products. “We continue to listen and learn and are excited to be able to offer in the near future some of the enhancement our customers have been asking for.”

Currently, Big Y offers myPicks in 11 store locations: Chicopee, East Longmeadow, Longmeadow, Ludlow, South Hadley, West Springfield, Wilbraham, two in Springfield, and two in Westfield.

Employment Special Coverage

What’s in a Job?

team members at Big Y’s St. James Avenue location in Springfield

From left, Nadia Doyle, Leslie Soto, Anialys Gomes, and Michelle Martin, team members at Big Y’s St. James Avenue location in Springfield.

Michael Galat says Big Y has a story to tell, and its employees do, too. And sharing those stories goes a long way toward building and retaining workers in a job market slanted toward job seekers to an unprecedented degree.

“It has been a challenge. Everyone is fighting for top talent,” said Galat, Big Y’s vice president of Employee Services. “We’ve adapted by leveraging our existing workforce to share stories of why they work for Big Y. We’ve got a lot of long-tenured, dedicated people working here, and they’re our best recruiters. We focus on their testimonies, telling their stories about why they want to work at Big Y.”

The supermarket chain has bolstered its workforce efforts in other ways, to be sure, from streamlining the application process to college internships that expose students to career opportunities to hosting a recent series of on-the-spot hiring events. “That’s been a home run for us. Recruitment is an ongoing effort,” Galat said.

But the stories are important, he added, noting that it’s important to build a culture where people want to work when they have other options.

“We’ve updated our career page and social platforms with people’s testimonials — why they like working for Big Y, what makes us different, the flexibility we provide. All those things go a long way to retain people and attract new talent.”

Amy Roberts, executive vice president and chief Human Resources officer at PeoplesBank, says both the company and its employees have a story to tell, and creating the right cultural fit is key to building a stable workforce.

“We’re trying to be up front with individuals about our core values and who we are and that we’re looking for people who are interested in being a part of that,” she explained. “So the process is focused around asking the candidate to tell us stories, tell us things about themselves. We believe that’s really critical.”

After all, it’s not just about bringing in talent, but creating a team for the long run.

Amy Roberts

Amy Roberts

“I think it’s important not to oversell yourself and make the position or company something they’re not; if you do, ultimately a person is not going to stick around.”

“I think it’s important not to oversell yourself and make the position or company something they’re not; if you do, ultimately a person is not going to stick around,” Roberts said. “We try to be up front about who we are as an organization, what’s important to us, how we view success here, and hope that’s best match for the individual. We spend time in the process talking about that.”

For this issue’s focus on employment, BusinessWest spoke to five area employers — Big Y, PeoplesBank, the Center for Human Development (CHD), Bulkley Richardson, and Health New England (HNE) — to get a feel for how challenging the much-talked-about workforce crunch has been for their organizations, and how they’ve shifted their hiring and retention strategies to deal with it.

Carol Fitzgerald, vice president of Human Resources at CHD, admitted that 2021 was difficult, but “I feel like 2022 has gotten better, though there are still some challenges. In 2021, we were losing a lot of folks; it was not only hard to get folks, but our folks were making the choice to leave the field.

“As a large, human-service, behavioral-health organization, we are essential workers, and we work face to face with folks anywhere from birth to elders,” she explained. “And I think a lot of people were deciding during the pandemic not to do this work anymore. So we lost ground in 2021, but we’re gaining ground again. I feel optimistic; it feels less frenetic than it did last year, and it feels like things are improving. We’ve gained about 100 employees over 2021.”

Many of the current challenges are geographic, especially in rural settings, where CHD has dozens of locations. “It’s a lot of geography to cover, and there are fewer people in more rural places, so we’re having a harder time finding folks to do the work.”

Betsey Quick, executive director at Bulkley Richardson, had one of the most positive stories to tell about her law firm’s workforce situation, but, like at CHD, 2021 saw some turmoil.

“That was an unduly interesting time for us, as COVID made people retire faster,” she told BusinessWest. “People who had worked here 10, 20, even 40 and 50 years re-evaluated their work-life balance and said, ‘I don’t need to work until I’m 70. I want to spend money and travel; life is short.’ So we had a slew of retirements we wouldn’t have had, and that punched up our needs quite a bit.”

Carol Fitzgerald

Carol Fitzgerald

“I think a lot of people were deciding during the pandemic not to do this work anymore. So we lost ground in 2021, but we’re gaining ground again. I feel optimistic; it feels less frenetic than it did last year, and it feels like things are improving.”

When the firm started ramping up hiring last year, “all the news in every sector was stating how employees were being poached and salaries were way up; it was an employees’ market. I was fully prepared to have a difficult time because we needed attorneys, we needed staff, we needed management,” she went on. “And for maybe the first three months, I saw the tightness in the market. We weren’t getting responses. We considered going out to recruiters, which we never had to do here. But after about three months, résumés started flooding in.”

 

Passion for Purpose

Sarah Morgan, director of Human Resources and Organizational Development at Health New England, noted that the Great Resignation has affected all employers, but it has also been an opportunity to recruit talented people who are looking for new opportunities or are rejoining the workforce. And many are looking for greater purpose in their jobs.

“This is a competitive recruiting environment we face today; however, Health New England employees know they are helping our members to live more healthful lives and improving the health and well-being of the communities we serve,” she said. “Ultimately, people connect to our role as a hometown not-for-profit health plan and are excited about the possibility of joining that cause.”

At the same time, the pandemic showed all companies how much employees — both current and prospective — value flexibility, and Health New England was no exception.

“Even before the COVID-19 pandemic emerged, we recognized that our employees have different needs, such as around childcare, eldercare, transportation, and the like,” Morgan said. “We respect the individual needs of our staff members and offer flexibility when possible, including the opportunity to work primarily remotely when the business needs allow.”

Betsy Quick

Betsy Quick

“You don’t have to work 6 in the morning to 12 at night and drive people into the ground. People want something different.”

Galat agreed. “We’re highly focused on retention, so we provide flexible work schedules and work-life balance, which is very important in this day and age. People have busy lives; we understand and that try to provide that flexibility for childcare, eldercare, school activities, sports … those things are important, and having that ability to balance their personal life with work is more important than ever.”

At CHD, Fitzgerald added, “we definitely know flexibility is really something people are looking for. While we’ve always tried to be flexible, our jobs are face to face with people for the most part, so we need to be in certain settings. However, during the pandemic, we went to telehealth, and we are trying to maintain a small bit of flexibility for telehealth. Going forward, especially in remote settings, that might work best for us. For example, a clinic in Orange is posting for a position that can be primarily remote. Up there, our managers are willing to talk about any and every way to get somebody to come into work, whether that’s remote or a flex schedule where they can; they’re trying to be creative on an individual basis.”

She added that competition has changed over the past couple years as well. “A lot of service industries are paying a lot more, really crazy rates. So we had to get creative. We offer a lot of hiring incentives and bonuses to come in, and when our employees refer folks. We’re trying to be creative from a compensation standpoint as well.”

Galat says Big Y hosts employee roundtables and focus groups and conducts surveys to get feedback on how the work environment can improve and what employees are looking for, and that information is used as a retention tool. The company also implemented a wage increase in July that impacted 75% of the hourly workforce.

All these efforts are critical because, despite some success stories with hiring, the Great Resignation and a generation of young workers who feel they know their value and want to assert it have created a smaller pool of talent to draw from.

“The highly technical or skilled positions have gotten even harder to recruit for,” Roberts said, “because there’s probably a handful of people who have a certain skill you’re looking for, and they’re either going somewhere else or already have a job and are perfectly happy where they are. Trying to figure out recruiting for those positions has been tricky.

“We’ve engaged recruiting partners and firms to broaden our scope,” she went on. “We’ve had people express interest in 100% remote, and we don’t operate that way, but at the same time, managers who said for years, ‘I want them here on site’ are now open to a more flexible work arrangement, seeing how difficult it is to get people to fill positions.”

Meanwhile, Roberts said, “I think our benefit programs are some of the best around, and we’re always looking at that and asking what else we can be doing. How do we help our people learn and build a career with us? How can we bring in more educational opportunities and help them build their career paths and help them see they have a future here? That goes a long way toward retention, but also from a recruiting standpoint, people want to know they have growth potential with your company. Identifying that process definitely has been key for us.”

 

Culture Counts

As Bulkley Richardson has sought to grow, Quick said, it was clear that “we have a really strong older workforce and a really strong middle, and we didn’t have such a strong younger workforce. So part of our succession plan is to keep that younger personnel coming up behind the bigs so they garner all that knowledge.”

One strategy to bring in young lawyers has been a summer associate program that was revived a few years back. After on-campus interviews and an in-depth review process, three to five candidates are selected every summer, and at the end of the summer, if the fit is right, offers are extended. Of eight offers so far, seven are coming back, and the other one took a clerkship and plans to be back at Bulkley when it’s over.

“We feel like this is a desirable place to work,” Quick said. “There’s been a lot of effort from our executive committee to punch up our vibe so it’s about the humans that work for us, not just about billable hours like a lot of big law firms in big cities. You’ve got to have that component, but you don’t have to work 6 in the morning to 12 at night and drive people into the ground. People want something different.

“COVID has taught us that Bulkley Richardson has always had a super strong family vibe,” she added. “We appreciate your personal time, what happens to you in your life. We really feel that’s paying off. We’re good lawyers and good people, and I feel like this is a positive hiring time for us.”

Galat agreed that culture is key.

“We have employees ranging from 16 to 85. Our people make the difference. We look for individuals that enjoy working with people. This is a people business. We want individuals that want to learn and grow and want to develop others, want to provide exceptional customer service and support our inclusive and belonging culture. Through our employee resource groups, employees share ideas and have a voice in business initiatives and each other.”

At Health New England, Morgan said, “we have been more focused than ever on recruiting people with diverse identities and experiences. More than ever, people want to work for companies that value them for who they are and empower them to bring their full, true selves to their work. We see strength in that and want employees from all backgrounds so we can better serve customers from all backgrounds.”

To that end, Health New England aims to deepen its relationships within the community through participation in local cultural events, job fairs, leadership programs, sponsorships, and more, she noted.

Getting back to the idea of the right cultural fit, Fitzgerald said CHD isn’t looking to hire just anyone, even in a tighter-than-usual market.

“We want the soft skills, the people skills. the relationship skills. That’s important not only for the work we do, but for being able to work with folks who appreciate each other and appreciate differences and have great communication skills and can manage different conversations. These are the kinds of things we’re looking for aside from just technical skills. It’s got to be the right fit.”

After all, she added, the company can train employees on certain tasks, but soft skills and a cultural connection are more organic.

“To have the right mindset about work and fit into that culture, I think those are things that are really important to our people. They care about who they’re working with, who they’re working for, and that translates to how we treat clients and quality of care. It really matters.”

 

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Commercial Real Estate Special Coverage

Urban Pioneers

Colin D’Amour says the planned downtown store is unlike anything Big Y has created before

Colin D’Amour says the planned downtown store is unlike anything Big Y has created before and is, in many respects, a pioneering endeavor.

 

Big Y Foods will soon begin the process of transforming the former CVS location in Tower Square into its latest market. The chain has been operating for nearly 80 years now and has expanded its footprint well beyond its roots at that now-famous intersection in Chicopee where the converging roads formed a ‘Y.’ But this venture is something completely different in terms of scale — and just about everything else.

 

In many respects, the new store that Big Y is planning for the space in Tower Square formerly occupied by CVS constitutes pioneering — for the company and the city.

Indeed, what is proposed, a scaled-down version of a Big Y supermarket in an urban setting — the heart of downtown Springfield — hasn’t been tried before, as far as anyone knows. And it certainly hasn’t been tried by Big Y, the chain of supermarkets started by brothers Paul and Gerry D’Amour in 1936.

“To the outside observer, they see us operating supermarkets and say, ‘this is just a smaller format,’” said Colin D’Amour, senior director of Big Y Express and point person on this project. “But it’s really a completely new venture for us, everything from distribution to operations to trucking … we’ve never operated a downtown, urban-format market before, so there are a whole lot of unknowns for us.”

So while there is a great deal of anticipation and excitement about the company’s plans — downtown Springfield has been a food desert for decades now, and the need for a supermarket in that area has long been a recognized need — there is also a great deal of uncertainty about just how this will all play out.

So much so that determining just what constitutes ‘success’ at this new and decidedly different location is a difficult assignment.

“We are flying the plane as we build it in many respects,” D’Amour explained. “We know how to operate a supermarket, and we’re constantly tweaking that model, but when we open a new store, we have a very good idea of what success in that store will look like and what we need to do to achieve it. With this model, we’re trying to be a lot more flexible, even from our design standpoint.

“To the outside observer, they see us operating supermarkets and say, ‘this is just a smaller format.’ But it’s really a completely new venture for us, everything from distribution to operations to trucking … we’ve never operated a downtown, urban-format market before, so there are a whole lot of unknowns for us.”

“We don’t fully know what our lunch business is going to be like in the area; we don’t fully know what our after-work, prime-time, rush-on-the-way-home-from-work business is going to be like,” he went on. “We’re trying to build in some flexibility that’s going to allow us to adapt, once we do open, to what the customers’ needs are.”

Overall, this story is an intriguing one on a number of levels. For starters, there is the obvious need for a grocery store being filled. Meanwhile, the recruitment of Big Y marks another imaginative reuse of space in Tower Square by owners Vid Mitta and Dinesh Patel, who previously landed the YMCA of Greater Springfield and White Lion Brewery, among others, as tenants. And this new development was made possible by federal COVID-relief funds, making this is an example of how those monies have been put to work by the city to improve specific neighborhoods, including downtown (more on that later).

For now, the plan is to have the store open by next spring, said D’Amour, adding that there are some challenges to meeting that timeline, including supply-chain issues that make getting needing materials and equipment, like shelving, somewhat of an adventure.

An architect’s rendering of the planned new  Big Y market in Tower Square.

An architect’s rendering of the planned new
Big Y market in Tower Square.

As for the store itself, it will feature most of the same departments as a typical Big Y World Class Market (there will not be a pharmacy), but, obviously, a smaller volume of items.

As for customers, Big Y believes it will draw from several different constituencies, including those living downtown, those working in both Tower Square and other surrounding office buildings, those coming to Tower Square on other business, such as daycare services at the Big Y, and others.

“We think there’s going to be a good mix,” he noted. “Tower Square is a pretty robust facility, and there are a lot of people who work there who may be living in Springfield or commuting from outside the city who may be looking to grab something after work for dinner or grab something to help fill the fridge, and it saves them a trip to a traditional supermarket. There’s also a good number of residents that live right downtown as well. We think there will be a healthy mix.”

For this issue and its focus on commercial real estate, BusinessWest talked at length with D’Amour about how this concept came together and why the initiative represents pioneering on a number of levels.

 

Location, Location, Location

D’Amour said Big Y has been looking at downtown Springfield with an eye toward possibly opening some type of store there for some time now.

“It’s fair to say that it’s been decades,” he noted, adding quickly that, while the company hasn’t been actively pursuing something all that time, it has long understood that there is both need and opportunity involved with such an undertaking.

“We’ve had a very long, positive relationship with the city of Springfield, being headquartered here, and we’ve got a great relationship with the mayor’s office,” he went on. “So there’s just been a constant dialogue about what opportunities are there.”

“We’ve tried to take little bits of what we like from some different markets out there. But we think downtown Springfield is a bit unique, and we think that we understand the Western Mass. customer and the Springfield customer, and we’re trying to blend our brand with what we’ve seen other folks do in other environments and come up with something we think will work in this setting.”

Matters moved beyond the dialogue stage thanks to a number of puzzle pieces coming together, he went on, noting that the first was the location that became available when CVS vacated its longtime home in Tower Square for a location about a half-mile south on Main Street.

“The new owners of Tower Square came to us with this opportunity — everything just came together at the right time,” said D’Amour, noting that the company not only recognized an opportunity, it was prepared to take full advantage of it. “We were able to pull it together and make it work.”

Prepared, yes, but still moving into what would be uncharted territory for this company — and many supermarket chains, for that matter. Indeed, the location would be in the middle of the city’s downtown, with no on-site parking and certainly no loading dock.

The new market will serve people who work in the office towers

The new market will serve people who work in the office towers, as well as residents who live downtown.

These unknowns, along with uncertainty about just how much traffic this site will generate, made it enough of a risk that the project required an investment from the city, said D’Amour, adding that this investment has come in the form of $1 million in federal COVID CARES Act funding.

“That funding allowed us to answer some of those unknowns,” he said. “It solved some unsolvable challenges around distribution and issues like that, and it allowed us to see a pathway to a financially viable market in this location. I don’t think we would have been able to get there — what with rising construction costs and trying to figure out an entirely new model — without that federal money.”

Elaborating, he said the traditional Big Y model, one seen across this region and now far beyond, into Connecticut, Central Mass., and now Eastern Mass., is the suburban World Class Market, usually in a larger shopping center, with acres of parking; the company just unveiled its latest plans to build a store in Middletown, Conn. The Tower Square store is a much different model, one that, as noted, comes with a large supply of unknowns.

“There’s nothing close to this in terms of the urban setting, and there’s nothing close to this in terms of size,” he said. “This is maybe one-fifth the size of one of our traditional supermarkets. Obviously, all of our stores are unique in size and layout, but this is certainly an outlier.”

Thus, the team at Big Y has looked at models that would be considered similar in other urban markets, including New York and Boston, as well as some smaller cities in upstate New York, he said, adding that the chain is essentially creating its own model with this initiative.

“We’re having supply-chain challenges everywhere, and we’re working through them as best we can, and we think we’re doing a pretty good job with it.”

“We’ve tried to take little bits of what we like from some different markets out there,” he explained. “But we think downtown Springfield is a bit unique, and we think that we understand the Western Mass. customer and the Springfield customer, and we’re trying to blend our brand with what we’ve seen other folks do in other environments and come up with something we think will work in this setting.”

The plan, as noted, is to offer most of what would be found in a traditional Big Y market, he said, adding that patrons can do what he called a “full shop” at the downtown location, with fresh meats, bread, produce, and other items, just not in the variety to be found in the larger-model store.

Work has yet to begin on site, he said, but the plan is to open the store late in the first quarter of next year, and he believes that timetable can be met, despite those aforementioned challenges, including construction lead times and simply getting needed materials and equipment.

“Supply chain continues to be a challenge, both from a construction standpoint as well as from a product standpoint,” D’Amour explained. “But it’s nothing we’re not tackling, like everyone else in this late-pandemic, post-pandemic world, whatever we’re calling it these days. We’re just continuing to try to find innovative ways around it and fill our stores.

“With respect to this Tower Square downtown location, it’s really no different than what we’re tacking in all of our stores,” he went on. “We’re having supply-chain challenges everywhere, and we’re working through them as best we can, and we think we’re doing a pretty good job with it.”

 

Food for Thought

As D’Amour noted, it is difficult to make projections for the planned new market, and equally difficult to get a firm grasp on just what will constitute success.

But in an area that has been devoid of anything like this for as long as anyone can remember, there are great expectations and high hopes that the new store will be an important addition to the mix in Tower Square and the central business district as a whole.

In short, there is a good deal of anticipation about what’s in store for this location — figuratively, but also quite literally.

 

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Daily News Employment

SPRINGFIELD — The management of Big Y Foods Inc. has announced the following new appointments in Western Mass.:

Shane Lashway, store director, Amherst Big Y Supermarket;

Brian Cromack, store manager, Wilbraham Big Y Express;

Nadine Bransky, bakery sales manager, Palmer Big Y Supermarket;

Sarah Ashton, night manager, Southampton Big Y Supermarket;

Vito Guerino, night manager, North Adams Big Y Supermarket;

• Daniel Dufur, meat and seafood sales manager, Pittsfield, Big Y Supermarket;

• Raanan Hartman, district director, Springfield Big Y Supermarket;

• Jonathan Hubbard, assistant store director, Great Barrington Big Y Supermarket;

• Robert Masciulli, sales and merchandising mentor, Springfield, Big Y Supermarket;

• Keith Fronsceno, corporate senior produce sales manager, Springfield Big Y Supermarket;

• Mery Aviles, customer service manager, SpringfieldBig Y Supermarket;

• Angelo Cosme, employee services representative, Wilbraham Big Y Supermarket;

• Andrew Kubin, employee services representative, Southampton Big Y Supermarket;

• Alexander Deming, customer service manager, Southwick, Big Y Supermarket; and

• Corey Decker, store director, Westfield Big Y Supermarket.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Big Y Foods Inc. is investing in its store teams in order to show appreciation for their hard work, and customer service.

This multi-million dollar investment will increase starting pay rates for all clerks, customer service, fresh food and center store specialists, and assistant department managers as of June 26.

Almost three fourths of the company’s retail workforce will receive a pay increase which will assist them with the rising cost of living. These hourly store operations teams work in the Big Y Markets, Table & Vine, and Big Y Express Gas and Convenience Stores.

Once implemented, all retail Big Y employees will be paid above minimum wage in both Massachusetts and Connecticut. Members of upper management are not included in this increase.

“We are proud to be investing in our store teams who have been on the front lines these past two years to support our customers and our community,” said Charles L. D’Amour, Big Y president and CEO. “We know that household budgets are being squeezed by inflation- we hope that by boosting their hourly rates, we will help them to weather these tough times as we recognize and appreciate their efforts and their loyalty.”

 

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Big Y World Class Markets added to the collected donations from customers and employees from March 17 to March 30 through their traditional registers, online and myExpress check out for Ukraine Humanitarian Relief. Community and employee donations along with additional support from Big Y resulted in a donation of $100,000, which will be donated to the global Red Cross network response to provide humanitarian relief to people affected by the crisis in Ukraine.  

As the conflict continues, the Red Cross continues to help families impacted by this devastating conflict. International Red Cross teams are currently on the ground in the region distributing food, delivering medicine and medical supplies, assisting with evacuations, and providing shelter.  

“Thanks to Big Y’s generous support, the global Red Cross network continues to help families impacted by continued fighting in Ukraine,” said Anne McKeough, chief Development officer at the American Red Cross, “We are grateful for partners like Big Y as we work together to help provide critical humanitarian relief response to the Ukraine crisis.”  

Said Big Y President and CEO Charles L. D’Amour, “We have all witnessed the heartbreaking effects particularly on children and families in Ukraine. We are grateful to partner with the International Red Cross to provide some measure of support for their innocent victims. Our thanks go out to our entire Big Y Family, including our customers and employees for joining us to support this humanitarian relief.” 

Daily News


SPRINGFIELD — The management of Big Y Foods, Inc. has announced the following new appointments:  

  • Kayla Constantine was named senior financial analyst at the Springfield Big Y Store Support Center;
  • Christopher Eldredge was named Food Service sales manager at the Manchester, Conn. Big Y Supermarket;
  • Otilia Brown was named store director at the Simsbury, Conn. Big Y Supermarket;
    • Jennifer Devine was named Customer Service manager at the West Springfield Big Y Supermarket;
  • Shawn Kirchner was named store director of the North Adams Big Y Supermarket;
  • Anthony Zarlengo was named store director in Training at the Springfield Big Y Store Support Center;
  • Natalie Alves was named Employee Services representative at the Ware Big Y Supermarket;
  • Christopher Krupa was named manager of Pharmacy Operations at the Springfield Big Y Store Support Center 
  • Zachary Harris was named Customer Service representative at the Stafford Springs, Conn. Big Y Supermarket;
  • James Simonds was named Deli sales manager at the Ware Big Y Supermarket; and
  • Kevin Connors was named Meat & Seafood sales manager at the Northampton Big Y Supermarket.
Daily News

 

 

SPRINGFIELDOn March 1, Big Y will stage its third on-the-spot hiring event at all locations across Massachusetts and Connecticut. It’s an opportunity for anyone 18 years and older to try new skills and to be a voice for sharing innovative ideas. “

People are eager to get back to work, so Big Y has simplified its application process. Every hiring location will conduct interviews, and hiring managers will be able to make on-the-spot job offers for full-time positions from 4 to 7 p.m. on this day. Currently, there are openings at all Big Y supermarkets, Big Y Express Gas and Convenience Stores, and Table & Vine Fine Wines and Spirits.  

Interested applicants are encouraged to apply in advance online at http://www.bigy.com/careers which also includes addresses of all host hiring locations.

Full-time supermarket openings include a 40-hour work week with some weekend availability. Open positions include bakery, meat, seafood, in-store kitchen, deli, department managers, assistant department managers, and overnight stock clerks. Big Y Express Gas and Convenience openings include managers, assistant managers, head cashiers and clerks. Table and Vine has openings in all departments.  Fresh and Local Distribution Center openings include selectors, porters, and equipment operators.

Daily News

 

MassEcon, the state’s private sector partner in promoting business growth in Massachusetts, recently announced its Eighteenth Annual Team Massachusetts Economic Impact Award winners, recognizing 14 companies for their outstanding contributions to the Massachusetts economy.

The companies were selected for establishing new operations in Massachusetts or expanded existing operations. Each employer added new jobs and facility investment; pursued social impact through community involvement/philanthropic efforts; and embraced equity, diversity & inclusion practices. The winners will be honored at Gillette Stadium on April 7, with Citizens as presenting sponsor.

The winning companies were selected after site visits by teams of judges and a Finalists Showcase in November, 2021. The company expansion projects resulted in $3.9 billion in new investment, 1.375 million in additional square feet of facilities, and approximately 975 new jobs in Massachusetts.

“The commitment of these companies to innovate, invest, and grow in Massachusetts is emblematic of the broader vitality of our economy and the workforce that drives it,” said Peter Abair, Executive Director of MassEcon. “We are incredibly honored to recognize these companies and their achievements.”

The winning companies from Western Mass. are:

Gold: Big Y Foods of Springfield – Founded in 1936 by brothers Paul and Gerald D’Amour, Big Y Foods, Inc. was named after an intersection in Chicopee, where two roads converge to form a Y. Now, it is one of the largest independently owned supermarket chains in New England with almost 12,000 employees and 85 locations throughout Massachusetts and Connecticut. Since January 2020, the company added 52 new jobs and invested $50.9 million in a 232,000-square-foot expansion in Springfield for its “Fresh & Local Distribution Center.”

Silver: The White Lion Brewing Company of Springfield – The White Lion Brewing Company is a black-owned brewery that reactivated 8,000 square feet of space that sat vacant for more than 15 years and on-boarded an additional 3,000 square feet of storage, marking a total expansion of 11,000 square feet in Springfield and the first craft beer brand to go to market in Springfield. More than a brewer, White Lion intends to serve as a catalyst for Springfield’s revitalization. While still a small and growing company, White Lion added 13 new employees (69% women and 46% persons of color), donated close to $25,000 to the community, and its ownership sits on a number of local and statewide boards or commissions.

Bronze: United Aircraft Technologies of Pittsfield – United Aircraft Technologies (UAT) is a veteran, minority, and female led business that is creating a new class of smart clamps for electrical wire harness management that is designed to reduce weight, improve safety, and simplify maintenance through the use of Augmented Reality and Artificial Intelligence. The company currently plans on investing in around 7,000 square feet of vacant office space in Pittsfield and is looking to hire four new team members in 2021 in addition to the five already onboarded earlier this year. UAT is also providing STEM-based programs within the community, partnering with MCLA on future internship opportunities and further job creation. 

Daily News

Farmers in Western Massachusetts are invited to apply for Local Farmer Awards of up to $2,500. These awards are for capital/infrastructure improvement projects related to growing, harvesting, and processing that will help farms compete in the marketplace.  The Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation (HGCF), in partnership with Big Y and with the support of other funders, is entering the eighth year of the awards program which has helped more than 225 farmers carry out a total of 400 projects.  

 

The deadline for applying is Jan. 31, 2022. Interested applicants are encouraged to visit the website for more information www.farmerawards.org

 

Some examples of how the awards have been used include a commercial egg washer, irrigation systems, shade cloth for greenhouse, hi-tensile fencing for rotational grazing, feed wagon, and maple cream machine.

 

“Farmers don’t typically ask for help,” philanthropist and project founder Harold Grinspoon noted. “They are genuinely appreciative of these awards and use the money in creative ways for projects to help their businesses.”  

 

To be eligible, farms must have gross sales of $10,000 or above and either be a member of Berkshire Grown or Community Involves in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) or reside in one the four counties of Western Massachusetts.   

 

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — For the third year in a row, Big Y has been recognized as a Forbes Best-in-state Employer for 2021. Forbes America’s Best-in-state Employers have been identified across all industries based upon an independent survey of employees who anonymously recommend their employers for this award.

Employers such as Big Y have no knowledge of which employees are polled, nor do they have the ability to influence the results in any way. According to Forbes, employees are asked to rate their willingness to recommend their own employers to friends and family. Employees are also asked to give their opinions on a series of statements surrounding work-related topics such as working conditions, salary, potential for development, and company image regarding their current employer. Big Y’s award spans 25 different industries.

According to Big Y President and CEO Charles L. D’Amour, “we are honored to be recognized by Forbes for the third year in a row as a Best-in-state Employer in both Massachusetts and Connecticut. Our employees are the heart and soul of our company, and being honored by them in this way is truly humbling. As always, we are grateful to every one of our 12,000 fellow employees for their caring, dedication, and service to our customers and our communities.

“These last few years have been challenging for everyone,” he continued. “We are proud of our employees’ resilience, courage, and efforts to see that our customers’ needs are met with the highest quality and service. We hope to continue to do our best to provide a safe, engaging, and welcoming workplace that encourages personal development and provides good jobs and opportunities for all.”

Big Y has also been named among Forbes Best in State for Diversity, Forbes Best Employers for Women, and Forbes America’s Best Large Employers.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — To facilitate this past season of giving food to those in need, Big Y converted its Sack Hunger campaign from a $10 bag of groceries to a streamlined $5 donation to the five food banks within its marketing area. These regional food banks support local soup kitchens, food pantries, senior food programs, children’s programs, and more for the 2,100 member agencies they serve every day.

During November and December, Big Y customers and employees contributed almost $300,000 to help their friends and neighbors in their communities. In order to expand their support, Big Y matched this contribution bringing the total up to $600,000 or 2.4 million meals.

According to Big Y president and CEO Charles D’Amour, “we appreciate the generosity of our customers and employees in helping us to support our friends and neighbors in need. And we are grateful to our partnerships with our five area food banks for their heroic efforts in serving those most vulnerable in our communities. Being able to provide another 2.4 million meals through our Sack Hunger program helps us to fulfill our mission to feed families.”

This past year has seen dramatic increases in food insecurity throughout the region. Big Y’s Sack Hunger donation is part of its ongoing support throughout the year, including almost daily donations of meat, fresh produce, and bakery items, along with grocery, frozen, and dairy items. And based the pandemic challenges of the past year, Big Y had already contributed another $250,000 in support of the food banks for their work with vulnerable populations.

The five regional food banks are the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, the Worcester County Food Bank, and the Greater Boston Food Bank in Massachusetts, as well as Foodshare and the Connecticut Food Bank in Connecticut. This year’s virtual Sack Hunger bags were purchased from 71 Big Y supermarkets, Fresh Acres Specialty Market, and Table & Vine Fine Wines and Liquors.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Big Y World Class Market has taken another step in supporting the production and consumption of clean energy by contracting with Boston-based Nexamp to participate in its community solar program. Under the agreement with Nexamp, Big Y is subscribing to 19 solar projects across Massachusetts, representing a total of 57 megawatts of capacity. Big Y will receive 50% of the energy credits generated by these projects.

“These agreements are the latest example of how community solar can benefit energy users of all sizes, from businesses to residential customers,” said Chris Clark, senior vice president of Business Development at Nexamp. “As an anchor offtaker across multiple projects, Big Y will realize significant energy savings while also supporting renewable energy in its local communities. Big Y has made it clear that environmental stewardship is an important part of its mission.”

The projects included in Big Y’s agreement with Nexamp are located in Massachusetts in the National Grid and Eversource utility service territories. Big Y and other subscribers to these community solar projects are allocated a portion of the project’s output and receive discounted credits on their utility bills.

“We have already installed solar panels at several of our stores and operations centers, so the opportunity to participate in the Nexamp community solar program fits perfectly with our long-term sustainability goals as an organization,” said Gary Kuchyt, manager of Energy and Sustainability at Big Y. “By offsetting more of our energy consumption with clean energy, we are expanding our green initiative and making even more of an impact. We understand that embracing renewable energy can take many forms and are excited to have community solar as part of our corporate efforts.”

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Big Y announced it will pay additional holiday bonuses to its front-line and distribution-center associates, including full-time, part-time, and casual employees. This holiday bonus is part of the company’s ongoing recognition and appreciation for the efforts and sacrifices of employees, which was instituted last March. Thank-you bonuses are expected to continue during the first part of 2021.

“We continue to be grateful to all of our employees for their valiant efforts throughout this pandemic,” said Charles D’Amour, president and CEO. “They have all taken their role as essential workers both nobly and carefully in order to continue to provide for and support our friends and neighbors in our communities. I am so very proud of their resilience and dedication to serving our customers during this past year. This bonus pay is just one way that we show our appreciation to our team of 12,000 who work so hard and tirelessly every day.”

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Big Y announced it will close all its stores, including Big Y World Class Markets, Table & Vine, and Fresh Acres specialty market, on Thanksgiving, Nov. 26, as well as Friday, Nov. 27. Big Y Express Gas & Convenience locations will be closed on Thanksgiving Day as well.

In order to thank their thousands of employees for their continued hard work and tenacious efforts throughout the challenges of being an essential service throughout the pandemic, Big Y has decided to close its markets to the public on Thanksgiving and the day after so employees can rest and spend more time with their families. In addition, the closure will allow time for extra cleaning, restocking, and preparations for the remainder of the holiday season.

According to Richard Bossie, senior vice president of Operations and Customer Experience, “we are humbled by the extraordinary work of our frontline employees throughout this past year. Being able to close to the public for an extra day or two helps them to relax and spend time with loved ones. It also gives us an opportunity to clean and restock. The resilience of our teams has been remarkable, and we are thrilled to be able to thank them with a well-deserved break.”

Big Y closed for its last two-day period in April for Easter Sunday and Monday (April 12-13) in order to give teams some much-needed rest. In addition to these days of rest for employees, Big Y has provided thank-you pay and now thank-you bonuses for frontline workers in recognition of their continued commitment to each other and to customers.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — In order to continue to raise awareness and funds for the fight against breast cancer, all Big Y supermarkets will donate proceeds from various departments throughout the store to 32 local breast-cancer support groups throughout Massachusetts and Connecticut. Since 2007, the chain has raised more than $2 million for this cause. The program, “Partners of Hope,” reflects the partnership, commitment, and support of breast-cancer awareness and research.

During the entire month of October, Big Y will donate a portion of the proceeds from both floral and produce purchases, including Sunshine Bouquets. Additionally, Big Y will donate five cents for each purchase of Big Y brands, including Full Circle Organics, Culinary Tours, Cravin’ Flavor, Food Club, That’s Smart, Wide Awake Coffee, Sweet P’s Bake Shop, Top Care Health, Tippy Toes, Pure Harmony, and Paw’s Happy Life purchased the week of Oct. 8-14 (some exclusions may apply). Big Y Butcher Shops will donate 10 cents from every pound of All Natural Angus Beef and Big Y Smart Chicken sold during the entire month of October, and Big Y Pharmacy & Wellness Center will also donate $5 for every flu shot given. New this year, customers can also donate directly to Partners of Hope via bigy.com/community/breastcancerawareness.

Big Y’s dietitian team, Carrie Taylor and Andrea Luttrell, will devote a portion of their fall newsletter to cancer prevention.

“During these challenging and stressful times, it has never been more important to take care of one’s health,” Big Y CEO Charles D’Amour said. “Thousands of women and many men are impacted each year by breast cancer. With a renewed focus on health and wellness and the importance of breast-cancer awareness and early detection, we hope that this initiative can not only help save lives, but someday lead to better treatments and ultimately a cure.”

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — In 1936, Paul and Gerry D’Amour were passionate about providing fresh local food to their customers at the Y Cash Market in Chicopee. Today, close to 85 years after its founding, Big Y World Class Markets have more than 500 partnerships with local farmers like Meadowbrook Farms and local food producers like Millie’s Pierogi. The passion of its founders continues with Big Y announcing the Fresh & Local Distribution Center name and logo.

“One of my earliest memories was going around with my uncle to the farms in the summer months and buying peppers and tomatoes and corn,” said Charlie D’Amour, president and CEO of Big Y (see video here). “You could just feel the camaraderie and the connection. I’m proud to say that that connection is still with us today.”

Big Y’s Fresh & Local Distribution Center provides local farmers and food producers with an efficient, one-stop location that saves them the time and cost of delivering to individual stores. It also features state-of-the-art technology and temperature controls to help Big Y maintain and deliver food at the peak of freshness to customers. Corn picked in the fields in the morning can be in Big Y stores by the afternoon. Big Y supplies each of its stores with fresh fish six days a week. Fish may have been swimming in the ocean one day and be in stores by the next morning.

Currently, through Big Y’s Fresh & Local Distribution Center, 70 farmers — accounting for more than 9,000 acres of farmland in the region — supply Big Y’s stores in Massachusetts and Connecticut with 1,200 types of native fruits and vegetables each year. For many farmers, this partnership helps them grow their business and preserve farmland and open space in area communities.

“Big Y has been so instrumental in the local community,” said John Burney of Meadowbrook Farm in East Longmeadow. “They have enabled me to continue to grow my business and put 99% of my profits back into the farm to keep providing customers with locally grown produce.”

More that 3,000 different products from local food producers can be found at a typical Big Y supermarket. Big Y actively searches for new craft-food artisans to bring into their stores and can provide them with support for marketing and packaging, help with barcodes, or even advice on business matters like insurance. “It gives us great pride and honor to be able to help these young businesses, these young farmers, these young producers, to grow their business and become successful,” said D’Amour. “That’s part of the role we can play in the community. I would encourage folks out there who want to explore an opportunity to work with us to contact us through bigy.com.”

The new Fresh & Local Distribution center has close to 425,000 square feet of space and operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It is located adjacent to Big Y headquarters at 2145 Roosevelt Ave. in Springfield.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Big Y has extended its price freeze to Sept. 2, and the list has been expanded from 10,000 to 15,000 everyday grocery items. Big Y operates 71 supermarket locations throughout Massachusetts and Connecticut.

“When we announced our first price freeze, we heard from over 5,000 customers who indicated how important this action is to them,” said Michael D’Amour, chief operating officer for Big Y. “These remain uncharted times, so we feel this is another way we can help our customers and the community.”

Additionally, with regional food banks experiencing unprecedented demand, Big Y has provided $250,000 in support to address the rise in food insecurity since March. Using the estimate that every dollar donated provides four meals, the Big Y financial assistance amounts to 1 million meals. The donation was split equally by the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, the Worcester County Food Bank, and the Greater Boston Food Bank in Massachusetts, as well as Foodshare and the Connecticut Food Bank in Connecticut. Big Y also supplies surplus food to local food banks on a weekly basis. On an annual basis, the company’s Sack Hunger program donates more than $11.5 million in food, or a total of 5.7 million meals, to help those in need throughout the region.

“As a family business, we recognize our responsibility to be exceptional in our service to our customers, especially right now,” D’Amour said. “Our customers are like family to us, and that’s why the friendly service in our stores, as well as commitment to the community, remains exceptional as well.”

Coronavirus

Supply Chain of Events

By George O’Brien

Supply chain.

That’s a two-word phrase that had rarely made its way into the lexicon of most area residents before the COVID-19 pandemic; it was generally assumed that the shelves in the stores would be crammed with product — because they always had been.

But in a year when there have been shortages of cleaning supplies, surgical masks, beef, fish, hair coloring, paper towels, ice cream, rice, frozen pizza, and, yes, toilet paper — a product that has become a metaphor for a crisis — people can no longer take supply chain, and full shelves, for granted.

This has been a learning experience — on a number of levels.

So too for those who work to keep the shelves stocked. For them, it’s a time of relationship building, finding new ways of doing things, and providing ongoing proof that, while the supply chain has been bent — severely and repeatedly — it hasn’t, in their minds, been broken.

Michael D’Amour

“The supply chain has definitely been tested through all this, and there have been shortages of some things, as everyone knows,” said Michael D’Amour, chief operating officer at Springfield-based Big-Y, the fourth-generation, family-owned grocery chain. “But, overall, I think this crisis has shown just how resilient the supply chain is.”

Doug Baker, vice president of Industry Relations for the Food Marketing Institute, (FMI) agreed.

“Almost weekly we’re getting back numbers, and we’re still seeing double-digit growth across many categories — and you can’t have double-digit growth if inventory is not available,” he said, referring to specific product lines ranging from cleaning supplies to frozen foods. “It’s just a matter of matching inventory with consumer demand, and that’s been the challenge.

Doug Baker

“And that’s why we’ve seen shortages — because that inventory output hasn’t been able to rise to the level of consumer demand,” he went on, adding that recent numbers show a slowing of demand that is giving many producers at least a chance to catch up.

In March, on average, the industry was seeing 35% to 40% increases in overall sales volume, Baker said, while in late May, the number was closer to 20% to 25%.

“We’re seeing sales slow, which is helpful because it allows the supply chain to catch up to an extent,” he explained. “But we also have to understand that those are still pretty significant increases, and we’re not going to go back to pre-COVID days, because the public still has yet to engage in a livelihood that they engaged in before the pandemic, and that’s based on where you see them spending their food dollar.”

D’Amour agreed, noting that, as May turned to June, a good number of people were still in something approaching lockdown mode. They were eating most meals at home because restaurants were only open for takeout. They were also still working at home and, therefore, eating lunch at home. Meanwhile, children are home from school, and college students are home as well. This all adds up to people buying more at the supermarket.

As phase 2 of Gov. Charlie Baker’s reopening plan takes effect on June 8, restaurants will be opening for curbside dining, and preschools and day camps will be reopening. And as more and more people go back to their offices — the ones they left in March for space on their dining room table — the ratio of food dollars spent out of the home will start to rise higher.

How long it will take to reach pre-COVID levels — when 54 cents of each dollar was spent outside the home — remains to be seen, said Baker. However, what is certain is that the situation is fluid at best and it could change in a hurry if cases start to surge, a second wave arrives, and people start spending more time working — and eating — at home.

Meanwhile, this new normal has essentially forced chains like Big Y to forge new alliances with suppliers, said D’Amour, noting that as restaurants, colleges, and schools of all kinds closed earlier this year, this created an enormous surplus of inventory, but put the demand on grocery stores, while also creating an opportunity to redeploy goods and resources to grocery retail to meet demand and reduce waste.

One such alliance, one that typifies how suppliers and grocers are working together to forge solutions, involves Little Leaf Farms in Shirley, a local partner and grower of lettuce that saw demand decline dramatically as schools and restaurants closed a few months back and was looking for new opportunities to sell product and reduce the kind of waste that was seen almost nightly on major news broadcasts.

“They’re one example of so many local partners who have sat down with us and worked to figure out how to maximize business between us and keep their stuff growing and moving through the pipeline when the restaurants were shut down,” D’Amour explained. “We worked with them on supply and hotter deals and pricing to keep it moving through the grocery channels.”

For this issue, BusinessWest talked with several players involved with supply chain about the lessons learned to date and how they will help the broad food industry through the uncertain months to come.

Food for Thought

As noted earlier, the laws of supply and demand generally take care of shortages on store shelves — in normal times.

But these are not normal times, said those we spoke with. Still, those laws have applied to items like surgical masks. Hard to find only six weeks ago, they are now seemingly everywhere, and in large quantities, as a number of companies started making them — and more of them.

“Everyone’s getting into the mask business now,” Baker explained, adding quickly that it’s much easier to convert machines to make those products than it is to supply more canisters of Lysol or make more rolls of toilet paper, as simple as that might sound.

“Paper manufacturers have been putting in additional lines,” he said. “But the challenge the industry is facing now is that there two types of fiber used to make toilet paper — there’s recycled fiber and there’s virgin fiber, and with recycled fiber, the supply is low, and not every machine can be converted to use virgin fiber, so you’re going to have less output if you can’t convert.”

And sometimes, because of the pandemic, producers simply cannot meet demand.

That was the case for several weeks — although matters have improved — when it came to supplies of meat and chicken, said Baker, noting that, early on, plants were shut down temporarily. And when they reopened, to keep workers safe, production lines were altered in ways that actually slowed production.

Such specific cases help explain shortages of particular items, said those we spoke with, adding that, overall, many of the empty shelves result from unprecedented demand and panic buying that is starting to wane in many instances. But as the year continues, more lessons will certainly be learned, said D’Amour, adding that there have been plenty of learning experiences already.

Elaborating, he said that, from the beginning, those at Big Y have been watching what’s happening globally, anticipating, and “trying to get on top of things” — a phrase he would use many times — when it comes to everything from employee and customer safety to creating efficient traffic flow in the stores, to keeping items on the shelves.

This has obviously led to new policies and procedures — from the directional arrows on the floors to special hours created for seniors to the plexiglass screens at the check-out counters.

“For us, the biggest component is the people part, and that continues to be stressed by our suppliers, wholesalers, and others,” he said, adding that, while much of that panic buying and hoarding is being talked about in the past tense, the need for diligence remains, and chains like Big Y can’t let their guards down.

Getting back to the supply chain, D’Amour said it has been a struggle in some well-documented areas, but suppliers are responding by trying to increase supply and also reduce the number of overall SKUs to help put some product on the shelves.

“Where people are used to walking down the paper aisle and seeing 150 different choices of bath tissue and paper towels, now they’re seeing far fewer,” he said. “But products are coming back; we’re working with all our partners to get them back in.”

Perhaps the biggest key to providing quality service to customers during the crisis has been efforts to forge new partnerships and stronger relationships with those within the food-service industry, said D’Amour. He mentioned ongoing work with Springfield-based Performance Food Group as one example.

“They’ve done a phenomenal job working with us, working together, to figure out what food they have stuck in the pipeline that we can use,” he explained, adding that, over the past several months, PFG, as it’s called, has even helped with trucking and labor for either Big Y’s warehouse or at wholesale partners. “Most of these partnerships we’ve had have been mutually beneficial, but there are strategies and tactics that we’ve never done before; everyone’s been very open and ready to fight the battle, work together, and think of new ways to partner for the benefit of the consumers.”

Paul Sellew

Which brings him to Little Leaf Farms. Paul Sellew, owner and founder of that facility, which began operations just four years ago, said it is now part of a larger local-food movement that not only puts fresher produce on the shelves, but in many ways helps ease flow of product through the supply chain.

“People don’t realize that 95% of the leafy greens that you see in the grocery store are grown in California and Arizona,” he explained. “And when you have this global pandemic, an unprecedented situation, that puts stress on the supply chain, so imagine managing a supply chain from Selinas, California to Springfield, as opposed to my supply chain, from Devens, Mass. to Springfield.”

Little Leaf has historically seen much of its business fall into the broad category of food service — restaurants, schools, and other institutions. But with the pandemic and the sharp decline of demand on that side, the company, like many other suppliers, has shifted into retail grocery, which has been a win/win/win, for those growers, the grocers, and, ultimately, consumers.

“When you get these unprecedented events, you really want to make this region stronger and more resilient, and food is such a strong, fundamental component of that,” he went on. “And that’s why we’re so grateful for partnerships like the one we have with Big Y, which has supported us from day one.”

Overall, there is a ‘new normal’ within the grocery/food-service industry, a phrase now being heard in virtually every sector of the economy. It involves a landscape that could change quickly and profoundly depending on the pandemic and its impact.

No one really knows when there will be real light at the end of the tunnel, said D’Amour, adding that Big Y, like all those it is partnering and working with, needs to remain nimble and flexible, and continue to work in partnership with others to not only keep the shelves stocked, but also keep people safe.

Bottom Line

Summing up the past several months, those we spoke with said it’s been a challenging and in many ways difficult time, where, again, many important lessons have been learned that will serve consumers, suppliers, and retailers well in the uncertain months still to come.

“The United States is a country of abundance, and the supply chain is a beneficiary of this abundance,” Baker said. “Yes, the supply chain is strained, and some shortages will be experienced, but it’s not broken — there are not critical disruptions in the supply chain.”

The hope, and the expectation, said D’Amour, is that things will stay that way.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — With regional food banks experiencing unprecedented demand, Big Y is providing an additional $125,000 in support to address the rise in food insecurity.

With the donations made in March, Big Y has provided $250,000 in financial assistance to area food banks in addition to the healthy surplus food it provides to them on a weekly basis. Using the estimate that every dollar donated provides four meals, the Big Y financial assistance amounts to 1 million meals.

“Our goal, our mission, is to feed families,” said Charlie D’Amour, president and CEO of Big Y. “We have people in our communities that are really struggling to get food on their table. The role of food banks serving local neighborhoods has never been more important.”

The donation will be split equally by the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, the Worcester County Food Bank, and the Greater Boston Food Bank in Massachusetts, as well as Foodshare and the Connecticut Food Bank in Connecticut. As part of its commitment to hunger relief in its neighborhoods and ongoing partnerships with regional food banks, Big Y provided an estimated $11.5 million of healthy surplus food to these organizations in 2019. This food donation amounts to an estimated 5.7 million meals, two-thirds of which include donations of meat and fresh produce as well as bakery and non-perishable grocery items. Frozen food and dairy products account for one-third of the annual donation.

“Local feeding sites are receiving new patrons from the ranks of the recently unemployed who have never sought food assistance before,” said Andrew Morehouse, executive director of the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts. “The coronavirus poses an even greater threat to vulnerable households at risk of hunger.”

COVID-19 Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — On March 16, Big Y World Class Markets donated $125,000 to three Massachusetts food banks and two in Connecticut in order to help them respond to the challenges they face in helping to feed others during these challenging times. The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, the Greater Boston Food Bank, the Worcester County Food Bank, Foodshare, and the Connecticut Food Bank will each receive an immediate donation of $25,000. All Big Y stores also now have collection boxes to allow customers to make food donations for local pantries and shelters.

As part of its recent 10th annual Sack Hunger/Care to Share program, Big Y also provided more than $11.5 million in food to area food banks, which amounts to a total of 5.7 million meals to help those in need throughout the region. In addition to Sack Hunger, it donates healthy food to these food banks six days a week throughout the year. Two-thirds of those 5.7 million meals include donations of meat and fresh produce, while bakery, non-perishable grocery items, frozen food, and dairy products account for the rest. In fact, these almost-daily donations have become a routine part of Big Y’s operations. These food banks depend upon this steady flow of food to feed those in need.

Big Y also encourages support in any amount for area food banks right now. The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts estimates that every dollar donated will provide four meals for those in need. Visit foodbankwma.org for more information.

Additionally, Big Y donated $50,000 to the COVID-19 Response Fund hosted by the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts. The fund will provide flexible resources to Pioneer Valley nonprofit organizations serving populations most impacted by the crisis, such as the elderly, those without stable housing, families needing food, and those with particular health vulnerabilities.

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