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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.