Operating a grocery store in the COVID-19 era: A Q&A with Summerhill Market’s Brad McMullen

In this ongoing Q&A series, Canadian Grocer checks in with grocery store operators from across the country

The COVID-19 pandemic has severely disrupted the grocery industry, and Canada’s food retailers have been forced to adapt quickly to keep staff and shoppers safe.

In an ongoing Q&A series, Canadian Grocer is checking in with grocery store operators from across the country to find out how they’re doing, how their job has changed over the last couple months, and what long-term impact COVID-19 will have on their business.

Today, we catch up with Summerhill co-owner Brad McMulllen.

Summerhill co-owner Brad McMulllen.

Summerhill co-owner Brad McMulllen.

How has your average working day changed?

Dramatically. We went from a highly customer-centric mindset in a very competitive environment, to being staff-and-customer-health focused. We went from finding a niche and edge to simply trying to source product.

COVID-19 has accelerated online grocery shopping. What does this mean for your business?

We had spent two years building an e-commerce website, which we were planning on launching in March, ironically. The initial rush of panic buying further delayed that launch and we expect to launch in the next week or so. Now, we obviously see that consumer habits may change permanently if they like the service.

What shifts in consumer behaviour have you observed over the last month?

Drastic changes.

Back to basics. People want the staples and classics. Fad diets took a backseat, specialty brands took a backseat and meat sales spiked. [We’ve seen] rushes on certain items like baking, mac and cheese, eggs, turmeric, toilet paper, etc. [Customers are] very appreciative and patient.

International supply chains are fragile. How has COVID-19 changed the way you’ll procure products moving forward?

We have utilized all channels of purchasing. We use hospitality channels for our commissary and have leaned on them heavily as the grocery channels were shorted.

What has been your biggest employee management challenge or concern? How do you keep staff in good spirits?

We gave the entire staff a temporary raise (20%) and have done everything we could think of to protect them. Morale has been very good.