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B.C.’s Quality Foods makes ‘pandemic pay’ permanent

“Now is not the time to take it away,” says president Noel Hayward

President Noel Hayward with the Clean Cart system.President Noel Hayward with the Clean Cart system.

British Columbia grocery retailer Quality Foods announced this week that it has made what was intended as a temporary $2 per hour pay raise implemented at the beginning of the pandemic permanent.

The company, which operates 13 stores across Vancouver Island, first announced the pay raise in March 2020. The “pandemic pay” increase was originally intended to last only two weeks, but was extended twice before Quality Foods decided in May to leave it in place for the remainder of the year.

At the time, the privately held company indicated it would revisit the decision at its annual general meeting, which was held last week. The decision to keep the $2 per hour top-up was announced after the meeting.

“It seems like the pandemic is raging on, everyone’s stressed [and there’s] lots of anxiety,” president Noel Hayward told Canadian Grocer. “Now is not the time to take it away. Now’s the time to make it permanent.”

The raise equates to an approximately 10% wage increase for the company’s 1,200 employees, said Hayward. It’s made possible by double-digit revenue increase brought about by the pandemic in the past year, far outpacing the approximately 2% increase the Canadian grocery industry has seen over the past decade or so.

“It’s new territory for us,” said Hayward with a laugh.

Hayward said the decision to make the raise permanent produced the biggest reaction among staff he’s seen since opening Quality Foods 38 years ago. “It’s almost like crisis management,” he said. “Take care of your people, take care of your customers, and take care of your community, and that’s what it’s meant to do. At a time that’s so stressful, it’s nice not to have to worry about your income.”

The grocery sector is generally susceptible to high staff turnover, but Hayward said Quality Foods saw a noticeable decrease in the past year. “[The pandemic pay] has got to be part of it,” he reasoned. He said about 10% of the company’s workforce opted to stay home to tend to family matters at the beginning of the pandemic, but most have since returned.

In addition to enabling the company to boost profits and increase employee pay, Hayward said the additional revenue has also afforded the company an opportunity to introduce and implement COVID-specific safety measures.

That includes Clean Cart, a system developed by PCL Construction and SterilRay that uses UV light to kill 99.9% of bacteria not just on shopping cart handles, but the entire cart. Shoppers push their cart into a cleaning cube situated at the store entrance and wait 20 seconds for it to be sanitized.

Clean Cart is currently installed at the View Royal store in Victoria, but Hayward expects it to be installed across the entire store network within the next two weeks. “We thought we’d test it for a month, but after two weeks we could tell right away that customers loved it,” said Hayward, adding the machine was used more than 500 times on Dec. 23 alone.

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