by John McCurry, contributing writer
For the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania market, COVID-19 pandemic-buying really hit Karns Foods and other supermarkets on March 11.
“That week was full force, and it has been since then,” said Andrea Karns, VP of sales and marketing and granddaughter of the chain’s founder. “As a community, it is still very much at the top of minds. We are very much still adjusting our practices as we go to meet the CDC and Pennsylvania Department of Health guidelines for best practices.”
Karns Foods operates nine stores in central Pennsylvania. While the panic over the unknown has subsided, staff have segued into meeting the everyday challenges. A $2-per-hour hero pay increase that took effect in March continues.
The company has taken the usual steps: increasing the sanitation schedule; installing social distancing signs; taking employees’ temperatures prior to each shift; and limiting store hours.
Online shopping service has expanded, as has the chain’s communication with employees, who receive regular updates on what the stores are doing to prevent the spread of COVID-19. They also are provided with tips on how they can avoid the virus during their free time.
On the supply chain side, Karns Foods has done additional ordering and expanded its partnerships to keep shelves stocked.
The company worked with third-party partnerships for online ordering prior to the pandemic. The chain continues to expand that service and is exploring more options. Online has long been on the company’s agenda, which coronavirus is expediting.
“When the pandemic hit, we put together a very grassroots option, which provided the opportunity for customers to do a quick minimal order of click-and-collect at store items, so that people could get their essential items,” Karns said. “It was not the full store.”
Many customers have returned to more of a comfort food style of eating.
“We are a perishable-based business,” she said. “We thrive on our meat department, and we have seen that grow and grow in this time period. We believe that will continue to be an opportunity to bring new customers into our store and to increase our opportunities with our existing customers.”
The rest of 2020 remains a big unknown. The chain continues to monitor what is happening around the country. Holiday gatherings may be smaller than usual. That may mean smaller cuts of meat, such as half hams instead of whole hams.
Karns Foods is known for featuring local products. That offering increased during the pandemic as the chain worked closer with local producers.
“The real main feature is our meat department,” Karns said. “We are able to assist customers very well because we don’t have to wait for our meat to go through a third party. Our chickens come directly to our store. During the recent meat shortages, we still had meats available, and we were able to bring them in quickly.”
Karns’ grandfather started the company in 1959, and her father is currently the CEO. She works along aside her dad, uncle, cousin and sister. She loves food and the fact that grocers help families make memories.
“I grew up in a family where we had breakfast and dinner together every day,” she said. “To help families continue that tradition is pretty awesome. I think the pandemic has forced people to slow down, to take a look at what is around them and make new habits and new traditions.
“People are cooking more and baking more. Those habits will continue, even as restaurants start to open back up.”