Starting with safety measures, team members came together, grew stronger
by Mary Margaret Stewart, staff writer
For Neal Berube, the culture of Associated Food Stores results from leaders taking their values seriously and living them.
“We have what we call a Compass of Excellence that gives us guidance,” said Berube, CEO of the company. “It is our North Star.”
The Salt Lake City, Utah-based wholesaler has been in the business since 1940, making it through 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic with its values intact.
“We have a compass that has four points, and it makes sure it keeps us heading in the right direction,” Berube said. “Every decision we make in our company goes through this process of ensuring that it’s aligned with our compass.
“And the No. 1 thing is the safety – the safety of our team, the safety of our retailers, the safety of the company’s assets. It has been emphasized, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
When the pandemic first hit, Associated implemented protocols to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
“For instance, we implemented COVID pay. We didn’t want people coming to work sick because we wanted our team and the community safe. Early on in March, we implemented a work-from-home strategy, where a large portion of the company began working remotely through the first of the year.
“When our team sees we’re serious and concerned about them, actions speak louder than words.”
And these actions extend to the retail side of things, too.
“We were one of the first to have Plexiglass protection,” Berube said. “We implemented early on a mandatory mask policy. We have pandemic pallets – each store has a pallet of things that would help them to stay safe during the pandemic.
“Another aspect of our compass is courtesy, and we’re very serious about that – how we treat each other, and how we treat our retailers. People value being respected. That’s one of our core things.”
At Associated’s core, is it “comes down to the culture of living our compass,” which Berube said includes living out values through example.
“To us, they’re not just words – they’re actions, and they’re a part of our everyday lives,” he said.
“Those values include integrity, a passion for what we do…we believe in holding each other accountable. But in doing that, we should also have fun. We actually have a group of our team members that generate activities for our team to help ensure we deliver a fun working environment.
“And teamwork is extremely important to us. We have the term we call ‘One Associated’ – that we have one purpose. We try to take down the silos…’One Associated.’
“And then ultimately, having a heart and having a desire to serve each other and serve our retailers. Those are key ingredients of the culture we have at Associated Foods, and I believe it serves us well.
But in the end, living out the culture requires one thing – people.
“I believe that the success of any entity – but particularly Associated Food Stores and our retailers – is people,” Berube said. “And I am just extremely proud of our team and our retailers – the way they’ve handled this pandemic, in fighting through very, very difficult situations.
“The ‘One Associated’ system has really shown its resilience. Have things been perfect? Far from it. Have there been frustrations? Yes, many. But we haven’t let that stop us from continuing to serve our communities and serve each other.
“It’s during some of the tough times you see people come together and, as a result, become stronger.”