by Mary Margaret Stewart / staff writer
Julie Wenger, executive director for the Delaware Food Industry Council, is coming up on her 15th year with the trade association. But No. 14 proved to be different.
“From the standpoint of things that we’ve dealt with in the pandemic, just like every other region or state across the country, being in a 24/7, 365 industry and needing to constantly pivot has been challenging,” Wenger said.
Yet, she said that they found great success through collaboration with agencies in Delaware.
“We have a great partnership with our state, and we were often looked to by government as a means to be able to communicate with our customers so quickly,” Wenger said. “Oftentimes, a lot of the education that the state needed to outreach to constituents and citizens, we helped facilitate. A lot of that had to do with signage that was posted or messaging that was done in-store.
“I would say that one of our successes was our strength and ability to communicate quickly to citizenry through our customers, and our partnerships with the various state agencies – department of health, in particular – were really great outcomes of such a crazy year.”
But DFIC wasn’t the only change agent in the state. Retailers in Delaware were leading the charge from the beginning, according to Wenger, whether it was new safety protocols or specialty hours for elderly shoppers.
“I remember being on an FMI call really early on, and we had retailers that were erecting Plexiglass,” she said. “I just remember talking about that on the call and people being surprised that we had folks taking that initiative.
“We have some really, really forward-thinking retailers that started that process, and it trickled down and expanded out through social media in the way that they created some of the early barriers to protect the front-end staff and cashiers.”
Something that has continued into 2021 are conversations regarding COVID-19 vaccines.
“We’ve had weekly meetings with our department of health about vaccination plans and trying to get our 65-plus community and our 1A essential employees vaccinated,” Wenger said. “There’s been an awful lot of work done because so many of our supermarkets, and all of our pharmacy chains, have played such a key role in getting the vaccine out to our residents.
“1A is really strictly first responders and medical, and then 1B is 65-plus, and our essential does include grocery.”
Another part of 2021 for DFIC is the legislative session, which lasts from January to June.
“Our legislature has come back in session, but we are still virtual…When we went back in 2020, virtually everything that was brought before the legislature was really COVID-specific, so there was a lot of legislation that has been deferred to 2021,” Wenger said.
“We’ve got a pretty big changes in our legislative composition. We now have a supermajority with the Democratic Party in both the House, the Senate and with the governor.
“We do anticipate seeing a push for an increase in the minimum wage. We do anticipate legislation that will get rid of our youth and training wage.”
For more on Delaware’s grocery industry right now, check out The Shelby Report‘s articles with independent grocer Janssen’s Market, based in Wilmington, and Good Earth Market, based in Ocean View.