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A New Look At Labor Retention For Independent Grocery Operators

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Grocery has one of the highest employee turnover rates of any U.S. industry. A recent study commissioned by the Coca-Cola Retailing Research Council examined the lingering impact of the pandemic and other issues around hiring and retention.

In a recent webinar hosted by the National Grocers Association and the NGA Foundation, longtime industry expert, observer and analyst Michael Sansolo led a discussion exploring the study’s findings and identifying tactical solutions for how grocers can secure and keep a talented workforce.

Sansolo presented the study in a session at the 2024 NGA Show in Las Vegas, so the webinar offered a new opportunity for those who missed it or couldn’t attend the show.

[RELATED: NGA Focuses On Fresh For Independent Grocers At Ops Summit]

Joining Sansolo for the discussion was Nico Sumas, co-president of Village Super Market Inc., which owns and operates 30 ShopRite supermarkets in New Jersey, Maryland, New York and Pennsylvania; along with Kelly Hanson, senior project manager for the NGA Foundation.

Here are some key takeaways from the discussion:

The world has changed faster than grocery has changed as an industry. COVID drove growth of the gig economy. Since the pandemic, the number of gig workers has increased significantly faster than the total number of employed people in the U.S., creating a squeeze on grocery, further enhanced by low barriers to entry into this type of employment.

Grocers need to attack what’s different differently. Recruit employees who are likely to be loyal. Challenge the assumptions that make the job less appealing. Deploy your marketing muscle internally – sell the benefits of working in grocery. Recruit, train and reward great managers. Be responsive so you can meet employees’ reasonable needs.

Strong store leadership impacts employee engagement and turnover. Forty-four percent of those who left their retail job could have been convinced to stay if they were more valued. The challenge is felt widely, though not evenly, across grocery employee groups and retail locations. The industry average turnover is 69 percent, with smaller stores hit harder and younger employees more likely to leave.

Older workers deserve more focus. They are more likely to be loyal, and there is a growing number of them in the workforce. The turnover rate for Baby Boomers is 45 percent, compared to 90 percent for Gen Z and 72 percent for Gen X and Y.

Supermarkets are steady, compared to the volatility of gig work. They’re not just a job, so talk up grocery as a career. Talk about what your company does to your employees as much as you do to your shoppers. “We are an industry of opportunity,” Sansolo said.

Start measuring the problem to get ahead of it. Learn more from the Research Council’s online diagnostic at www.ccrrc.org.

For more exclusive insights, view a recording of the complete webinar at https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/recording/7213730203755306328.

About the author

Jim Dudlicek

Director, Communications and External Affairs at NGA

Jim Dudlicek is Managing Editor and Content Strategist at NGA. The National Grocers Association is the trade association representing the U.S. independent community supermarket industry. NGA members include retail and wholesale grocers located in every congressional district across the country, as well as state grocers’ associations, manufacturers and service suppliers.

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