Texas grocery chain H-E-B revealed its stores have been preparing for COVID-19 for months, as documented in an extensive interview with Texas Monthly. The adored grocery store has uniquely been able to stay stocked, manage social distancing, and even donate $3 million to help with novel coronavirus aid, thanks to a year-round, full-time emergency preparedness staff.
Justin Noakes, H-E-B’s director of emergency preparedness, first created an emergency plan in response to a 2005 outbreak of H5N1 in China, and has continued to revise that plan each year. The team began working on a refined disaster plan in February after getting information on shopping patterns from Chinese grocery stores.
As Craig Boyan, president of H-E-B, explained in the article:
Chinese retailers have sent some pretty thorough information about what happened in the early days of the outbreak: [...] how did that affect employees and how people were addressing sanitization and social distancing, how quarantine has affected the supply chain, how shopping behavior changed as the virus progressed, [...] and what action steps those businesses wish they had done early in the cycle to get ahead of it.
The store has developed new partnerships with distributors to ensure a robust network to keep stores stocked. The chain’s meat plans now run 24/7, with fewer offerings to keep production high. H-E-B also has a chief medical officer and medical board to ensure stores and employees are safe.
The company has also gone above and beyond for its employees. In addition to a $2/hour raise, employees in the main warehouse get two meals a day, and can shop at an on-site store stocked with essentials, as they have a hard time going to the store during normal hours. The company also put out a call to its corporate headquarters to volunteer for shifts in stores and warehouses, and got 800 volunteers for 400 shifts.
As Tina James, the chief people officer for H-E-B, explained in the article:
It’s not lost on us that we are offering an essential public function, and it’s not lost on our partners, either. And they continue to come to work with a very positive attitude, and continue to serve above and beyond even their normal hours.
- Inside the Story of How H-E-B Planned for the Pandemic [Texas Monthly]