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Natural Grocers in Salida was recently spotlighted by Chaffee’s Got Heart. The board sat down with Natural Grocers’ Co-President Kemper Isely to find out how the pandemic changed operations at Natural Grocers. The store has taken extra strides to promote a safe and sanitary community environment, while nourishing the people of Chaffee County and recognizing the exceptional work of their staff.

When asked how COVID-19 caused Natural Grocers to innovate the way they do business, Isely explained “We quickly realized that our communities were going to be relying on our stores and good4u Crew more than ever before. Keeping our shelves stocked and our customers and crew as safe as possible became our goal.”

Salida Natural Grocers good4u Crew. Image courtesy of Chaffee’s Got Heart.

“Our stores are neighborhood grocers, which means many of our crew and customers know one another, so we quickly implemented new policies to help safeguard both customers and crew. We developed extra cleaning and sanitization routines on frequently touched surfaces, added plexiglass shields at registers, social distancing protocols, crew health checks and more,” continued Isely. “We were ahead of the curve on getting our crews masked – with the reports of mask shortages, our crew members, some of their family members, and our customers began making masks for in-store, distribution center, and bulk manufacturing good4u Crew.”

“In recognition of the crew’s extraordinary efforts and commitment to keeping their communities rooted in health, we instituted a hero pay and bonus program, which began in March 2020 and continues into 2021. The incremental cost of these pay enhancements was approximately $14 million as of December 31, 2020, which includes a permanent $1 per hour pay increase for hourly crew and periodic discretionary bonuses. Additionally, our free nutritional health coaching sessions became available by video and phone, and we developed a program for virtual nutrition education classes.” Isely added.

When asked why the store decided to go above and beyond for the community, Isely said, “As a company, we’ve always used our Five Founding Principles to help us navigate different situations, pandemic included. We looked at those principles – a commitment to community and crew, to Nutrition Education and to providing quality products at our Always Affordable Prices – and knew what had to be done.”

He added, “We knew that as the world grappled with the unknown brought by the pandemic that the one thing we could do – as a neighborhood store – was to make sure our communities felt as safe as possible shopping with us so that they could keep their pantries and fridges stocked with everything they needed to keep their families healthy.”

Isely then went on to explain where he sees examples of the idea that Chaffee’s Got Heart saying, “Every day and in so many ways, including when our crew and community worked to sew masks so every crew member in our stores and distribution centers would have one. Making it possible for us to be one of the first national chains to have all of our employees masked up. Day-to-day support amongst our crew members to help get through the pandemic together, bonding over their Wellness Wednesday moments as they celebrate wellbeing and each other.”

He continued “In August 2020, along with our customers we raised over $260,000 for local food banks in communities we serve to help meet the growing needs of community members experiencing food insecurity. In August, as part of our 65th-anniversary celebration, we broke our own record for the highest fundraiser in a single month.”

Isely said his biggest takeaway from the past year is “That what we’ve always believed to be true is in fact true – the importance of community and of our good4u Crew. For more than 65 years Natural Grocers has been connecting with community members who believed in our mission and Founding Principles and who want to be a member of our Natural Grocers family and good4u Crew. We were not surprised when crew rose to the occasion to make sure they were helping to keep their fellow community members rooted in health. They truly are our heroes in capes and face masks.”

Natural Grocers partners with several nonprofits throughout the year including local food banks, Beyond Pesticides, and Jack and Jill of America. They believe that these fundraisers are an important way to give back to our communities.

They donate five cents to local food banks for every reusable shopping bag customers use at their stores. Since 2010 they have donated over $2 million to local food banks where they operate stores.