How Sobeys, one of the largest food service retailers in Canada, is responding to COVID-19

By: Natashia Dunham, Director of Shared Services, Sobeys

As a speaker for our Operational Excellence Week Canada Summit in October, we reached out and asked Natashia Dunham, Director of Shared Services, how Sobeys, one of the largest food service retailers in Canada is handling the increased pressure on demand during COVID-19. We also asked Natashia her perspective on how operational excellence is helping their business react and manage their way through the crisis.

What changes have you had to make in order to adjust to the increased demand caused by the pandemic?

For Sobeys, the health and safety element comes first. We have created in-store physical changes to ensure there is a plexi-glass separation between the cashier and the consumers at check out and we have placed social distancing tape for the consumer line up so that consumers are separated when checking out.

The front line are wearing gloves to handle produce and re-stock shelves and we have increased sanitation. We have also increased store operating hours so that there is more time for staff to recover and stock the shelves.

Many of our stores will be devoting the first hour of operations to those most vulnerable and those who require extra attention, particularly seniors.

We have also partnered with companies who have had to lay off their employees to use those people where we need more employees which is great. We have also had to bring on a lot of new vendors because certain food vendors are either international or haven’t been able to continue to produce during this time.

Internally teams are working creatively to find solutions to any all obstacles and planning to mitigate any potential risks.

Clear and frequent communication has been a strong element to keeping positive morale; updating and reinforcing public health guide lines, providing customers with confidence in Sobeys actions and supporting the front line for their day to day commitment. has been created for customers to follow Sobeys communication/updates and store specific information.

How do you see operational excellence in relation to this pandemic?

It certainly is a wake-up call to everybody that the principles of structured protocols, process and clear accountabilities and responsibilities are so important. Having those in place certainly make it way easier to react and manage through something like this. Where you don’t have the structure and protocols even on the day-to-day work, you will likely struggle to figure out where your risks or gaps are and for example, can’t quickly assess what might happen if a facility had to close. It either puts the organisation in a place where they can really focus on the issues of the pandemic or puts the organisation in a place where companies may have to do a lot of work to just gather information and facts to then start dealing with the pandemic. I think it will show itself and will ultimately impact how quickly businesses will recover from this.

Natashia will be speaking at the Operational Excellence Week Canada Summit this October 19-22 in Toronto. To view the full event guide, click here.