2021 Impact Award winners: Supporting Employees

Canadian Grocer recognizes grocery retail and CPG businesses making a positive impact with inaugural award

To celebrate Canadian grocery retail and CPG businesses that are going above and beyond to make the world a better place, this year we launched the Canadian Grocer Impact Awards.

We recognized 33 winners in four categories: Sustainability; Supporting Employees; Diversity, Equity and Inclusion; and Community Service. (Click here for the full list of winners.)

Five companies took home the award in the Supporting Employees category, and here's why:

Chapman’s has ensured staff are protected physically and financially since the start of the pandemic.

Chapman's Ice Cream

From the very start of the pandemic, Chapman’s ensured its employees were protected physically and financially. In March 2020, the Markdale, Ont.-based company instituted a $2 per hour pandemic pay boost for production and distribution workers, and in October 2020 it became the first company in Canada to make the wage increase permanent. The company also instituted an $18.50 starting wage for production employees.

“We are grateful to all employees who worked with us through these challenging times. Considering the financial hardships and uncertainties that Canadians are facing today, we recognize that the well-being of our employees is the essential part of moving forward,” says vice-president Ashley Chapman. “With this decision we are stepping forward to embrace a living wage that our employees need, pandemic or not.” In addition, Chapman’s launched a zero-per-cent interest loan program with flexible repayment terms for any employees who could not work due to COVID-19.

On the production side, the company has introduced widespread safety measures throughout its facilities, including screening, new uniform rules, altered production scheduling, social distancing and Plexiglass dividers. In other efforts to protect workers and the community, Chapman’s donated thousands of PPE items such as KN95 masks and three-ply surgical masks to health units, long-term care homes and public organizations in Ontario, New Brunswick and Quebec.

Freybe implemented the “Not Myself Today” program to help mental health in the workplace.

Freybe Gourmet Food

Since April 2019, B.C.-based Freybe has been part of “Not Myself Today” (NMT)—a program administered by the Canadian Mental Health Association to address mental health in the workplace. NMT focuses on building awareness and understanding of mental health issues, reducing stigma, and fostering safe and supportive work cultures. And according to Freybe, NMT has grown beyond being “just a program” that introduces employees to the subject of mental health; it’s now evolved to become an integral part of Freybe’s culture.

“Mental Health challenges were always something I found that people hid in business environments due to fear of negative perception from others,” explains Angela Doro, Freybe’s president. “When we embarked on our mental health strategies, it was with the belief that we have the power to change this, both inside and outside of Freybe.” With NMT, employees get access to support, tools and resources, including learning modules on subjects like addressing stress and working with emotions; while managers get resources to learn how to talk to employees about— and support—their mental health.

Freybe’s program also includes a steering committee comprised of four “mental health ambassadors” who support NMT programming and promote its message; five employees who have undergone third-party “mental health first aid certification” to help others when needed; and a one-to-one “Buddy program” pairing every employee with a designated buddy to address isolation and enable people to check in with a peer if they need support.

Kootenay Co-op prides itself in going above and beyond (in terms of pay, benefits, etc.) to keep staff happy .

Kootenay Co-op

Throughout the fall of 2019, the HR team at Nelson, B.C.’s Kootenay Co-op was working on enhancing the organization’s policies and employee programs. While the pandemic abruptly shifted the focus to health and safety, Kootenay Co-op still went above and beyond to look after its 150-plus staff members.

The grocer introduced an extra week of “isolation” sick pay for employees; adapted its regular sick pay policy, providing paid time off for unexpected life events, family care obligations, or mental health; and issued staff appreciation bonuses. While many grocers introduced “pandemic pay” programs, Kootenay Co-op introduced a more permanent measure by increasing its entry-level wage to above the provincial minimum wage. This allowed the organization to provide all staff with a pathway to a living wage ahead of its 2024 goal.

Kootenay Co-op also provides meaningful benefits and perks to employees, including a store discount, health and dental benefits, RRSP contributions, and a vacation policy that goes beyond employment standards. For Ari Derfel, Kootenay Co-op’s general manager, supporting employees is fundamental. “The most precious and important resource any business has is people,” he says. “Healthy, happy, stable, well cared-for staff make businesses better; more fun, meaningful and profitable. Here’s to a future where everyone can be fairly compensated for a hard day’s work.”

Save-On-Foods quickly enacted comprehensive COVID protocols; the company also prioritizes teamwork and empathy.


When the pandemic hit and it was clear grocers would have to act fast to ensure safety, Save-On-Foods quickly established two teams: the Ask COVID team and the COVID Response Task Force. The Ask COVID team was created to handle positive case investigations, team member inquiries, isolation requirements, and return-to-work plans for staff who miss work for any COVID-related reason. During investigations into positive cases, the Ask COVID team works closely with the team member to identify any close contacts and review facts about their illness, including date of testing, date of first symptoms, etc., confirming close contact exposures in the store by reviewing work schedules and camera footage. After that investigation is done, it’s the COVID Response Task Force’s turn to review the case with store operators and managers, guiding them through the notification process for all team members in the store or department. This task force supports management through every step of the process.

Since 2020, Save-On-Foods’ health and safety team has developed more than 40 standard operating procedures to keep up with evolving guidelines from health authorities across Western Canada—and, in fact, the company’s WorkSafeBC industry liaison even asked to use these procedures as the standard within the industry. Employee safety has consistently been a top priority for the B.C.-based grocer. “Since this pandemic began, we’ve never had more opportunities to support our people and although it’s been very challenging, we’ve been able to take on those challenges together, and overcome them as a team,” says Heidi Ferriman, senior vice-president, people & corporate affairs, Save-On- Foods. And company president Darrell Jones adds that through it all, it’s been about more than just physical safety: “This pandemic brought the importance of teamwork, resilience, and especially the need to always be empathetic and kind to the forefront.”

Sobeys acted quickly to keep its team members safe and launched initiatives to keep in touch with front-line staff.


Throughout COVID-19, Sobeys has acted quickly to engage its teams and set safety priorities. “Keeping our teammates, customers and communities safe was our main focus as we faced the daunting impact of the pandemic. Our core values—community engaged, customer driven, people powered and results oriented—were foundational to the organization successfully navigating the challenges we faced this past year,” says Simon Gagné, chief human resources officer. “Of particular note is the dedication of our front-line teammates who came to work every day, ensuring Canadians had the essential supplies they needed.”

Daily team meetings early on enabled Sobeys to roll out sweeping national operational changes as quickly as the next day. The team worked tirelessly to communicate changes to stakeholders, including more than 127,000 teammates working in 1,500 communities under 26 different retail banners. Sobeys was the first retailer to install Plexiglass shields in all its stores, along with cancelling all product demos, sampling and events in community rooms. Senior leadership led by example by staying personally connected with teammates and sending words of encouragement and thanks. And by launching private employee Facebook groups, the company could also connect more directly with front-line teammates and provide support, including mental health tools and virtual sessions that connected employees to mental health and wellness professionals.

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