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Vince’s Market’s Giancarlo Trimarchi talks turkey, PPE and e-grocery

The grocer’s CFO and controller discusses the latest challenges to arise during the COVID-19 era

It’s been six months now since the pandemic took hold in Canada, triggering massive changes to the way people shop for food. In May, the early days of the COVID crisis, Canadian Grocer spoke with Giancarlo Trimarchi of Vince’s Market just north of Toronto about how he—and his business—had reacted and adapted to the massive changes. We decided it would be a good time to check back and see how things are going now.

How are things for Vince’s these days?
The last two weeks of the summer are always quieter, but overall the stores have still been busy. The big unknown is what the next month is going to look like—Thanksgiving, and then holiday entertainment season—trying to prepare as best we can. The issue is how can we utilize past numbers to predict the future. In the past, you looked at year to year, at reports, you looked at your sales, you look at trends. And then, generally speaking—it's not rocket science—you come up with a pretty good idea what you need to order.

But because 2020 has been so different you can’t use last year’s numbers for reference?
We're much more using current trend data than last year’s numbers. It's just been the only thing that's provided anything close to some relevance. We've been doing that with our weekly budgets… what happened last week versus what it is year over year.

When we talked in early May, everything was still fairly new and unstable. When did things level off?
I would say I started to feel balance in July, where it seemed like we were well entrenched in the new routines… It’s been very stable with regards to customer count and average basket . Those figures have been very similar week to week for the past eight weeks now. Originally we saw the spike happen with a huge decrease in customer count in April, huge increase in basket size. And then, those numbers just started to come down every week, week by week all the way up until July, and now it's just kind of been stable.

One of the things we talked about in the spring was your plan to sign on with Instacart. Did you end up doing that?
We're close. They're just in the process of finalizing our online store. We should be launching this fall. They are putting items in the store, in a beta, and we can look at and adjust it for the look and feel that we want… We hope to start testing that probably within two weeks. And then once that's ready it's just a matter of picking a live date.

So you put it on hold in the spring?
We did. We signed the deal in March and we had a timeline of commencing the flow of information for May with a June startup, and that just got completely delayed. We actually pushed that starting work from May to August. It was just limited resources in our company, we had enough going on. The focus was really on store operations, staffing. And now that we've sorted that out, as soon as July came around we thought, okay, let's get back on the horse.

What about other changes from the spring?
We continue to have our front door greeter, which I know is not the case at all grocery stores, but we did position someone at the front of our doors just to do welcoming, hand sanitizer—you know, just as a reminder. That position has held and we're going to keep that position for the foreseeable future, we find a lot of value out of it. Just from the customers having the ability to engage with a staff member, right at the beginning of their visits if they do have any questions or any concerns they can quickly have them answered.

Access to PPE got a little hairy in the summer over a couple of things. The original shorts were hand sanitizer if you remember, than it was masks. Now it's gloves. So the big risk right now for us being a small independent, is access to vinyl or polypropylene gloves. They are very, very limited, the cost has like quadrupled.

And how are you getting ready for Thanksgiving?
I just had to book turkeys this morning. So you're looking at the numbers and you're thinking, ‘Okay, do we take Easter?’ But that’s irrelevant because Easter came when people were told not to get together with their parents, right? I can't use those figures. So it's like okay, well our meat sales are generally up about 25% right now, year over year. So you look at that and you go, I’m not going to sell 25% more turkeys, that's insane. That's not gonna happen… this market dictates we should sell less turkeys, you would think. So it is a little bit of a crap shoot. In the case that we do potentially have too much, we have a commissary that produces soup. So we'll be selling some turkey soup.

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