Competitive Wages, Employee Lounge with a View, Free Food, Community Spirit: How This Grocery Store Built a Winning Team

Jeff Rice, Jackson Whole Grocer

December 08, 2020

As an independent, locally owned grocery store, our Purpose at Jackson Whole Grocer is to bring community together through food. Our alignment with Evergreen® principles sets us apart in our industry, and we’re proud of the programs and practices that keep that Purpose front and center in our business, our town, and our region. 

I didn’t start out in the grocery business. I spent my early career in sales and then founded and acquired several businesses before purchasing an existing family-owned grocery store in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. I had been seeking a new business opportunity that would keep me close to my family after years of work that required a pretty relentless pattern of planes, trains, and automobiles. I wanted to do something in my community—and for my community. 

Beyond a love for food—my wife and I are passionate natural foodies—I knew nothing about the grocery industry when I learned the business was for sale. But I saw the opportunity to dig into something that had enough size and scale to be interesting, with close ties to the community we loved. 

Ten years later, the number of employees and revenue have doubled, and the business has become a community hub. As we grow, we keep the focus on People First front and center. We are committed to impacting our employees and our community members in a positive way. 

Here are some of the Evergreen approaches to meeting that goal that set us apart:

Compensation that Works Toward Bridging the Gap

One of our core values is to provide our people a great place to work. To me, at a basic level, that means providing competitive compensation and benefits. Last year, we raised wages 16 percent, which is big in any business and it's certainly big in ours. But we recognize that to support individuals and families facing the high cost of living in our community, that investment, while extending our ROI timeline, is essential and the right thing to do. 

One of the key drivers in this decision was the extraordinary dynamic going on in terms of affordable housing our area. The average cost of a single-family home in Jackson is $2.6 million. We have an extreme housing shortage problem. It’s not uncommon for some of our employees to be paying 50 to 70 percent of their pay in housing costs. Working through this challenge will require a multi-faceted approach, but raising wages is a first and important step we can take in taking care of our people. We can’t close the gap, but we are doing what we can to help build a bridge.

Room with a View

In many big box grocery stores, the employee break room is in the basement or a windowless back storeroom—it’s an afterthought. We took a different approach. Visitors come to our area from all over the world to enjoy the natural beauty of this landscape. We think our employees should be enjoying it too. We designed the break room to be on the second floor, next to my office, featuring huge windows with a view of the Snake River Mountain Range, lots of natural light, comfortable furniture, and a kitchen. I want our people to come in, sit down, relax, and enjoy their break. It may be a small thing, but it can make a big difference in the quality of a person’s work life.

Feeding Our Work Family First

In that same break room, we installed shelving and a large refrigerator to offer our people “culls,” food that we can’t sell because it might be just past an expiration date or bruised in some way (think a browning banana or a dented can of beans). It’s a mini market of sorts, where everything is free. These foods are still perfectly edible, but they can’t be sold. Many grocery stores don’t offer culls to their employees for fear that it promotes theft. Instead, they donate it all to local food banks or nonprofits, or worse, it gets sent to the landfill. 

We take a different view. We know the cost of living is high in our community, and we feel a responsibility to feed our work family first, then donate the rest our community food rescue program. Our employees leave work with bags of free food, and we’re grateful to be able to provide that benefit.

Community Giving

Like many grocery stores, as you might imagine, we receive a lot of requests for donations—from trays of cookies or bananas for a fun run to much larger asks. We have over 250 nonprofits operating in our community, and everyone has a cause. 

About three years ago, after giving for years to a wide variety of organizations, I recognized that in our affluent resort community, much of the support for nonprofits was being directed to environmental and wildlife organizations. I’m a huge supporter of many of these groups and always will be, but I felt that there was an opportunity to focus on “people”, which is more aligned with our purpose. 

I decided to turn my focus to helping people, and I partnered with a local organization called System of Care, which coordinates giving to about 35 health and human services organizations in our community, ranging from a community counseling center, to youth and family services, to addiction, domestic violence and wellness programs. We created several in-house programs to generate donations for System of Care, from a “round-up” option that provides customers the opportunity to donate at the time of their purchase, to selling donated artwork on the walls of our café. 

This effort has allowed us to become a conduit for the community to give back. It's not just Jackson Whole Grocer writing checks, it's us as a community working together to help one another. It’s incredibly fulfilling to give back and support a lot of these organizations that provide vital services and support to our neighbors and care for our entire community. You'll never go wrong with the focus on people.

At the end of the day, the grocery business is about people—feeding people, providing good jobs for our employees, and serving as a gathering place for our community. We intend to keep working to put People First, in our store and in our community.

Jeff Rice is CEO of Jackson Whole Grocer.

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