Jim Donald, co-chairman of Albertsons Cos., spoke with Kevin Coupe of MorningNewsBeat in a July 9 virtual session sponsored by the Organic Produce Summit. ( Organic Produce Network )

The COVID-19 crisis has not slowed demand for organic produce, and Albertsons executive Jim Donald sees “no ceiling” for the sector.

Donald, co-chairman of Albertsons Cos., participated in a live video interview with Kevin Coupe of MorningNewsBeat in a July 9 virtual session sponsored by the Organic Produce Summit.

The pandemic has not changed the good fortune of organic sales, Donald said.
“Organic produce has seen major increases across all of my 22 banners,” he said in the 40-minute session.

He urged suppliers to use scannable GS1 labels on organic produce to ensure cashiers don’t enter it as conventional produce at checkout.

“Labels are critical for making sure we get the correct ring on an organic banana versus a non-organic banana, to make sure cashiers understand it and for suppliers to make sure that they supply with those GS1 labels,” he said. “Organic produce markets are just screaming, and so what we need to is to feed that (fire) with plenty of supply and make sure we can ring it up correctly.”

Keeping product on the shelf during the crisis has been the number-one priority, and suppliers have helped retailers accomplish that.

“Just give us product,” he said. “Research and development and innovation are critical, but more than anything, keep that supply chain full and take care of your employees.”
For example, he said consumers want to have toilet paper, not necessarily 16 different toilet paper options.

“All I would say right now is just keep doing what you’re doing,” he said.

Donald, former CEO of Starbucks and a grocery executive with Walmart in the early 1990s, has had two stints at Albertsons. He started his career there in 1976 and worked there until 1991, returning in 2018.

Donald reflected on lessons learned during his career, stressing the importance of valuing frontline workers and never lagging in communication with employees or suppliers.

He recalled then-Walmart president David Glass once told him in the early 1990s to always think of any company, no matter how big, in the smallest of terms.

“He told me, ‘You’ve got to remember, no matter how big we get, no matter how many stores that we have, you have got to pretend like you’ve got one store, one customer, one employee and treat them just as special as if they were the only one,’” Donald said.

Although e-commerce has accelerated during the pandemic, Donald believes the brick-and-mortar presence of grocery stores in communities is more important than ever and isn’t going away.

“The (crisis) has shown (e-commerce and physical stores) can coexist,” he said. “I’ve always said that a good e-commerce platform sits on a very strong bricks-and-mortar platform.”

Internal and external communication has been important during the pandemic, but Donald said it is always critical.

“(Communication) is not something you work at, it is table stakes,” he said. “You’ve got to have it as part of your list of things you do every day.”

Though no one can predict what will happen during a recession, Donald said he believes organics will continue to thrive.

“There is no ceiling to organic sales,” he said, remarking on the “long tail” of growth in organic demand.

With restaurants still hampered by COVID-19 restrictions, Donald said he believes the supermarket business will get stronger over the next 18 months.

Related articles

High interest in organics helps spur 2019 Organic Produce Summit

The Packer's Organic Coverage