Progressive Grocer has just named 21 honorees in their list of Outstanding Independent Retailers 2021. Among the winners of this prestigious industry honor was one of the Twin Cities' favorite shopping destinations: Kowalski's Markets.
Independent grocers are known for their ability to pivot in response to market conditions or customer demand, but 2020 threw them a major curveball in the form of a pandemic that, despite the rollout of vaccines, isn't over yet. In recognition of the unique challenges presented by the worst public health crisis in more than a century, Progressive Grocer made the decision to honor those resilient independents that were the most creative and undaunted in overcoming the myriad difficulties presented by COVID-19.
Bridget Goldschmidt of Progressive Grocer notes, "What PG's 21 honorees, whose store counts range from one to 42, share in common, along with a steely determination to succeed despite the odds, is a vast capacity for joy."
All met the moment by continuing to serve their communities through countless uncertainties, providing safe havens not just for shopping, but also for fellowship and fun. Beyond the walls of their stores, these extraordinary grocers—many of them the mainstays of their small towns—reached out more than ever to help the hungry, the jobless and the hopeless, with inspiring results.
Kowalski's was honored in part for helping customers shop safely, maintain social distance and stay home during 2020's pandemic by increasing program capacity and product availability for delivery and pickup of groceries. The company also added new ready-made meals, bakery and produce items to their product selection. In addition, Kowalski's selectively eliminated some service fees and added capacity and availability of online preorder and prepay programs.
Rachael Perron, Culinary and Brand Director for Kowalski's, was the first to receive the good news of the company's award:
"I was beyond thrilled. First of all, to be included in the company of the 20 other award-winners is incredible. Having visited a few of these other retailers around the country, I can tell you, it is good company to keep. But beyond that, 2020 was a tough year, and to be noticed for the work we did, and continue to do, in our community, I can say honestly that it is very special."
Beyond its pandemic response, Kowalski's was recognized for operating an industry-leading trash-to-energy and recycling program, supporting Great River Greening in conserving and restoring local land and water resources and numerous charitable endeavors. These include Kowalski's 4 Kids, which benefits at-risk youth; Groceries for Good Causes, which helps fund schools, churches and food shelves immediately surrounding each of its stores; Boys & Girls Clubs of the Twin Cities; Sharing & Caring Hands; Roots for the Home Team; Cookie Cart; and Second Harvest Heartland's food shelf network, among others.
The retailer was also acknowledged for its work with local producers, particularly the personal assistance given to small producers to help them learn the ins and outs of the retail industry, including labeling, packaging, distribution and ingredient sourcing. This guidance helps them compete with bigger brands on the national level. Local food is a big part of Kowalski's culinary reputation. In addition to operating an award-winning private label program, the company invests substantially in scratch-made recipes and specialty and exclusive programs, such as build-your-own concepts for burrito, phở and ramen noodle bowls, and custom-made hibachi and pasta bowls featuring exclusive and private label products.
2020 also presented community and political challenges aplenty. Accordingly, Kowalski's was acknowledged for its longstanding civic training program. As part of its business model, the company devotes significant resources to training stakeholders to organize, educate and set policy in accordance with democratic principles and standards. This proprietary program, in partnership with the Midwest Active Citizenship Initiate, teaches employees that they have the capacity to know what's good, and the responsibility to grow that knowledge and act accordingly to create sustainable solutions that serve the common good among diverse self-interests.