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Brian Hannasch

A clear set of guiding principles help Alimentation Couche-Tard navigate COVID-19 crisis

In a statement outlining its business stance in the wake of COVID-19, Alimentation Couche-Tard says it is adhering to a clear set of guiding principles as its business navigates the COVID-19 outbreak.

Brian Hannasch

Brian Hannasch

“During these troubled times, Couche-Tard is committed to being part of the solution in the communities where we work and live. Our mission as a company has always been to make our customers’ lives a little easier every day, and we know the best way to get through these difficult days is to band together and support each other,” president and CEO Brian Hannasch said in a business update published on the company’s website. “In most areas where we operate, we are considered an essential and critical business. As such, we have worked hard to stay open and serve the needs of our customers and employees. While the effects of this crisis may be felt for some time, our business model is robust and resilient against economic cycles, which will allow us to ride out this storm.”

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From the start of the crisis, the company says its response has been defined by a clear set of guiding principles across all banners:

  • We are all in this together: our company, our employees, our customers, and our suppliers.
  • We must put the health and safety of our employees and customers as our first priority.
  • We must stay true to our mission of making our customers’ lives a little easier every day.
  • We must think and act with a long-term mindset.
  • We must ensure the safeguard of our assets and manage the business with a strong focus on maximizing cash flows.

Measures to protect staff and customers

Couche-Tard’s global Health, Safety & Environment team moved quickly, capitalizing on its experience in dealing with past emergencies, such as hurricanes, floods, and widespread fires, to put in place preventative measures. These included, the installation of Plexiglas dividers at checkouts, the addition of queue line separators and floor markings to ensure proper social distancing, and the supply of gloves at the fuel pumps in certain parts of our global network.

On the food safety front, the c-store giant introduced strict cleaning and sanitization procedures in stores and food preparation areas, adding single-item packaging to bakery and other self-serve food items, suspending the use of refillable mugs and cups, and ceasing in-store product sampling.

At its distribution centres, the company did temperature checks to screen employees for possible symptoms of the virus.

Couche-Tard also put additional measures in place to support and reward employees for their efforts, including:

  • An Emergency Appreciation Pay Premium of $2.50 per hour in North America for all hourly store and distribution center employees.
  • An Employee Assistance Program to all North American employees for the duration of the pandemic.
  • An Emergency Sick Care Plan for hourly employees in North America that included both a bank of sick pay, as well as a pay continuation benefit for anyone that is either diagnosed with COVID-19 or placed under mandatory quarantine.
  • Access to virtual healthcare for hourly employees in the United States.
  • A COVID-19 Assistance Fund to help employees most severely impacted by the pandemic. The Fund is seeded through substantial salary contributions by company founder Alain Bouchard, as well as Hannasch and members of the company’s executive leadership team. The company said some employees also donated to the fund.

Like most organizations, Couche-Tard put supports in place for office employees to work from home whenever possible, while also moving ahead with plans to adapt spaces to comply with social distancing requirements and limit participants for in-person meetings.

As offices open around the globe in accordance with local health authority recommendations, the is introducing detailed checklists of cleaning and sanitization procedures, social distancing of seating and common areas, and potential work shift options have been put into place across the network.

 Community support initiatives

  • Couche-Tard launched an offer globally of free dispensed beverages for all first responders, medical personnel and employees. To date, more than two million drinks have been given out.
  • In Europe, the Company put in place the Circle K Patrol to help local communities by delivering, free of charge, merchandise to people who are most vulnerable to COVID-19 and assembling care parcels for hospital workers and those under strict confinement.
  • On April 9, Couche-Tard launched the “Little Thank Yous” initiative in Canada, which empowers customers to directly thank someone with a free Polar Pop or coffee on behalf of Circle K and Couche-Tard. On May 8, the initiative was launched in Europe. To date, close to 19,000 “Little Thank Yous” have been gifted in Canada and more than 3,000 in Europe.
  • On April 10, the Company pledged to donate 25 million meals to Feeding America. On May 4, that target was reached and Couche-Tard extended the pledge to 40 million meals to be given to local food banks. This commitment will continue through June 30.

Store performance

In Europe, from a broad perspective, shopping behaviour started to change during the second week of March, as the World Health Organization officially declared on March 11 that the novel coronavirus had reached a state of pandemic, according to a the company. In North America, the impact on shopping trends was similar but lagged that of Europe by one week. Sites remained open throughout most of the countries and regions in which Couche-Tard operates, as fuel retailers and convenience stores were deemed essential.

couche-tard2-780x520On the fuel side, the company said: “volumes declined rapidly during the first few weeks that followed the implementation of restrictive measures across the different regions, but stabilized during April and began to see a gradual improvement in the latter part of the month. Fuel margins overall have benefitted from the rapid and steep declines in crude pricing.”

From a merchandise perspective, “sales benefitted from pantry stocking in the early days of the crisis. Starting in mid-March, merchandise sales decreased due to reduced customer traffic, but were mostly stable in their decline week-over-week since then. Overall, a higher average basket helped offset a portion of the lost customer visits.”

What are people buying?

The company said, “demand has been greater for alcohol, tobacco products, basic staples, canned and dry goods, and cleaning and sanitation products. This has helped mitigate the negative impact from lower demand in the prepared food category.”

Informed by their early learnings, Couche-Tard’s teams in Europe recommended adjustments to the in-store assortment, which allowed stores in North America to better anticipate the changes in shopping behaviour.

What’s next?

Couche-Tard said it “has taken many actions aimed at right-sizing such things as non-critical capital expenditures, marketing and promotional expenses, and various professional fees.” Additional measures include:

  • Adjustments to store hours and shifts based on the analysis of data from labour models.
  • The sharing of best practices across business units and frequent scenario modeling to help optimize decision-making and minimize business risks.
  • The required authorization by a member of the executive team for all hiring related to non-store vacancies and for all business travel.

Couche-Tard said its Global Procurement team was in frequent contact with key vendors to discuss possible issues in the supply chain, identifying areas of potential shortages and putting plans in place. For instance, leveraging its Private Brands team, the company worked to source key items and maintains “there have been few meaningful stock-outs across Couche-Tard’s network.”

Innovation continues

On March 18, Couche-Tard discussed with analysts and investors its target to implement the Food at Scale program in 1,500 locations by fall. This company said this “continues to be an important area of focus and capital expenditures for this initiative remain in the budget for fiscal 2021.” It continues to build out and installing structures and equipment inside stores and the planned rollout pace remains on track. A number of stores have suspended team training sessions related to Food at Scale, however, the plan is to “turn the switch back on and support the program with sampling and marketing when safety measures are relaxed.”

The company said is has many every effort to adapt to changing customer behaviours. For instance, it has been able to expand many delivery platforms and pull forward enabling technologies, such as:

  • The expansion of home delivery in North America to more than 620 stores.
  • Click & Collect and curbside delivery in both Europe and North America, with pre-ordering and payment through the Circle K app.
  • Frictionless payment technology in Norway to accept fuel payments using license plate recognition.

Looking ahead

Couche-Tard said it “is taking action to preserve its cash position and financial flexibility, including a pause to share repurchases.”

On April 19, the company halted plans to acquire Caltex Australia Ltd. to “focus its energy on managing operations and maintaining its financial strength through the crisis.”

As at February 2, 2020, Couche-Tard had $1.8 billion in cash and equivalents on its balance sheet and a further $2.5 billion available on its revolving credit facility. The company’s cash balance has since improved, in line with the focus placed on maximizing cash flows through the crisis.

CFO Claude Tessier said: “Couche-Tard has always been managed with a disciplined mindset and a readiness to face possible rainy days ahead. We have come into this crisis in a strong position from both a financial standpoint, with a solid balance sheet and well spread debt maturities, and from an operational standpoint, with experience in temporary network shutdowns that permitted us to respond quickly to the changing landscape. We have implemented weekly COVID-19 financial reporting focused on daily cash position summaries, working capital, as well as details on retail sales, volumes and margin trends. We are taking all necessary steps to be ready to reinvest in our business and in the economy when the time comes to exit this crisis.”

In the company’s business update, Hannasch concluded: “I want to thank all our employees, customers, suppliers and partners, the leadership team, and our shareholders for their trust in the face of this pandemic. Our heart goes out to all who are suffering from the virus or taking care of loved ones. I have never been prouder to be CEO of this company, as during the most difficult days our employees have shown great kindness and care for each other, our customers, and our communities. Whether working tirelessly in our stores or remotely to support our operations, it is clear we are all in this together and will come out of this a stronger, better company.”


Fire & Flower Deliver - (c) 2020 Fire & Flower Holdings Corp. (CNW Group/Fire & Flower Holdings Corp.)

Fire & Flower powers up for home delivery in the GTA

Fire & Flower Deliver - (c) 2020 Fire & Flower Holdings Corp. (CNW Group/Fire & Flower Holdings Corp.)

Fire & Flower Holdings is now offering home delivery in the greater Toronto area.

Fire & Flower, an independent adult-use cannabis retailer that owns (directly or indirectly) cannabis retail store licences in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario and the Yukon.

Through its strategic investment with Alimentation Couche-Tard, the Canadian company has set its sights on the global expansion as new cannabis markets emerge.

In addition to the curbside pickup and home delivery offered in Ottawa and Kingston, the technology powering home delivery in Toronto is enabled through the Hifyre Digital Retail and Analytics Platform. Customers can order via www.fireandflower.com for free next day home delivery on orders over $50.00.

“Fire & Flower welcomes this opportunity to demonstrate how private cannabis retail can showcase fully-compliant best-in-class services such as e-commerce, home delivery and curbside pickup to our customers. It is essential that private retail is able to compete on a level playing field with government-run e-commerce and home delivery cannabis services,” CEO Trevor Fencott said in a release. “Through the Hifyre Digital Retail and Analytics platform, we are well positioned should other methods of servicing customers open across Canadian provinces.”

Under the current shutdown of non-essential businesses, cannabis retail stores are permitted to operate through online, curbside pickup and home delivery services for the duration of the emergency order on business closures in relation to COVID-19.


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Foodora to pull out of Canada, leaving c-stores with fewer delivery options

Screen Shot 2020-04-28 at 12.55.09 PMFood delivery app Foodora is closing its Canadian operations in May, just months after a key labour board decision laid the groundwork for the company’s workers to push for unionization.

The move leaves many c-store operators, from independents to Couche-Tard and 7-Eleven, in a quandary at a time when demand for delivery is through the roof.

The subsidiary of Berlin-based Delivery Hero SE said Monday that it has not been able to reach a level of profitability in Canada that’s sustainable enough to continue operations, so it filed a notice of intention and will exit the country on May 11.

“We’re faced with strong competition in the Canadian market, and operate a business that requires a high volume of transactions to turn a profit,” said David Albert, Foodora Canada’s managing director, in a release.

“We’ve been unable to get to a position which would allow us to continue to operate without having to continually absorb losses.”

Foodora has operated in 10 Canadian cities over the last five years and has racked up 3,000 restaurants on the platform, even in a “highly-saturated market” with stiff competition from Uber Eats, SkipTheDishes and DoorDash.

The announcement was a blow for couriers who have been busy dealing with surges in orders amid COVID-19 and grappling with new policies around no-contract delivery.

“It’s devastating,” said Jennifer Scott, who has worked as a Foodora bike courier for two-and-a-half years in Toronto.

“We are in the midst of a global pandemic and this job is how we make a living wage. It’s how we survive, and it’s just gone, which is very scary for many of us.”

She expects she will be able to make up her Foodora losses with work from Uber Eats and DoorDash, which she already does deliveries for, but isn’t sure others will be so lucky.

Before the closure, couriers were already fretting because they don’t qualify for some of the federal government’s recently-announced relief measures, she said.

“I’ve been a courier a long time and I’ve been able to figure out how to make it work for me no matter what’s going on…but I’m not so certain about many of my co-workers who are only working for Foodora, Scott said.

“I don’t know what they will do.”

The shutdown news was extra tough for couriers like Scott because they had been part of Foodsters United, which had long been fighting for rights and protections for Foodora couriers and other gig economy workers.

They alleged that the company was using the independent contractor model to avoid giving workers health and safety supports.

Foodsters wanted fair compensation for the work completed by couriers because it said the pay-per-order model meant that during slow periods workers receive wages lower than minimum wage, while still covering costs like gas, phones and vehicle or bike repairs.

Foodora long boasted about its app offering flexibility so people just trying to earn some extra cash or between jobs could easily make money, but Foodora workers said that flexibility bred instability and left them with little protection.

Foodsters garnered attention in February following an Ontario Labour Relations Board ruling that decided Foodora couriers are dependent contractors of the food-delivery company because they more closely resemble employees than independent contractors.

The ruling was considered a massive hurdle to clear that could have helped the couriers unionize and give growing numbers of gig economy workers the inspiration to follow suit.

Jan Simpson, the national president of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, called the two-weeks’ notice that has been provided to Foodora workers “grossly unfair and unreasonable” and said the union was reviewing its legal options.

“Foodora and Delivery Hero must be held accountable to the workers,” said Simpson, in an email to The Canadian Press. “Couriers have made millions for this company and deserve to be treated with dignity and fairness. In the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, they are considering numbers over human lives.”

Despite the closure news, Foodsters’ efforts still have merit, said Scott.

“There’s no way that this could be fruitless,” she said. “The win that we celebrated at the labour board is precedent setting and has the ability to pave the way for other workers in other gig economy type jobs to begin the unionization process.”

Meanwhile, Foodora said it is working on devising a proposal to provide additional help to employees and other creditors.

Albert said, “I thank them for the continued support over the last five years. Supporting them during this transition phase is our main priority.”

In Canada, Foodora partnered with Couche-Tard on a pilot project to deliver select products to customers in Montreal. 7-Eleven also offers delivery through the Foodora app, as well as Uber Eats.

  • with files from Michelle Warren 

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Alimentation Couche-Tard drops takeover pursuit of Australia-based Caltex

Unknown-1Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. is hitting pause on its pursuit of Caltex Australia Ltd. due to uncertainty around the COVID-19 crisis.

Caltex is a transport fuel supplier with a network of approximately 2,000 company-owned or affiliated sites across Australia.

The Quebec-based company made its first move for Australia’s largest service station operator when it submitted an unsolicited A$32.00-per-share bid fin October. After Caltex rejected the first offer as inadequate, Couche-Tard came back in November with  a revised offer for A$34.50 .

On Dec. 3, Caltex rejected that offer when its board of directors concluded Couche-Tard’s proposal undervalued the company and wasn’t compelling for its shareholders. In turn, the board offered to release non-public information to allow Couche-Tard to formulate a revised proposal.

On Feb. 12 Couche-Tard reached out again, saying it would pay a cash price of A$35.25 per share, adding this represented the company’s best and final offer, in the absence of a competing proposal.

“We believe this further revised proposal takes into consideration the information provided throughout our engagement to date and represents a compelling premium for Caltex shareholders, as well as immediate certainty of value,” Brian Hannasch, president and CEO of Couche-Tard, said at the time.

During its earnings call mid-March, the company said it was still in pursuit of the deal.

Now Couche-Tard says given the uncertainty and the impact of the pandemic on its outlook for Caltex’s business, it is not in a position to make a revised proposal for the company.

However, it says it remains interested and plans to re-engage once there is more clarity in the global outlook.

In a release, Couche-Tard said its due diligence for a transaction has been substantially completed and that the work confirms that Caltex is a strong strategic fit “for Couche-Tard and an important component of its Asia Pacific expansion strategy. There are significant opportunities to be realized from combining both businesses and Couche-Tard remains highly interested in formalizing a transaction.”

Hannasch said: “We remain convinced of the long-term financial and strategic merits of an acquisition of Caltex and all the benefits it would offer to the shareholders of both companies. Despite the COVID-19 situation, we have worked to complete due diligence on schedule through a significant investment of time and money. Our current plan would be to re-engage the process once there is sufficient clarity as to the global outlook, and the work done to date should mean that we will be able to quickly formalize our proposal at that time.”

Mr. Hannasch added: “Couche-Tard’s management team is grateful for the backing we received from all our stakeholders throughout this process. We want to thank our team members for their hard work during the due diligence and the people at Caltex for their focused effort made to address our questions. We have been impressed by their knowledge and dedication, especially during the challenging period through which we have all been operating. And finally, we want to thank our banking partners for their unwavering commitment, even in the face of increased market volatility due to the spread of COVID-19. We have been in regular discussion with them and they remain prepared to move forward in support of a transaction.”

 

 


Lines help enforce social distancing

Circle K stores introduce critical emergency measures

Couche-Tard LogoAs the COVID-19 pandemic continues to escalate, Alimentation Couche-Tard and its wholly owned subsidiary Circle K, are implementing critical emergency measures for the protection and support of the health and safety of its customers and employees around the globe.

In provinces and territories across Canada, c-stores remain open, serving communities.

New screens at cash.

New screens at cash.

Brian Hannasch, Couche-Tard president and CEO, said in a release: “I know these are stressful, difficult days as we see the effects of this global pandemic on our lives, workplaces, and neighbourhoods. As a company, we are deeply committed to being part of the solution for our customers and our employees. Our team members are working hard to create impactful measures to serve our communities, and I have never been prouder to be the leader of this company.”

Lines help enforce social distancing

Lines help enforce social distancing

With a focus on the health and safety of its employees and customers, strategies include:

  • Enacting stringent cleaning measures several times daily anywhere hands touch from surfaces, screens, pumps, restrooms and more.
  • Increasing safety, hygiene, and packaging around food and beverages
  • Installing clear barriers at cash registers to protect customers and employees from coughs, sneezes or other possible exposure
  • Reinforcing best hygiene practices through digital media and display screens at registers
  • Marking stores for social distancing at the checkout line
  • Putting frequently asked questions and answers on its website concerning how stores are operating during these unprecedented times and what our customers can expect in terms of store closing and sanitizing procedures if an employee is diagnosed with COVID-19.

Screen Shot 2020-03-31 at 9.25.26 AMIn addition, as a thank you, free coffee, tea and polar pop are being offered to first responders and health care workers, as well as to store employees.

Measure designed to help hourly store employees on the frontline of this crisis, include:

  • Emergency Sick Care Plan for hourly employees in North America that includes both a bank of sick pay hours, as well as a pay continuation benefit if someone is either diagnosed with COVID-19 or is placed under a mandatory quarantine.
  • Emergency Appreciation Pay premium for store employees in North America of an additional $2.50 to base hourly rate of pay for all hours worked.

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Couche-Tard CEO: We’re Still in Pursuit of Caltex Deal

Unknown-1Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. continues to pursue an agreement to acquire Caltex Australia Ltd.

The Quebec-based company made its first move for Australia’s largest service station operator when it submitted an unsolicited A$32.00-per-share bid for Caltex in October. It followed that with a revised offer for A$34.50 in November after Caltex rejected the first offer as inadequate.

Caltex is a transport fuel supplier with a network of approximately 2,000 company-owned or affiliated sites across Australia.

Caltex’s board of directors also concluded that Couche-Tard’s second proposal undervalued the company and did not represent compelling value for Caltex’s shareholders. However, the board offered to provide Couche-Tard with selected non-public information to allow it to formulate a revised proposal.

As a result, Couche-Tard submitted a new offer to pay a cash price of A$35.25, or U.S. $23.73, per ordinary share. The retailer made the revised proposal on Feb. 12, as previously reported.

Five weeks later, that offer is still on the table.

“While it does not guarantee an agreement will be reached or transaction will be concluded, we are now actively engaged in due diligence to work with Caltex,” Couche-Tard President and CEO Brian Hannasch said during the company’s third-quarter fiscal year 2020 earnings call, held March 18.

“As we said before, Couche-Tard is focused on strategically developing our Asia Pacific presence to drive continued growth in that region in the future,” he added.

Laval-based Couche-Tard has nearly 15,000 sites across 26 countries and regions. Its global brand is Circle K.

Originally posted at Convenience Store News. 


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Hurricanes and floods have prepared Alimentation Couche-Tard for COVID 19: CEO

UnknownAlimentation Couche-Tard Inc. says its experience adjusting to hurricanes and floods positions it well to meet the challenges from COVID-19.

Communities where its Circle K stores are located rely on the convenience store chain for fuel, emergency items and staples, CEO Brian Hannasch told analysts Wednesday.

“So when we’ve experienced these types of situations in the past, if you think about hurricanes, floods, etc., our industry has played a key role in helping our communities get through these situations, and we’ll attempt to do the same here.”

The international retailer said there has been some softening of business in Norway after its borders were closed last week but there’s been little impact so far in the United States and Canada where similar restrictions were not yet put in place.

“One of the benefits of being global is we’re able to share information and best practises and learnings across our business units and apply the lessons we learn in Europe to our North American businesses,” he told analysts.

Hannasch said there is higher demand for some items such as water, tobacco products and beer as customers stock up but no material issues with its supply chain.

The Quebec-based company said it has contingency plans if stores are forced to close, reduce hours or face labour shortages.

“So right now, we expect to remain open. However, we do have plans where we’ve identified sites that we would close and transfer employees to make sure that we keep our most strategic sites open in the event of running short of available team members,” he said.

“We also are looking at opening hours and reducing evening shifts if we need to.”

He noted that communities facing restrictions allow for exemptions for grocery, fuel and drugs.

Derek Dley of Canaccord Genuity said he believes Couche-Tard can weather the virus storm.

“The company’s decentralized business model has handled a number of local crises in the past and we believe it is well-equipped to do so again,” he wrote in a report.

Hannasch told analysts that the retailer also has the financial flexibility to withstand any pressures and also take advantage of acquisition opportunities that may arise from struggling competitors.

“If I look back over the years, I would say some of our best opportunities have come after a difficult period,” he said.

The chief executive added that it’s normal for store sales prices to fall as some owners don’t have the balance sheet flexibility.

“So as always, our approach has been to maintain a clean balance sheet and be able to get through these difficult times in good condition and take advantage of opportunities that may arise.”

Couche-Tard said it has US$1.8 billion of cash on the balance sheet plus US$2.5 billion of available credit.

The company also says it is conducting due diligence on its bid for Australia’s Caltex convenience store network.

The comments came after the company boosted its quarterly dividend 12% to seven cents per share while reporting Tuesday that it earned US$659.9 million or 59 cents per diluted share in the third quarter. That’s up from US$612.1 million or 54 cents per share a year earlier.

Alimentation Couche-Tard was one of the best performers on a losing day on the Toronto Stock Market as its shares gained 90 cents, or 2.7%, to $33.97


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Alimentation Couche Tard boosts dividend 12% on higher Q3 profits

couche-tard2-780x520Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. is boosting its quarterly dividend 12% after reporting strong net earnings in the third quarter that beat expectations.

The Quebec-based convenience store operator says its payout will increase to 7 cents Cdn per share from 6.25 cents.

Couche-Tard reported that its net income for the period ended Feb. 2 was US$659.9 million or 59 cents per diluted share, up from US$612.1 million or 54 cents per share a year earlier.

The results included a US$61.5 million pre-tax net gain from the disposal of its interest in CAPL and a series of income tax benefits.

Excluding one-time items, adjusted profit decreased to US$583 million or 52 cents per share, from US$602 million or 53 cents per share in the prior year.

Revenues increased to US$16.6 billion from US$16.5 billion in the third quarter of 2019.

The retailer was expected to post 44 cents per share in adjusted earnings on US$16.4 billion in revenues, according to financial markets data firm Refinitiv.


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Canada, convenience and COVID-19

As Canadians work together to flatten the curve during the COVID-19 outbreak, the convenience industry is working to meet the needs of Canadians. After all, this is a business where working from home isn’t an option and customers rely on their local c-store for basic supplies and more.

Across the country, some retailers, bars and restaurants are closing temporarily or reducing hours. The situation is fluid province to province and, as we discovered, from business to business, as c-stores balance meeting the needs of customers with protecting staff and public safety.

Screen Shot 2020-03-17 at 1.04.57 PM

The Convenience Industry Council of Canada released a statement yesterday saying its members are committed to keep Canada’s convenience stores up and running, as long as it is safe for owners, staff and customers.

“It is critical that consumers have access to basic necessities and our convenience store industry is committed to that,” says Anne Kothawala, president and CEO of the CICC, adding the organization has a COVID-19 working group that is focused on sharing best practices such as increased sanitization procedures. “That includes all high-touch areas like checkouts and cooler doors. For their part, our distributors are also working around the clock to ensure shelves remain stocked.”

CICC has developed a best practices document, which is posted on its website. Here is a link to the Federal Government’s Economic Response Plan as it relates to small business operators.

As of March 20, nine provinces and the three territories have declared a state of emergency or public health emergency. In many cases, these provinces have explicitly identified convenience stores and gas stations as essential services.

On March 17, Ontario enacted a State of Emergency, closing restaurants (except take-out), bars and venues of 50 people or more. At the moment, convenience stores may stay open. Those that offer foodservice are closing dining areas and offer take-out only.

On March 19, Vic Fedeli announced the province moved to ensure trucks could deliver goods to stores day or night, without worrying about municipal noise by-laws.

On March 23, both Ontario and Quebec ordered the closing of all non-essential businesses.

In a statement, CICC told is members it “has been directly in touch with Premiers’ and Ministers’ offices and has been assured that the convenience and gas supply chain is an essential service.”

Around 8 p.m., the Province released its list of essential businesses, including convenience stores.

“The OCSA continues to advocate to serve in every community and work with our members to continue the flow of goods to every town, city and village.  It is a privilege to be opened during these unknown times,” said CEO Dave Bryans.

Screen Shot 2020-03-17 at 4.18.00 PMThe Ontario Convenience Stores Association is calling on operators to rally in the face of the outbreak: “The convenience store channel must show leadership and disciplines on the cleanliness of our stores.”

The association has created window signs that operators can print and post in store and at entrances. Link here.

Screen Shot 2020-03-17 at 1.06.16 PMThe Atlantic Convenience Stores Association reached out to its members March 17. “We have been invited to join a working group consisting of business associations in Nova Scotia and the Nova Scotia Department of Business. The purpose of the working group is to communicate concerns of small business to government and to be able to receive up-to-date briefings.” The goal is to create similar groups in other Atlantic provinces.

In a statement, president Mike Hammond said: “Many business operations have been negatively impacted and we will be advocating on your behalf for assistance and relief from governments.”

Independent operators take it day by day

Meanwhile, operators across the country are working hard to keep customers engaged and feeling confident about service levels.

Screen Shot 2019-11-14 at 9.16.50 PMFor instance, Leslieville Pumps in Toronto, which is famous for it’s barbeque, has “increased the amount of time that staff are sanitizing” and is even offering to run orders out to people’s cars. Many other small stores and restaurants in its east-end neighbourhood have already closed.

PopBox Market in Toronto’s west end is open (as of publishing), but reducing hours: “Our suppliers are still operating and the food supply will continue to be replenished.”

Screen Shot 2020-03-17 at 12.44.14 PM

Alcona Esso is open for business.

Meanwhile, outside the city, Alcona Esso in Innisfil, Ont. told followers on Twitter: “Don’t worry, we will remain open.” Staff are shown wearing latex gloves to help guard against the spread of germs.

In the face of the outbreak and social isolation, independent retailers, like many small business owners across the country, are making difficult decisions.

On March 17, Enniskillen General Store, which operates four locations in Ontario, had closed its Port Perry store and two more closures were the in the works: “We have made the very painful decision to sell our milk, eggs, & packaged ice cream today & then we will close our Oshawa & Bowmanville locations. Our main Enniskillen will stay open as a way to serve our community up there. We will not be scooping any individual ice creams.”

UnknownClearview Co-op in Alberta has a dedicated Coronavirus Info page on its website. As a precaution, its South Junction Co-op will close its dining area and provide take out only beginning March 18th.

In Saskatchewan, Humboldt Co-op announced its Humboldt and Lanigan Food Stores will open one hour early to accommodate seniors and others who are compromised due to health conditions.

Most retailers are closed self-serve food bars.

What are the chains doing?

Larger chains are also closely watching the situation and acting accordingly.

On its website, Rabba Fine Foods said: “Rabba Fine Foods is always open 24/7 to serve you, no matter what. We are well stocked with all items including dairy, bakery, fresh produce, health and wellness products and toiletries.”

In a statement, the company explained: “Our stores employ certified food handlers who are taking precautions to ensure we sanitize and limit risks, based on Government Guidelines.”

On March 23, the company announced it was installing checkout barriers at all 34 of it stores.

7-eleven-logo-500x400Meanwhile, Norman Hower, VP & GM, 7-Eleven Canada, which operates 636 stores across the country, said in a statement the company has “enhanced our standards and procedures for hygiene, hand washing, sanitation, food handling and preparation in stores, and increased the frequency of cleaning high-touch surfaces. We are in communication with federal and provincial health agencies and officials. We are reviewing updates from the World Health Organization; and we are sharing guidelines from the Public Health Agency of Canada with stores.”

In addition, 7-Eleven is:

  • Alerting employees to the importance of staying home if individuals have any symptoms of the COVID-19 illness or if they feel sick.
  • Displaying hygiene posters in high-traffic areas in stores.
  • Temporarily discontinuing the use of personal cups for hot and cold dispensed beverages.
  • Working with vendors and suppliers to stock stores with high demand, essential products and making them easy for you to find.
  • Demonstrating to you and the communities we serve that we are here to provide quality products at fair and honest prices.

The c-store operator is asking customers to only shop if they are feeling well, pointing out that it now offers delivery to more than 11 million Canadians through the UBER Eats and Foodora delivery apps.

“We’re committed to providing you with what you want, when and where you want it. We’ve been a leader in the convenience industry in Canada for 51 years, and we’ll keep working hard every day to earn your trust and your business,” said Hower.

UnknownIn a call with analysts on March 18, Alimentation Couche-Tard CEO Brian Hannasch said the retailer’s experience positions it well to meet the challenges from COVID-19: “When we’ve experienced these types of situations in the past, if you think about hurricanes, floods, etc., our industry has played a key role in helping our communities get through these situations, and we’ll attempt to do the same here.”

He notes there is higher demand for some items such as water, tobacco products and (in some areas) beer, as customers stock up, but no material issues with its supply chain.

The Quebec-based company said it has contingency plans if stores are forced to close, reduce hours or face labour shortages.

“So right now, we expect to remain open. However, we do have plans where we’ve identified sites that we would close and transfer employees to make sure that we keep our most strategic sites open in the event of running short of available team members,” he said. “One of the benefits of being global is we’re able to share information and best practises and learnings across our business units and apply the lessons we learn in Europe to our North American businesses.”

READ: Hurricanes and floods have prepared Alimentation Couche-Tard for COVID-19.

On March 24, Couche-Tard announced via Twitter it was increasing pay by $2.50 an hour for all Canadian hourly employees.

As of publishing, Parkland had not responded to inquiries about how the companies are handling the situation at stores across Canada. However, we will update as information becomes available.

Safety measures and supplies

Across the country, many stores are no longer accepting cash, opting instead for debit and credit payments only to reduce hand-to-hand contact.

While all industry-related shows are cancelled, postponed or moving online, the industry is still robust and supplies are getting through to retailers.

Unknown-1In a statement from CEO Pat Carey and president Dan Elrod, Wallace & Carey said it “has been preparing for this unfolding situation since it first began to develop and we are positioned to assist your company with the many unforeseen challenges you may face as a result of it.”

The company has a continuity strategy in place designed to mitigate potential interruptions. “As circumstances change, we continue to adapt our protocols to address the safety of our people, our customers and others with whom we work. All of our distribution centers are open for business. If there is a possibility of any changes to the delivery of your orders we will notify you immediately; however at the moment there are no disruptions.”

Efforts include:

  1. We have assembled a Pandemic Response Team to ensure that all safety and health obstacles that could occur as a result of the virus are addressed swiftly.  This team is set up to meet daily and provide updated reports.
  2. Our contractual and branch janitorial teams have heightened their cleaning protocols and frequency in all our distribution centers.
  3. We have provided to all our distribution centers, up to date information on virus protection and prevention and it is posted on all our communications screens.
  4. We have implemented enhanced protocols for our drivers to ensure their safety and our customer’s safety.
  5. We have suspended all non-essential travel for our company.
  6. We have launched an online COVID-19 information center where teammates can send their questions and concerns to Info@wacl.com and our project response team will send a response to them within 24 hours.

CN, which delivers goods by rail across the country, said that while it “continues to monitor and proactively respond to the developing COVID-19 pandemic…. there are no interruptions to our service caused by COVID-19 and we continue to operate very efficiently.”

“Together we can keep the supply chain to Canada’s consumers open and functioning effectively,” says Kothawala, adding all stakeholders are closely monitoring updates from national and provincial health authorities to ensure that the industry responds to recommendations in a timely manner: “As this very challenging situation evolves, we will quickly adapt and share new learning on preventative measures that will ensure reliable and safe customer service.”

CICC also reports is has received confirmation that governments are “focusing on regulations that are necessary to deal with COVID-19. Regulations pertaining to files such as vaping or consumer packaging are on hold.”

Convenience Store News Canada will work to keep you up-to-date on industry-related news – follow our social media feeds. The Public Health Agency of Canada is the most reliable resource for information. You can visit the PHAC’s website or follow on Twitter. Also, closely monitor provincial Ministry of Health sites for the latest directives. Links to provincial sites here.

 

RELATED READS:

5 ways to safeguard workers and customers

Hurricanes and floods have prepared Alimentation Couche-Tard for COVID-19.

Ontario and Quebec order non-essential businesses to close

7-Eleven adding up to 20,000 new positions

Rabba installing glass barriers at checkout

OLG shares best practices for lottery sales during COVID-19 pandemic

C-stores deemed essential businesses in Ontario

How is your business responding to COVID-19?

Contact CSNC editor Michelle Warren at mwarren@ensembleiq.com or tag us on social media @CSNC_Octane


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Couche-Tard leader signs up to promote diversity and inclusion

Screen Shot 2020-03-09 at 5.35.17 PMAlimentation Couche-Tard president and CEO, Brian Hannasch, has joined the CEO ACTION pledge, which commits to diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

The growing movement aims to rally the business community to “advance diversity and inclusion within the workplace by working collectively across organizations and sectors. It outlines a specific set of actions the undersigned companies will take to cultivate a trusting environment where all ideas are welcomed and employees feel comfortable and empowered to discuss diversity and inclusion.”

More than 900 CEOs have joined the initiative and by signing, the company says: “Hannasch has positioned Couche-Tard to become the first convenience store retailer to join this action for diversity and inclusion, a vital component in strengthening the corporation’s organization and commitment of growing together.”

To accompany the pledge, and in the wake of International Women’s Day, Couche-Tard is launching an internal global campaign, “Together we make a difference,” where all employees are invited to take their own personal “I ACT On” pledge.

“I am excited for the entire corporation to join me in this CEO ACTION pledge as I firmly believe that together we will make a difference by creating and maintaining a diverse workforce,” Hannasch said in a statement. “Promoting diversity and inclusion is a key component of our culture of growing together and is critical to continuing to be a preferred choice for our diverse customer base.”

The move comes on the one-year anniversary of the formation of Couche-Tard’s Women’s Council, a business resource group with the mission of creating winning conditions for women within the corporation.

Le by chief human resources officer, Ina Strand, the council is part of Couche-Tard’s Board of Directors’ commitment to diversity and inclusion. Its work includes bringing the “Together we make a difference” pledge to the corporation, introducing the first training modules on Unconscious Bias, as well creating career development workshops in Couche-Tard’s global offices and stores.

It’s a far-reaching commitment—the Couche-Tard network includes than 14,800 company-operated and licensed stores around the world.