In the past month, grocery store workers have gone from being the familiar folks with whom shoppers might chat during a run to grab milk and bread, to essential, front-line soldiers in the community’s battle against the new coronavirus.
This past week, the Reporter-Herald checked with Reuben Esh, owner of Esh’s Grocery Market, to learn more about the business and how the coronavirus has affected store workers and shoppers.
1) How did you get into the grocery business? And why?
Growing up in Pennsylvania with a family of six children, it took a lot of food to keep us all fed. Each month, my mother would travel, over an hour, to a grocery store that would sell closeouts and close dated groceries, and save up to 50% on her total grocery bill. In 1997, our whole family moved to Colorado and for the first five years I was a truck driver and worked in construction. Then in 2001, my father bought an investment property and a 5,000-square-foot building became available for lease. In 2002, my father and I turned that space into a grocery store that was operational until we closed in 2019 and built our new location on 71st Street. The reason for getting into the grocery business was to provide for my family and give our community the same grocery shopping experience I had as a child.
2) How does your grocery business operate differently from a traditional grocery store?
Our uniqueness in the grocery business is that 90% of our goods come in what we call “blind shipments.” As a result, we never know exactly what we are going to be stocking on our shelves until we unload the trucks and sort through the product. Think TJ Maxx and Ross with grocery items. Because of this, we are much more labor intense than the typical grocery store.
3) What does “best by” and “sell by” really mean? And is there such a thing as an expiration date on groceries?
This is a great question because confusion over date labeling leads to billions of pounds of food waste every year. “Best buy” does not mean that the product is unsafe to eat after it expires. “Best buy” date specifically refers to the date recommended that the customer use the product for the best taste quality. “Sell by” dates are often found on meats or chilled and perishable items. On meat items, we always try to freeze them on the “sell by” dates and sell them in our frozen section. Most times in our home we don’t throw away any food if it looks, feels, or smells fine regardless of the best-by date. For instance, there have been times when I purchased a lot of potato chips with three to five months before expiration date and they didn’t taste well so we could not sell them.
4) What precautions are you taking to ensure shoppers are safe from the coronavirus? And what are you doing to ensure that your employees are safe?
The safety of our employees and customers is very important to us. We have implemented and are using the CDC guidelines and recommendations for grocery stores including but not limited to: daily cleaning and disinfecting touched areas, and requiring all employees to wear masks and gloves. We also installed clear “sneeze protectors” at all of our checkout stands, and marked 6-foot areas on the floor to make it easier to practice social distancing.
5) What three items are you having the hardest time keeping stocked, and why?
The most obvious one is toilet paper. A month ago, we had at least 14 pallets — that’s 8,500 rolls — of toilet paper in our warehouse and sold out within a couple of days. Now it’s hard for us to find it at a decent price. The other two items would be eggs and ground beef, and this is simply because of high demand.
Occupation: Retail Grocery
Years in Loveland: 23
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