By: Leslie Sarasin, President and CEO, FMI

HeartMost holidays have a reasonably clear history that allow one to trace their roots and make some sense of their associated traditions. Even preschoolers can provide some version of why we eat turkey on Thanksgiving, the reason we have fireworks on July 4th and who we honor and why on Veteran’s Day, President’s Day, and Martin Luther King Jr. Day. However, the historical roots of Valentine’s Day and its unusual blend of traditions and cacophony of connections to love are anything but clear. Getting to the background of Valentine’s day is a circuitous path, beginning with unsubstantiated legends associated with a third century martyr, adding some baggage with a turn through some Roman Lupercalia festivals; and then picks up some steam when Chaucer popularizes the notion that birds choose their mates on or about February 14th by including the concept in his Canterbury Tales. Truth be told, it is a muddled mess exactly how February 14th became the holiday associated with using cards, heart shaped cut-outs, cupids, chocolate, flowers, or gifts as the mediums of expressing our feelings.

Perhaps we humans just need an excuse to air out some of our more vulnerable emotions and so we concocted a day when the cultural expectation is for us to be a bit more sentimental than normal. If that is the case, I am seizing this opportunity to issue this blog as my heartfelt Valentine’s Day card to the food industry, the community I have always admired and respected, but have come to appreciate and dare I say, love, in some new and more profound ways over the past year.

It is one thing, when the unique circumstances converge, for someone to stand up and heroically lead the charge in the face of a daunting enemy. It is quite another more extraordinary thing when those circumstances stretch out over a period of time, forcing a new decision day after day after day to muster the courage to again go to the front line. It requires a special brand of dedicated bravery to repeatedly go to work under the threat of an invisible enemy and responsibly perform your job so that others may be nourished and comforted by the availability of food. That is exactly what the entire food industry has been boldly doing each day for the past year as the pandemic stretches on.

You are to be commended for the extraordinary work you have done to keep the stores open and stocked during this incredible time. This necessitated the dedication and coordinated efforts of everyone in the supply chain, from the farm all the way to the store.

Your efforts to keep associates and customers safe with enhanced cleaning and sanitation efforts, Plexiglas and other barriers, social distancing and tremendous focus on pick-up and delivery have been nothing short of amazing and awe-inspiring. In doing so, you have been leaders in your community, modelling out the steps necessary to take the pandemic seriously and stay safe while doing it.

And through it all you have found new ways to show appreciation to associates including retention of staff (even those in closed departments), higher compensation, bonuses, flextime, training/skills development, employee wellness programs, education programs and hiring/retention incentives.

It is for all these reasons and more that I send this Valentine’s Day message to you, thanking you for the heroic efforts you have exerted. You make this industry easy to love. Furthermore, I cannot wait for February 22nd, Supermarket Employee’s Day when others will be able to add their appreciative sentiments to mine. And if it becomes a national holiday, I guarantee people will not lose track of the historical efforts that called Supermarket Employee Day into being.