November-December 2021 Michigan Food News

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During good times, it’s easy to keep a steady hand. But when life throws curve balls like the world has never seen, those steady hands can become shaky rather quickly. At Associated Wholesale Grocers, we have thousands of examples of strong, steady hands keeping grocery stores running, true purveyors of hope for our communities. And there are thousands of steady hands at AWG supporting those ESSENTIAL pillars of communities in the 28 states we serve. We’ve been constantly tracking how our industry is changing and we’re focusing even closer on how the current situation will change things even more. We have long prided ourselves on the lowest cost of goods. But now, and in the future, our retailers need far more than that. Everything from e-commerce to merchandising, digital marketing to support as we navigate through any crisis together. We have helping, steady hands for every area of your store and have prided ourselves on being that steady hand for almost 100 years.

Make the call sooner rather than later to learn how Associated Wholesale Grocers can provide you a lower cost of goods and a real chance to compete in the marketplace today and in the future!

For a lower cost of goods PLEASE CONTACT: Keith Knight 615-290-6093 Dave McKelvey 713-876-6240

Diane Guerrero 262-806-1203

Associated Wholesale Grocers, Inc., 5000 Kansas Avenue, Kansas City, KS 66106

President’s Message

Update from Grocers Division Annual Meeting and Divisional Board Meeting william j. hallan

MRA President and Chief Executive Officer

On Oct. 1 we held the Grocers Division Annual Meeting and Divisional Board Meeting via Zoom. Plans were discussed for two upcoming events: n Retail’s Night Out – June 9, 2022 MRA has officially secured the Lansing Center and Lansing Brewing Company as locations for an educational and networking event we’re tentatively calling Retail’s Night Out. Mark your calendar now and stay tuned for details.

n Annual Golf Outing – June 10, 2022 MRA has set a date for our annual golf outing immediately following the Retail’s Night Out programming to make it easier for members to attend both events. We are in the process of identifying potential venues and will keep you apprised of updates.

During the Annual Meeting, three members were reelected to the Advisory Board and one new member was elected to fill a vacancy. Craig Diepenhorst H.T. Hackney Company Reelected for a three-year term, Craig is Regional Sales Manager for H.T. Hackney Company. Serving the greater Grand Rapid’s area, he’s been with H.T. Hackney for 18 years. Craig was named to the Grocers Division Advisory Board when Michigan Grocers Association became a division of MRA in 2018. He served previously on MGA’s Conference Committee for several years.

John Leppink Leppink’s Food Centers Also reelected for a three-year term, John is president of Leppink’s Incorporated, where he oversees the total store operations of four of the seven Leppink’s Food Centers, seven Save A Lot food stores and one True Value Hardware. Elected to the MGA Board of Directors in September 2015, he became a Grocers Division Advisory Board member in 2018. He also serves on the Michigan Retailers Services Board of Directors.

Jim Gohsman SpartanNash Reelected for a three-year term, Jim is Vice President of Sales for SpartanNash’s Great Lakes Region — a position he’s held since November 2013 when Spartan Stores and Nash Finch merged. Prior to that, he was Director of Business Development for Spartan Stores. Jim joined the Michigan Grocers Association’s Board of Directors in September 2008 and was chairman when MGA became part of MRA. He also chaired the MGA Conference Committee for many years.

Nick Lenzi Lipari Foods Nick was nominated to fill the term of Don Symonds, who retired from Lipari in August. That term expires in 2023. Nick joined Lipari as Vice President of Business Development in October 2020. Prior to that, he was Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Busch’s Fresh Food Markets. Nick began his career with VG’s Grocery in 1980. Nick has been instrumental to the success of the association’s Legislative Reception over the years, as he and his team coordinated the catering for the event.

Michigan Grocers Division Advisory Board William J. Hallan, President Michigan Retailers Association

Rachel Hurst Kroger Company of Michigan

Bryan Neiman Neiman’s Family Market

Craig Diepenhorst H.T. Hackney

Nick Lenzi Lipari Foods

DJ Oleson Oleson’s Food Stores

Jim Gohsman SpartanNash

John Leppink Leppink’s Food Centers

Thom Welch Hollywood Markets

Michigan Grocers is a division of the Michigan Retailers Association

William J. Hallan Publisher Lisa J. Reibsome Editor, Design & Layout, Ad Sales (517) 449-2256; Publisher does not assume responsibility for statements made by advertisers in business competition. © MICHIGAN FOOD NEWS 2021 MICHIGAN FOOD NEWS NOV/DEC 2021 3

Witbeck’s Family Foods

A tale of hometown pride for 73 years and counting BY LISA J. REIBSOME At the heart of every independent grocery store is the community it serves. That’s especially true of Witbeck’s Family Foods in Clare. The family-owned and operated business has served the small mid-Michigan community for 73 years. While a lot of reputations are built on what a grocery store sells — local products, fresh produce, outstanding meat, unmatched private-label items, from-scratch deli and baked goods, etc. — Witbeck’s reputation is built on what it does.

When asked what the store is known for, second-generation owner Jerry Witbeck responds immediately: “Giving back to the community.” As quick as Jerry is with his response, there’s no quick way to sum up everything the Witbeck family does for the community. The family name is associated with almost everything “Clare.” Nicknamed the “City of Festivals,” Clare celebrates a four-day Irish Festival every March. Witbeck’s has a 40-year history of participating in the

parade and sponsoring an annual leprechaun contest. In addition, Jerry is a former festival grand marshal. On the heels of the Irish Festival comes another big event — the Summerfest Celebration. Focused on providing oldfashioned fun for all ages, the festival includes a picnic in the park that Witbeck’s has generously sponsored for over 30 years — giving away hot dogs and all the fixings. Jerry’s also put in many years on the planning committee and has served as the event grand marshal.

Store owners Jerry and Lynn Witbeck 4 NOV/DEC 2021


Left: Witbeck’s is at the heart of the community — sponsoring festivals and events including a yearly leprechaun contest. Store owner Jerry Witbeck is a licensed pilot, which comes in handy for flying in Santa to help spread holiday cheer.

Jerry grew up working in the store . His father, Marvin Witbeck, opened it in 1948. From a very young age, Jerry mainly stocked shelves, bagged groceries and “got underfoot,” he says.

The store also sponsors Witbeck’s Kid’s Day at the Clare County Fair, which includes donating bicycles for several lucky raffle winners, and they sponsor a Youth Pumpkin Festival in the fall. Beyond festivals and fun, Witbeck’s supports education. For 25 years, Witbeck’s has awarded two full-time scholarships covering tuition and books at Mid-Michigan Community College in Harrison, just north of Clare. The Witbeck Family Foods awards were established to make education more assessable for community members. All this is in addition to the support the store gives throughout the year to area hospitals, schools, athletics, service groups, churches, food drives and more. So it’s no surprise that the family and the store have received numerous awards for outstanding community service. Most recently, Jerry was named Clare County’s Hometown Hero for going above and beyond during the COVID-19 pandemic. Clearly, the Witbeck family loves giving back and that love of community carries over to the grocery store. At age 78, Jerry still puts in a pretty full work week. His wife of 57 years, Lynn, is there, too — along with third-generation co-owners, their daughter and son-in-law, Lesa and Joe Bentley. When asked what keeps him coming to work almost every day, Jerry responds: “People, people, people! Talking with our customers is the best part of my job.”

After high school, he moved to Illinois to study electronics at DeVry Institute of Technology. After graduation, he took an electronics job in Wisconsin, but he didn’t enjoy it. “I found out that I’m not a desk-job person,” he shares. Around that time his father called and said he wanted to retire, so Jerry and Lynn moved back to Clare to take over the store. “I worked alongside my dad for a few years before he stepped down. And even after he retired, I ran ideas by him,” Jerry says. Marvin passed away in June 1993. “After my dad died, I found out from my mother that the grocery business is basically in our genes. She said my dad always wanted to be a grocer. I hadn’t known that because that’s not what he went to school to do.” Marvin attended what is now Central Michigan University to become a teacher — with the goal of eventually becoming superintendent. While in college, he worked part time for A&P and then Kroger. In the early 1930s, Kroger offered Marvin the opportunity to manage a new store in Clare, and he chose to do that rather than finish college. “My mother told me he was always happy with that decision. He really enjoyed being a grocer,” Jerry says. “And I guess I feel the same way. I enjoy it, so it doesn’t feel like work. Sometimes.” When Kroger closed that store 15 years later, Marvin joined forces with his brother Rolland to launch the family business: They opened Witbeck’s IGA in downtown Clare in May 1948. continued on page 7

Marvin Witbeck and his brother Rolland Witbeck circa 1948. Right: Jerry’s dad, Marvin, congratulates him on the grand opening of the expanded and relocated store in 1972. MICHIGAN FOOD NEWS NOV/DEC 2021 5

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continued from page 5

Above: Witbeck’s Family Foods is run by second-generation owners, Jerry and Lynn Witbeck, and third-generation owners, daughter and son-in-law Lesa and Joe Bentley. Right: Both the Wow! Wow! Wow! sale and a large variety of unique bulk candies bring locals and travelers into the store.

Over the years, the store changed locations several times, with the brothers owning up to four stores for a while. There was even a time that Witbeck’s operated two stores across the street from each other. That was in 1993 when Jerry purchased the Giant Super Market after that company went out of business. While just across the street from Witbeck’s, it offered twice the floor space. “We didn’t want to close either business while we worked to move our store because they both served slightly different needs in the community,” Jerry shares. For about a year the family operated both stores amid renovations until they were ready to consolidate into one Witbeck’s Family Foods in the larger building, which is where they remain today. Witbeck’s currently employs 63 people, and like most retailers right now, they are struggling a bit to hire enough workers. “But our reputation helps,” says son-in-law, Joe. “We are known for being a great place to work, so people want to work here.” He adds that their customers have been extremely understanding of all the challenges they’ve faced throughout the pandemic. “Everyone’s been really supportive and kind.” Right before the coronavirus outbreak was declared a pandemic, Witbeck’s installed five self-service checkout lanes. “We weren’t sure how accepting our customers were going to be about the option,” Joe shares. “But self-checkout became hugely popular during the height of COVID.” Witbeck’s also offered customers the option to phone in orders and pick them up curbside. And they did a bit of delivery as well. “We always deliver to shut-ins,” says Joe. “But during the height of the pandemic, we increased our delivery. A times we had about 20 people a day asking for delivery.”

While the store doesn’t offer online ordering it does have an active social media presence, where they let followers know what’s new and what’s on sale. A creative marketing approach that’s been a lot of fun is the store’s Wow! Wow! Wow! sale. Joe explains, “Sometimes we can offer deals where the prices are so low that one ‘Wow!’ isn’t a big enough response. ‘Wow! Wow! Wow!’ gets attention,” he continues. “We post the sale online and people come up a hundred miles from Grand Rapids or down a hundred miles from Traverse City to buy the hot item sometimes.” People traveling to or through Clare is how the city earned its other nickname, “Gateway to the North.” Many travelers stop at Witbeck’s. “We have a bulk foods section that’s very popular with locals and travelers,” says Jerry’s wife, Lynn. “That includes old-fashioned candy items such as candy sticks and marshmallow peanuts. The old-fashioned bulk candy is probably the most popular item vacationers buy.” In the last several years, natural and organic products have become more popular. “I’d say we’ve seen a threefold increase in demand in the last four years,” Joe reports. With Clare being home to a large Amish population, Witbeck’s sources some fresh produce including corn, squash and zucchini from local Amish farms. “But mainly our products come from SpartanNash,” Jerry says. After more than seven decades of serving the community, what’s next for Witbeck’s? “We are working to make sure the store stays up-to-date so we can continue to provide a great shopping experience,” Joe says. “Recent updates include new produce cases and more room for organics. Plus, new dairy cases are coming soon.” “You know what’s next?” Jerry asks. “We’ll keep going.” MICHIGAN FOOD NEWS NOV/DEC 2021 7

We asked some of the fantastic motivational speakers from previous Michigan Grocers Association conferences for insights to help you this holiday season.


How can grocers motivate and inspire their team during the upcoming busy holiday season, especially with the current staffing challenges? Michael Sansolo: This is a really interesting and important question. More than usual, retailers are thinking about staffing this year thanks to shortages, competition for workers and ongoing challenges with consumer-facing jobs in Covid-times. To battle this during the busy holiday season, we all need some creative approaches. First, be sure to tell staff — and potential hires — your story. Knowing why you do what you do helps connect them to their jobs. It’s also important to remind them of how vital their jobs are to the community, including their families. We aren’t just selling widgets, we’re selling products that people depend on every day — and even more so for the holidays. Everyone benefits when you help job applicants and employees see the importance of this work. Second, find new ways to engage your employees. For instance, consider building a recipe book of staffers’ favorite holiday treats — perhaps with recipes that have been in families for generations. Post the recipes on your website or social media sites and let shoppers vote on their favorites. It might help inspire creativity, connection and more. And it may also build some sales. Remember to include recipes for Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and other celebrations. Have fun with it and chances are your employees will, too. Sansolo is a keynote speaker, author, food retail expert, and former Progressive Grocer editor and senior vice president of the Food Marketing Institute

Micah Solomon: The companies I work with that only get the externalities right (smiling, using the customers’ name, walking shoppers to the correct aisle) improve their performance without question in a “normal” job market. But in today’s market, all that improvement slips steadily away if you can’t keep your people inspired, hired and wired. Ways to accomplish this include treating them fairly — both financially and in terms of benefits — and by being sure to celebrate their customer-focused accomplishments. Employees typically strive to do their best when they feel respected and valued. Solomon is a keynote speaker, author, customer service expert and president/CEO of Four Aces Inc., which specializes in customer service consulting and training Kevin Paul Scott: Between unemployment subsidies and increased options for job seekers, grocers are getting creative as they struggle to be fully staffed. However, short-term signing bonuses and employee engagement gimmicks won’t solve the challenge over the long haul. So, what should grocers be doing as the holidays approach? Here are three key areas on which to focus: 1) Employer Value Proposition: You must increase your employer value proposition (what you offer), and it has to go beyond base pay. Offering scholarships for students, increased job flexibility and more career development for employees are all strong strategies. In fact, UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School research shows that, for 67% of employees, the number one factor in choosing their current job was the opportunity for personal and professional development. 8 NOV/DEC 2021


Scott, continued 2) Culture and Environment: While it’s easy to focus on the employees you need to hire, it’s essential to retain the people you have. Between COVID-19 and the labor crunch, many employee engagement initiatives can be perceived as superfluous, but you actually need a positive work culture now more than ever. Especially with the upcoming holiday season, find ways to consistently show that you care for your team and recognize and reward exceptional performance. Culture is a competitive advantage; without it, competitors will steal employees from you! 3) Develop who you have: Sure, everyone wishes they always had only the highest caliber employees; but, the way to get there is to train the ones you’ve got. Businesses tend to attract more of who we have, not who we want. In other words, if we don’t train our current group, we will never attract higher caliber employees. I know it seems like the worst time to invest in training, but taking time to invest in employees (especially leaders) is essential as they will set the tone for how your team works this holiday season and beyond. Scott is a keynote speaker, author, leadership consultant and co-founder of the leadership consultancy ADDO, which is Latin for “Inspire”

Shopper Mindset: Holidays

Intended consumer celebration, shopping and spending habits for the upcoming holidays Chicago data firm Numerator recently issued its “2021 Holiday Intentions Survey” to more than 5,000 consumers to discover how they expect to shop for and celebrate the upcoming holidays. Grocers can use the results to better prepare for the busy season ahead. CHRISTMAS Numerator found that 94% of U.S. households celebrate Christmas. In addition, Midwest consumers are more likely than other regions of the country to celebrate by gathering with friends and family this year: n 78% of Midwesterners say they are likely to gather with family/friends, which is 14% more than those in the west — the region where people are least likely to celebrate together this year. n In addition, 34% of Midwesterners say that making or contributing to a special meal will be part of their Christmas celebration plans, compared to the west, where 27% of consumers say they will do that. What are consumers buying? The survey found that plans to purchase food, drinks and gifts for Christmas are down slightly across the country, with no individual category dropping more than 6% from last year. However, intentions to purchase holiday decorations are down more significantly, from 55% to 42%. The bar graph below shows categories in which grocers should expect holiday purchases.

continued on page 10 MICHIGAN FOOD NEWS NOV/DEC 2021 9

Shopper Mindset: Holidays continued from page 9

Where will consumers buy food and drinks? Most consumers (72%) expect to purchase their holiday food and drinks from grocery stores. Additional destinations include mass retailers (58%), wholesale clubs (46%), online (18%) and specialty retailers (11%). Interestingly, the Numerator survey found that 11% of consumers plan to buy Christmas gifts at the grocery store. How much will consumers spend on food and drinks? In a typical year, almost 40% of consumers spend over $100 on their holiday food and drinks, and 20% spend between $75 and $100. This year: n Over two-thirds (68%) expect to spend roughly the same amount as they have in the past; n 20% expect to spend more; n About 12% of consumers said they expect to spend less. NEW YEAR’S EVE Numerator found that 65% of U.S. households celebrate New Year’s Eve. However, plans to celebrate this year are down significantly, with over 15 point drops for activities such as gathering with friends and family, attending or hosting a party, and going out for food or drinks. In addition, 6% say they will avoid celebrating altogether this year. What are consumers buying for New Year’s Eve? For those who do plan to celebrate, alcohol and snacks will be the top-purchased items for New Year’s Eve celebrations, though both are down slightly from prior years. In addition, as the bar graph below shows, at least half of NYE celebrators also intend to purchase meat or seafood and desserts.

Where will consumers shop? With 76% of consumers expecting to make their NYE purchases at grocery stores, that channel comes in at number one. Additional channels include mass retailers (48%), wholesale clubs (40%), bars/restaurants (10%) and online (10%). How much will consumers spend? Typically most consumers spend from $25 to more than $100 on New Year’s Eve. This year, 69% say they plan to spend the same as they have previously, 20% plan to spend more and 11% plan to spend less.

72% of consumers surveyed expect to purchase their holiday food and drinks from grocery stores. 10 NOV/DEC 2021


Help your shoppers celebrate the season FMI’s “Trends Tracker: Holidays” report examines grocery shopping attitudes and behaviors as Americans look to the holiday season. Key findings to help you make it easy for your shoppers to celebrate the upcoming holidays include the following insights. GROCERY SHOPPER TRUST FMI’s report found that over half of survey respondents (55%) trust their primary grocery store to help keep them healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is up 7% since the start of the year, while trust in the government, news media and health insurance companies has declined. DECEMBER HOLIDAYS According to the trends tracker, despite widespread expectations that the pandemic will continue to disrupt daily life through the end of the year, most Americans say they plan to celebrate the December holidays to the same extent as they usually do. While only one-in-five note that they will celebrate less than usual, half of those surveyed expect COVID-19 to impact at least some part of their normal holiday routine.

How do you plan to celebrate the December holidays this year? 64% the same 21% less than usual

15% more than usual

Worth noting: 31% are somewhat concerned and another 26% are extremely/very concerned that stores will run out of the food they typically buy for the holidays. Across the country, some expect to supplement or replace what they typically cook. See the chart on the right for details. In addition, those in the East (19%) say they are much more likely than those in the Midwest (9%) to order in from a restaurant for their holiday dinner. NEW YEAR’S EVE/DAY FMI found that, among those who celebrate, almost half say COVID-19 will impact their plans to some extent, and one-fourth say they will celebrate less than usual. Gen Zs (94%) and Millennials (93%) report that they are most likely to celebrate New Year’s Eve/Day as they have in prior years. The survey found that social approaches to New Years are beginning to return to pre-COVID levels. Only 16% say they will get together with fewer friends this year. Last year, 26% said they would have a smaller gathering. Another find: Unlike for the other fall/winter holidays, shoppers often don’t consider New Years to be a special shopping period for food. While 22% shop in advance, 45% say that they don’t shop any differently for New Years than they do during a non-holiday week. However, FMI predicts that pandemic-driven homebased celebrations may lead shoppers to food retailers in search of new foods and beverages to make the holiday special.

How do you plan to celebrate New Year’s Eve/New Year’s Day this year? 63% the same 24% less than usual

13% more than usual


Fun to give and fun to get, it’s easy to see why customers think Michigan Lottery holiday Instant Games are the perfect gift to light up the season. Everyone likes the chance to win up to $500,000, with more than $68.7 million in total cash prizes. There’s a lot here for you, too, with over $7.2 million in retailer commissions. So, stock up on the seasonal gift that offers instant winnings, instant sales and instant holiday fun!


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Overall odds of winning Candy Cane Cash: 1 in 4.68. Overall odds of winning Season’s Joy: 1 in 4.54. Overall odds of winning Holiday Magic: 1 in 4.08. Overall odds of winning Peppermint Payout Millions: 1 in 3.62. Knowing your limits is always the best bet. Call the Michigan Problem Gambling Helpline for confidential help at 1-800-270-7117.


MRA hosts Legislative Reception On Oct. 26, the Michigan Retailers Association hosted its annual legislative reception with a slight twist due to COVID-19 restrictions. This year’s event was a luncheon reception at the Michigan State Capitol Building. After having to cancel last year’s reception because of the pandemic, legislators, regulators and industry peers were happy to once again be able gather in a relaxed social setting. The event remains an important grassroots addition to MRA’s daily advocacy and lobbying work. Thank you to the event sponsors: Busch’s Fresh Food Market, Consumer Healthcare Products Association, CVS Health, The Home Depot, Kroger-Michigan, Meijer, National Association of Chain and Drug Stores, Retail Industry Leaders Association, SpartanNash, Target and Walgreens. Future legislative re­ceptions are not to be missed!

On the left are SpartanNash’s VP of Communications Adrienne Chance and Director of Pharmacy Eddie Garcia. On the right, Leppink’s Food Center President John Leppink sits between SpartanNash Director of Retail Consumer Innovation Matt Bennett and Regional Sales Director Todd Buzzell.

Buy Nearby Guy is flanked by MRA General Counsel/VP of Operations Tom Clement, Meijer Senior Director of Government Affairs John Van Fossen, Meijer Managing Counsel/Director of Compliance Kim Edsenga, and MRA President and CEO Bill Hallan.

Amy Drumm, MRA Senior VP of Government Affairs, (center) talks with Kim Walz, Walgreen’s Regional Director for State/Local Government Relations, and Rep. Ben Frederick.

Senator Wayne Schmidt enjoys the reception and gives a thumbs up to shopping local.

Senator Jon Bumstead grabs some lunch. MICHIGAN FOOD NEWS NOV/DEC 2021 13

Alliance Beverage Distributing Shawn Gary.......................................... (616) 241-5022

Business Machines Company Robert Bauer...................................... (517) 485-1732

Crown Poly Greg Walker.......................................... (330) 328-2574

Altria Client Services Nicole Kendell....................................... (614) 225-1923

Elite Snacks Joe Popiel..............................................(616) 452-6903

Arctic Glacier Premium Ice Jeff Weiss........................................... (810) 343-5472

Envirochemical Inc. Brian Fox......(440) The Campbell Group, an acrisure agency Joe Richards...................................... (616) 541-1438

Foster Blue Water Oil Dan Wynn............................................. (810) 650-9081 Associated Wholesale Grocers Inc. Keith Knight (615) 290-6093

Carlin Edwards Brown PLLC Michael Brown....................................(517) 321-4616

LIQUOR LICENSING AND Aunt Millie’s Bakeries Mike Feutz............................................. (260) 402-4199

Better Made Snack Foods Mike Esseltine Vice President of Sales (989) 684-6271

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Great Lakes Coca-Cola Amy Cowan...........................................(734) 612-2993 Great Lakes Foods Mike Smits............................................(800) 800-7492


Griffin Pest Solutions Ken Lasher............................................(269) 353-0934

Country Fresh Bill Wernet.........................................(616) 570-9658

H.T. Hackney Craig Diepenhorst.............................. (616) 261-6600

Herbruck’s Poultry Ranch Nick Beute....(616) 642-9421....

Michigan Grocers Fund Dawn Feldpausch................ (800) 686-6640 x 2754

Star Truck Rentals Inc. Brent Larson...................................... (616) 243-7033

IGT Global Solutions Rick Sherrer.......................................... (517) 272-3301

Michigan Pork Producers Association Mary Kelpinski...................................... (517) 853-3782

Superior Foods Co Doug Verwolf.........................................(616) 541-2159

Integrity Printing Joe Mooney.......................................... (989) 386-9740

Miller Poultry Fred Lechlitner...............................(260) 829-6550 x 525

TOMRA - Michigan Steve Parker...................................... (616) 302-1484

Koegel Meats John Koegel..........................................(810) 238-3685

MRA Payment Processing Darcy Gates....................................... (800) 366-3699

UBCR Nick Kronsbein.....................................(248) 529-2605

Larkin Insurance Group Steve Merten........................................(231) 947-8800

Lipari Foods Joe Calo..............................................(586) 447-3500

MRA Group Insurance Programs Ally Nemetz........................................(800) 366-3699

Vine Line Produce Distribution Steve Jandernoa.................................. (616) 452-2101 Paramount Roasters Kara Miencier....................................... (517) 853-2439 Retailers Insurance Company Tom Tuggle.........................................(800) 366-3699

Williams Cheese Co. Pat Meehleder........................... (800) 968-4492 x 15 Industry Partners GMR of Grand Rapids Rae Ann Elliott...................................... (513) 532-4373

Lites Plus Todd Kananen.......................................(800) 535-5610

MSU Food Industry Management Larry Zink..............................................(517) 432-2170

Magnum Coffee Robert Johnson.................................... (616) 638-6120 Michigan Apple Committee Diane Smith..........................................(800) 456-2753

United Dairy Industry of Michigan Kathi Eckler.......................................... (517) 349-8923

SpartanNash Jim Gohsman.....................................(616) 878-8088 Roger Delemeester............................(989) 245-0337

WMU Food & CPG Marketing Program Frank Gambino..................................... (269) 387-6119

Michigan Brewers Guild Scott Graham....................................(517) 515-1444


Legislation introduced to improve third-party seller transparency

MRA applauds the introduction of bipartisan legislation, House Bills 5485-5487, designed to address the exploding problem of organized retail crime by adding transparency and verification tools aimed at limiting the resale opportunities of stolen products online. Sponsored by Reps. Ben Frederick, Mark Tisdel and Samantha Steckloff, the Integrity, Notification, and Fairness in Online Retail Marketplaces (INFORM) Act puts requirements in place to ensure that marketplaces verify their high-volume third-party sellers and post basic information on each seller’s store page so consumers know from whom they are purchasing products. Too often consumers shopping online unknowingly purchase stolen, counterfeit, expired or otherwise unsafe items. This MRA-supported legislation aims to stop that. “By having online marketplaces take responsibility for the sellers and products they allow on their platform — just as brickand-mortar retailers do for products on their shelves — we cut off a supply source for criminals and help Michigan retailers continue to recover from the effects of the pandemic,” says MRA President and CEO Bill Hallan. The bills were referred to the House Judiciary Committee.

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Legislation in brief

n License violations: House Bill 5387 was introduced Oct. 13 to set a two-year time limit after which Michigan Liquor Control Code violations cannot be held against licensees in applications for transfers or new licenses or used to suspend/ revoke a license. The bill was referred to the House Regulatory Reform Committee. n Alcohol sales age: The Michigan House Regulatory Reform Committee approved an MRA-supported bill — HB 4232, which reduces the age of a person who can sell or serve alcohol from age 18 to 17. The Michigan Liquor Control Commission opposes the bill. The bill now goes to the full House for a vote. n Lottery sales commission: On Oct. 26, the House Regulatory Reform Committee approved HB 4981 to increase retailer commissions on Lottery ticket sales. Specifically, the bill would: Increase sales commission to retailers from 6% to 7% for each ticket sold. Increase retailer sales commission to 9% for tickets sold between Sept. 30, 2021, and Oct. 1, 2022. Eliminate the current flat bonus commission on various winning jackpot or top prize-winning tickets and replace it with a bonus commission of 1% if the winning ticket is $1 million or more. The bill now goes before the full House for a vote.

Vaccine mandate issued

New laws

On Nov. 5, Federal OSHA published its Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) that requires employers of 100 or more employees to develop, implement and enforce a written policy requiring employees to choose to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 or undergo weekly testing and wear a face covering at work.

n In early November, Gov. Whitmer signed two bills to exempt feminine hygiene products from sales and use tax. At MRA’s request, the bills include language to ensure retailers have adequate time (90 days) after becoming law to identify which products will no longer be taxed and update their POS systems. The bills, House Bill 5267 and Senate Bill 153, are now Public Act 108 of 2021 and PA 109, respectively.

The ETS enacts an expansive list of workplace requirements. MRA examined the rules and created a detailed overview that explains what employers need to know and do to be in compliance on Dec. 5, when the rule takes effect. For that information, see “OSHA COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing ETS Overview” at A few key points:

n The governor also signed into law HB 4485, which is now PA 102 to eliminate the October 2021 sunset that capped cigar taxes at 50 cents per individual cigar. Without the bill, the cigar tax would go back to the older, higher level of 32% of the wholesale price. Now the cigar tax cap will be permanently set at 50 cents per cigar.

n Employers with 100 or more employees are subject to the rule. Corporate entities with multiple locations must include all employees, regardless of location, in the total count.

WIC news

n Vaccination requirements, weekly testing and face covering requirements do not apply to remote workers while working from home. n Employers are required to adopt a mandatory vaccination policy for employees but may allow for medical and religious exemptions — which should be met with reasonable accommodations whenever possible under the ADA and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. n Employers must adopt weekly COVID-19 testing for all unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated workers. n Employers are not required to pay for weekly COVID-19 testing of employees. n Unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated employees must wear face coverings at all times when in public spaces or around other workers and customers, unless alone in a closed room or while eating/drinking. Last month, Michigan Retailers Association joined a new business coalition to ensure that federal and state governments listened to business concerns before moving forward with the vaccine mandate. Unfortunately, OSHA moved ahead without considering the adverse impact this top-down mandate could have on employers, employees, jobs and our economy. “Retailers are already facing supply chain and shipping challenges combined with workforce shortages this holiday season, and now they have this added logistical nightmare,” says MRA President and CEO Bill Hallan. “This couldn’t have come at a worse time and is unnecessary since retailers have largely stepped up to keep their employees safe without government intervention.” MRA recommends employers begin preparing for compliance but hold off on adopting policies until the rule takes effect on Dec. 5. Several states are challenging the rule, which could delay, amend or invalidate the rule.

The federal government’s continuing resolution passed to avert a government shutdown includes a provision to extend the American Rescue Plan Act’s temporary increase of WIC’s Cash Value Benefit (CVB) for fruit and vegetable purchases that had been set to expire Sept. 30. That means: n For October, November and December, the monthly fruit and vegetable CVB remains at $24/month for children, $43/month for pregnant and postpartum participants and $47/month for breastfeeding participants. n In 2022, the CVB monthly dollar amount will return to $9 for children and $11 for women.

Lipari appoints executives

John Pawlowski was named president and chief operating officer. Reporting directly to CEO Thom Lipari, he replaces former president and COO Tim Walls, who left the company in 2020. Lipari kept the president and COO positions open until now. Pawlowski will focus on advancing sales growth and profitability. He comes to Lipari from Ohio-based TriMark SS Kemp where he served as president. He also spent 17 years with J.M. Smucker. Joe Bennett was named Vice President of Warehousing where he will oversee the strategic and day-to-day operations of the inbound, outbound and inventory control functions. He comes to Lipari with an extensive supply chain and logistics background that began in the U.S. Navy. He has also held various director and vice president roles in warehousing at several Midwestern companies. Joe holds a bachelor’s from St. John’s University in accounting and economics and a master’s in logistics engineering from the Naval Post Graduate School.


State approves distribution of $810K to Michigan Grocers Fund members The Michigan Grocers Fund, a member-owned self-insured workers’ compensation program, is about to complete its seventh year in operation by releasing its largest profit return to date.

The Fund received authorization from the state of Michigan to return $810,000 to its members on the 2022 renewal. The total returned since the program launched in 2014 is over $2.6 million and represents an average return of premium of 40%. Competitive pricing, along with the Fund’s selective approach to underwriting new members, is designed to save members money on the total cost of workers’ compensation over the long term. This results in lower net premium costs based on the performance of the group. The Fund returns to the members all dollars not used to pay for claims or overhead expenses along with investment income. It is regulated by the state and a voluntary

Board of Trustees consisting of actual participants who are entrusted with the fiduciary responsibility of overseeing the Fund’s operation. The Michigan Grocers Fund Board members are Chairman Rich Cole with Leppink’s Food Centers; Kim Kennedy with Polly’s Country Markets; Curt DeVries with Harding’s Markets-West, Paul O’Donnell with Nino Salvaggio International Marketplace; Michael Rupp with Town & Country Supermarkets, and Dave Duthler, representing Roger’s Foodland. The Michigan Grocers Fund is sold and serviced by a carefully selected statewide network of independent insurance professionals with grocery industry experience. Fund participants must be members of the Michigan Retailers Association. See for details.

Consider the Work Opportunity Tax Credit to help with labor shortage The Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency reminds employers that it’s a great time for employers to take advantage of the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) and hire from some of Michigan’s disadvantaged and hardworking population. The WOTC program offers Michigan employers a federal tax credit ranging from $2,400 to $9,600 per employee during the first year of employment. When you hire certified employees within a target group, you will receive the WOTC credit as a general business tax credit against income taxes and tax-exempt employers can claim WOTC credits against your payroll taxes. The WOTC targeted groups are: n Veterans receiving SNAP benefits, veterans who are both disabled and unemployed, and unemployed veterans. n TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) recipients n SNAP recipients n Long-term unemployed recipients n Vocational rehabilitation work plan participants n SSI (Supplemental Security Income) recipients n Ex-offenders n Designated community residents 18 NOV/DEC 2021


Additional Program The Federal Bonding Program provides no-cost fidelity bonds to employers for hiring hard-to-place job applicants who face barriers toward employment. The program covers anyone who is an ex-offender with a record of arrest, conviction or imprisonment; anyone who has ever been on parole or probation; and/or anyone who has a police record. For more information, contact the Fidelity Bonding Program at (313) 410-9498 or visit your local Michigan Works! Agency service center.


Recent accomplishments help MDARD better serve you By Tim Slawinski

Food and Dairy Division Director Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development

MDARD’s Food and Dairy Division (FDD) closed the books on Fiscal Year 2021 on Sept. 30. The start of a new fiscal year is always a good time to reflect on the work done by the Food Safety and Inspection staff over the past 12 months. Here are a few notable accomplishments. ONGOING INSPECTIONS AND INVESTIGATIONS Despite the pandemic, food inspectors — in partnership with our licensees — continued mission-critical food inspection work during FY 2021, with inspections and complaint investigations, as well as other evaluation and sampling activities, conducted in-person throughout the year. NEW WEB-BASED INSPECTION SYSTEM The Food Safety and Inspection Program has been working to replace our inspection software with a web-based system developed in conjunction with Kunz, Leigh and Associates (KL&A). The FIRST system (short for “Food Inspection Report Software Technology”) application design work is winding down as development and testing move forward. This joint effort between FDD and KL&A is on target for a full system implementation in the spring of 2022. Basic functionality is already in production. The system is being used to inspect newly licensed firms, with existing locations being added to the program in December. Impact on Businesses: FIRST will allow FDD to focus resources on firms that need the most assistance to achieve compliance with food safety requirements. NEW LICENSING PORTAL The Central Licensing Unit in MDARD’s Laboratory Division is working to replace the current licensing software with a new web-based system known as the License Portal System (LPS). This system is integrated with the state of Michigan’s accounts receivable system. Impact on Businesses: Firms will be able to apply for licenses and pay licensing and other fees online through the LPS. This system will allow firms with multiple licenses from MDARD’s various divisions to do business through one online portal. FOOD SAFETY AND EPIDEMIOLOGY ADVANCEMENTS This past year saw the continued advancement of whole genome sequencing as a tool for foodborne disease investigations and outbreak tracking. This genetic fingerprinting technology

permits epidemiologists to link disease organisms to food, production environment and clinical specimens with an unprecedented degree of certainty. FDD and other MDARD divisions conduct environmental sampling at production facilities, collect marketplace surveillance sampling and participate in focused sampling of specific commodities. Often the focused sampling is conducted in coordination with the FDA. Some 2021 examples are the sampling of enoki mushrooms as part of a long-standing and unsolved Listeria monocytogenes outbreak. MDARD sampling was an important factor in the initiation of an international recall of this product. FDD staff also conducted leafy greens sampling with an emphasis on produce-traceability labeled products. As a result, positive results were linked to the grower in one day as opposed to sampling conducted without Produce Traceability Initiative information that can take weeks to trace back, if ever. NATIONAL FOOD PROTECTION CONFERENCE Rebecca Vought, food safety specialist for FDD’s Local Health Services and Emergency Response Unit, was recently elected chair of the Conference for Food Protection (CFP). Vought’s term runs through 2023. The CFP is a non-profit organization that provides a formal process for members of industry, regulatory organizations, academia, consumers and professional organizations to provide equal input in the development and modification of food safety guidance. Guidance developed through the CFP is incorporated into food safety laws and regulations at all levels of government. Vought has been with MDARD since 2008 and works as a food service specialist responsible for performing accreditations, standardizations, consultations and trainings for Michigan’s 45 local health departments. Vought is also responsible for providing specialized food processing consultation statewide, which includes model documents and trainings for both regulators and industry members. HAPPY HOLIDAYS! MDARD FDD staff looks forward to continued success and process improvements to better serve food establishments and the residents of Michigan and to be a partner in ensuring the safety and wholesomeness of Michigan’s food supply. I wish all our licensees, their employees and families a wonderful holiday season and a prosperous 2022. MICHIGAN FOOD NEWS NOV/DEC 2021 19

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