When you think of essential businesses, wine and spirits might not be the first that come to mind. However, food and beverage distributors are considered essential critical infrastructure. Therefore, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, hundreds of thousands of hospitality businesses relied on Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits so they could continue to serve customers and pay employees during an incredibly challenging time.
This was a challenge for Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits, North America’s largest distributor of beverage alcohol. The company needed to learn to operate under new and stringent safety protocols to protect its workforce, suppliers and customers, while continuing to operate and serve customers across the U.S.
adapting quickly to keep people safe
Mark Calimlim, vice president of Procurement at the U.S.-based company, manages Southern Glazer’s contingent workforce program. He says the company had to react quickly to the needs of its various talent groups. Even as a significant portion remained on site to support the logistics of product distribution — the company is present in 44 states, the District of Columbia and Canada — others who could work remotely needed guidance on new ways of working. Supporting its people across so many different areas, each with its own set of workplace regulations and safety requirements, was no small task.
“We had to really think proactively, and that’s when leadership put in place a robust plan for how to adjust accordingly,” Calimlim says, pointing out that human capital leaders were given as much trust and flexibility as they needed to keep facilities operating with minimal disruption. These steps included adjusting shifts for those on-site to optimize the resources available. For those who could work remotely, the company quickly rolled out tools that accelerated the transition.
edging the competition in a talent-scarce market
Like many essential businesses, Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits faced tremendous challenges associated with staffing its distribution centers. Between missing workers who were out with COVID-19 and others who stayed at home out of fear of contracting the disease, the company experienced a surge in talent scarcity.
Even now, it’s no small task to effectively source contingent talent who comply with local vaccination regulations and to provide a robust testing regimen to reduce the risk for outbreaks.
Talent scarcity has been a big challenge for the company since the pandemic began, according to Calimlim. Not only has demand for workers across the board risen sharply, but competition has also grown tougher. He points out that as other employers have enhanced their offerings in both wages and soft benefits, Southern Glazer’s through market data has also revised policies and offered incentives to keep pace with the market.
For instance, the company is creating clearer paths to permanent roles for contingent talent who want to join the organization long-term. For those who can, a flexible and generous work-from-home policy is still in place. Signing bonuses, increased competitive wages and flexible working arrangements have also become standard offerings, which was not the case just three years ago. For the leaders at Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits, these measures were the clearest indicators of the importance of talent to its success.
ensuring business agility through workforce agility
With uncertainty and talent scarcity continuing into 2022, Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits will continue to lean on its crisis management team — consisting of key functional leaders in operations, finance, HR, legal, communications and compliance — to provide guidance for the road ahead.
By closely tracking fast-moving developments, the company is also learning how to better respond to changing market and regulatory trends so its workforce can be agile while it responds to customer needs. Inhouse legal and compliance staff at Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits help make sure the company follows guidelines as they are implemented.
Above everything else, Calimlim says Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits is putting its people first. Their safety is the organization's top priority. “Safety is of the utmost importance to our company. We will not keep a facility open for the sake of making and pushing out products if it is a detriment to the broader Southern Glazer’s community.”