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Key lessons from SPAR in China

March 19, 2020 IN THE CATEGORY: COVID-19

As China was preparing for the busiest time of year – the Chinese New Year and Spring festival – the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak struck. In early January, the outbreak had spread from the city of Wuhan, Hubei province, reaching other regions across China where SPAR operates. SPAR in China has a presence in 8 provinces employing over 50,000 people in the group. The response by our partners was both exemplary and swift, and we applaud their reactions. We asked one of our leading retail partners in Guangdong, China, to share its operations lessons and health and safety strategies. 

Safeguarding health and safety for all
To ensure a hygienic and safe shopping environment, SPAR went above and beyond by setting up temperature detection facilities, strengthened disinfection measures, warning signs, etc., at entrance points and throughout the stores. The team members instore use professional-grade disinfectants, with comprehensive disinfection routines performed at least four times a day. 

Eye-catching markings on the floor at the checkout counters and weighing counters remind customers to maintain a distance of at least one metre from each other while queueing. The checkout counters and weighing counters are also equipped with glass or perspex screens to prevent staff from coming in close contact with customers.

SPAR Guangdong employs a large number of colleagues who originate from neighbouring Hubei, and the implementation of self-quarantine measures in that province placed a lot of pressure on team members.

Immediately prioritising staff’s health and safety, SPAR implemented procedures including protective clothing, intensification of disinfection procedures, regular body temperature checks, and ensuring adequate space between individuals in offices, canteens, and stores. 

SPAR Guangdong also set up an Epidemic Care Allowance, providing masks, sanitising products, and additional meals for employees every day during working hours. By reducing the number of working hours, SPAR Guangdong ensured employees were able to rest. The company also facilitated epidemic prevention awareness training for all team members.

Securing the supply chain
The isolation measures prompted customers to stockpile goods, with demand increasing by up to 500%. This resulted in a shortage of products, which was exacerbated by the fact that suppliers had already commenced closing down production for the Chinese New Year period.

SPAR Guangdong’s procurement team was highly successful in using their network and all resources available to source products and materials required to meet ongoing needs throughout the epidemic. The local government and the media highly praised SPAR’s work in fighting the epidemic and assisted us greatly in securing normal operation of the supply chain.

Hygiene items such as hand sanitiser, cleaning detergents, bleach, and wipes were in particularly high demand. After that, demand for commodity items such as noodles, rice, frozen ready meals, pork sausages, as well as tinned and jarred foods soared.

Communication is key
By actively communicating with the local government, SPAR was able to maintain the best possible logistics operations. Local mainstream media and social media channels have helped reduce the pressure on the supply chain by emphasising to shoppers that they should purchase rationally and not hoard groceries.

Daily local messaging through SPAR’s communications channels also called on customers to spread their supermarket visits to reduce high footfall during peak hours. 

Using WeChat and other channels, consumers were quickly updated about SPAR’s response to the epidemic situation in a timely, accurate, and truthful way. The public was reassured that the company had adopted a series of measures to protect the health and safety of both employees and customers as well as maintain normal production and operations. 

These platforms were also used to highlight positive messages – good deeds and support for public welfare charity activities such as the donation of essential items.

Online solutions to reach all communities in need
The period during which preventative measures were implemented coincided with the traditionally busy period of the Spring Festival, online orders increased by 462%. Online sales increased by 752% due to large basket orders.

To fulfil these online orders, SPAR Guangdong employed additional part-time picking staff, with the retail logistics and head office personnel stepping in to assist as well. A full team of pickers was set in place, particularly during peak demand periods. 

SPAR also set up residents’ pick-up points in neighbourhoods to ensure zero contact between team members and customers, ensuring that all customers were ensured a safe and reliable supply of food deliveries.

Looking forward with close collaboration
Although commodity purchases increased during this period, there was also an increase in business manpower cost and epidemic material cost. The epidemic has provided a great deal of experience in business operations and management, optimising supply chain resources, company capital operation, as well as handling of major emergencies.

SPAR’s strong cooperative relationship is particularly important to resist the impact of the epidemic on the ability to meet the needs of the communities we serve. 

At SPAR, we believe we are better together, and in times like these, we shall all prevail stronger and better together.

Read more about SPAR China here.


About SPAR China

SPAR was introduced to China in 2004 with the signing of the licence agreement for Shandong Province. This was followed by the addition of more partners, and now SPAR has partners in eight provinces.

The privately-owned retail chains licensed to operate SPAR have a cooperative relationship in line with the original SPAR mission of working together to reduce costs, maximise sales and increase profits. The SPAR China Partners, whilst part of a leading international group, maintain 100% local ownership.