You expect tech giants and digital native retailers to lead the pack on pandemic response. But a specialty food retailer that grew out of a farmers market stand? Not so much. Yet Stonewall Kitchen responded to the COVID-19 crisis with incredible agility from the moment the first stay-at-home orders came down.

The company, which started in 1991 and operates out of York, Maine, focused on communicating clearly with wholesalers, delivering products directly to consumers, and supporting the community during a tumultuous time for retailers. Here’s how.


Partners: Cutting out the noise

Retail storefronts aren’t the only thing that took a hit. Global supply chain issues and labor challenges hit production facilities. This has made it hard for wholesale buyers to figure out what is available as they try to keep shelves stocked for anxious shoppers.

In normal times, Stonewall Kitchen sends wholesale buyers a weekly update featuring new products, product spotlights, or seasonal products. When COVID-19 upended normal life, the company changed the way it communicated with buyers, who needed up-to-date, actionable information. Instead of the weekly curation, the company sent out timely operational updates, out-of-stock notifications, and information about products that were still in stock even though consumers were having trouble finding them in the marketplace.

Stonewall Kitchen also wanted to make it easy for buyers — who might now work from home themselves — to place orders. Stonewall Kitchen had previously used Commerce Cloud to build out a wholesaler portal which included social assets and product photography. Retailers like grocery stores can use these assets to build their own digital and social presence. The company reminded wholesalers about the portal and what they could find there, and also surfaced the wholesale order form outside of this portal on its public-facing website to remove any barriers for buyers.

Learn about other ways you can keep your ecommerce site running well during challenging times.


Consumers: Reengineering commerce

Staying at home means eating at home, and online orders at Stonewall Kitchen have skyrocketed as consumers opt for deliveries over shopping for food in grocery stores. Certain products that were not typically top-sellers, like cornbread and pasta, started selling thousands upon thousands of units.

The company’s traditional ecommerce sorting rules did not work for this new demand. The good news: they had a team and a platform agile enough to make rapid changes. In one afternoon, Stonewall Kitchen rewired its entire catalog’s search rules, categories, and sorting algorithms to display the SKUs that had plenty of inventory. This ensured customers were not shown out-of-stock items.

They made additional adjustments as needed on the fly. For example, they disabled sign-ups for cooking classes while continuing to display information and photos about them so shoppers could keep them in mind for the future. Their success is evident in the results. The number of customers and their frequency of purchase increased dramatically.

Find ways to communicate better with digital-only customers.


Community: Organic ways to give back

With an ongoing commitment to the area where they got their start at a local farmer’s market, Stonewall Kitchen considered its resources and prioritized three ways to help the people around them. Their Serving Up Smiles program has done the following:

  • Prepare meals for the community. The company has kept its café and cooking school teams on the payroll and deployed them to high-need initiatives like cooking meals for seniors, school lunch programs, and first responders. In the month of April alone, they were able to deliver 9,500 meals.

  • Spread holiday cheer. Using Easter-themed inventory from its temporarily closed retail store in York, Maine, the company assembled 250 goody bags filled with confections, stuffed animals, and flowers, and donated them to local families.

  • Help make and distribute hand sanitizer. As hand sanitizer became critical nationally, it also became nearly impossible to find. Turns out, you need cane sugar to make alcohol for hand sanitizer and it just so happens Stonewall Kitchen had a lot of it on hand (1,000 pounds goes into each batch of their blueberry jam). They looked to partner with a local distillery to produce it for first responders and those that needed it most in the community. Stonewall Kitchen donated the sugar and then helped coordinate delivery of the finished product to local fire stations, hospitals, and nursing homes.

In keeping with their long history of turning simple ingredients into something wonderful, Stonewall Kitchen uses every resource to help their partners, consumers, and community. Each recipient is grateful for these efforts, and when the pandemic finally passes, the brand is sure to emerge stronger than ever.

Learn how other retailers are supporting shoppers in the face of current challenges.

Read more in our Leading Through Change blog series, which offers thought leadership, tips, and advice for retailers.

Subscribe to our blog newsletter to get the latest in Leading Through Change.