CHICAGO -- IGA here will begin rating its licensed stores like hotels and fine restaurants in an effort to bring some consistency and higher standards to the network.
Larry Willis, IGA president and chief operating officer, said IGA will dispatch teams of third-party assessors to more than 2,300 U.S. stores to ensure they comply with a new set of sanitary and operational standards.
"We're going to go through a five-star rating system, because everybody understands the five-star rating system for hotels," Willis said. "We'll give them a plaque if they're doing really well, and they can put it up in the front of the store and let people know about it."
Willis said IGA stores currently average about three stars. However, he said there are many four- and five-star stores weighed down by one- or two-star stores.
IGA last year announced a strategic business plan that included a set of standards for its licensed retailers. However, those standards failed to achieve IGA's goals -- making the stores cleaner, more uniform and following stricter operating standards -- because they were to be enforced by wholesalers, Willis said.
"We had standards already, but the problem was that we relied on the wholesalers and distributors to go out and monitor those standards," said Willis. "We realized that it was pretty tough, because they were responsible for selling groceries and making deliveries on time. It was hard for them to go to one of their customers and say, 'Hey, your store needs to be cleaned up,' because that retailer can get mad and say 'Well, there are other wholesalers I can buy from.' "
"We did that to make the retailers understand that we're trying to help them. We're neutral, but we're serious about it."
IGA retained Fresh Check, Minneapolis, to assess every IGA store in the country. Twelve assessors, based throughout the country, will perform 40 assessments a week, looking for sanitary food-handling areas and practices, up-to-date signage, good overall store appearance and other details such as safe, clean parking lots.
The assessors will also check to make sure the IGA stores are participating in the IGA Hometown Pride and Family Tree promotional programs. "The assessors will do everything a health inspector would do and then also a lot on the operations side of the store," Willis said.
Retailers will receive a copy of the assessment checklist and be notified 30 days before their stores are visited, Willis said.
(IGA stores outside the United States tend to be newer and already operate under these stricter standards, Willis said.)
The "reinvention" strategies launch officially July 1, although some have already rolled out. The process will take about a year. Related costs will be covered through increased license fees.
In addition to cleanliness and sanitation standards, which will be implemented shortly, IGA retailers will also have to meet standards for sales and store size by Jan. 1, 2000. Stores in small markets will have to have a minimum of 10,000 square feet and do $50,000 in sales to comply with the standards, Willis said. Standards vary with the size of the market.