Northern and Northmart stores freezing prices for 60 days

Northern and Northmart stores in northern Canada have upped orders of essential goods in recent weeks and are freezing prices for 60 days, except for increases beyond their control.

Stores taking 'proactive approach' to continuing service, says vice-president of operations

The Northern Store in Fort Chipewyan, Alta. on Jan. 16, 2020. Northern and Northmart stores are freezing prices for 60 days, except for increases beyond their control. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

Northern and Northmart stores are freezing prices for 60 days amid concerns about the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, pandemic. 

According to a news release sent Monday by the North West Company, prices will be frozen unless there are increases beyond the company's control. Michael Beaulieu, vice-president of sales and operations with Northern Canada retail, said that could include significant changes in cargo rates or fluctuations in commodity pricing.

Stores are also offering free grocery delivery to elderly customers, those with compromised immune systems, and customers who are quarantined or self-isolating. 

"I know we've got a great track record of finding innovative ways to get things done when we need to get them done," Beaulieu said.

Michael Beaulieu is the North West Company's vice-president of sales & operations, Northern Canada Retail, Central Division. (North West Company)

"Our front-line staff are fantastic and step up when they need to step up." 

Beaulieu said Northern and NorthMart have also increased orders of essential food and grocery products over the past several weeks. The news release says stores are meeting customer demands "with the exception of a few items."

"We've been taking a really proactive approach," he said. 

That includes limiting purchase quantities on key products, like toilet paper, of which Beaulieu noted there is not a shortage.

"We felt [that] was important to ensure there was a fair access and fair opportunity for the entire community," he said. "A lot of the behaviours we've seen in southern Canada have been somewhat irrational and we're grateful that our northern shoppers, to a large degree, [are] behaving in a much more rational way."   

Social distancing and sanitizing

There are Northern and Northmart stores in all three territories and northern Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba,  Ontario, Quebec, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

Northern and Northmart are also taking steps to protect the health and safety of employees, customers and communities. That includes using social distancing and sanitizing all check-out and shopping cart surfaces after each use, according to the release.

Other surfaces in stores are being cleaned several times a day with "extensive wipe downs" during closed hours. 

The North Mart in Iqaluit had signs limiting soap, flu treatments and toilet paper purchases to one per household. (Beth Brown/CBC)

Beaulieu said employees are being encouraged to wash their hands often, cough or sneeze into their elbows and not touch their face. Employees who may become sick are being asked to stay home and seek medical attention if needed.

"It's really important that our entire workforce stays healthy so that we're able to maintain service to our communities," Beaulieu said. 

He said all stores have also been directed to close the seating areas of any restaurants they operate and move to a "take-out only" model to eliminate areas where people may gather.

Northern and Northmart say they have stopped non-essential travel to and from communities and any approved travel is subject to health pre-screening. Employees that have travelled internationally are self-isolating for 14 days. 

Office employees have also been instructed to work from home and avoid the office unless it is essential to be there. Employees, suppliers and business partners have also been asked to meet via video and teleconference rather than face-to-face.

All business teams have begun developing contingency plans.

With files from Mackenzie Scott