Dennis Eidson (B.A. Business Administration ’76), Chairman of the Board and interim President and CEO of SpartanNash, pictured speaking inside a warehouse.

Dennis Eidson (B.A. Business Administration ’76), chairman of the board and interim president and CEO of SpartanNash

Amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, countless companies and individuals have stepped up to aid health care workers and ensure the well-being and safety of others. Many leading this charge have been MSU alumni acting in the “Spartans Will” spirit by standing together and being resourceful to overcome this challenge.

For Dennis Eidson (B.A. Business Administration ’76), chairman of the board and interim president and CEO of SpartanNash, the crisis served as a time to double down on SpartanNash’s vision of being a best-in-class company that feels local, where relationships matter.

“Aspirational, yes, but in times like these, we have continuously weighed our decisions based on whether they support our vision,” Eidson said.

This vision has guided Eidson’s decision to focus the West Michigan-based food distributor on two priorities during the ongoing crisis: ensuring the well-being and safety of its family of 19,000 associates, customers and communities across 16 states, and supporting health officials and government leaders to contain the virus.

“In early March, we quickly formed a multi-disciplined Coronavirus Task Force to help us navigate these trying times and establish hundreds of proactive and preventive protocols and procedures,” Eidson explained. “With unprecedented sales volume, we knew our 16,000 frontline retail and distribution associates would need added support, so we launched an aggressive hiring campaign and recruited over 3,000 additional associates to join our team in under four weeks.”

In addition to hiring up, Eidson led SpartanNash to deliver substantial bonuses for its frontline associates, including a $25 per week stipend, a $2/hour increase in base pay, a 20% discount in stores (increased from the standard 10%) and $250–$500 for referring candidates to join the company.

“Throughout COVID-19, SpartanNash has made sure associates who could not work on the front lines received extended leave, free telemed visits and COVID testing and two weeks of paid time off,” Eidson said. “Our decision to offer frontline bonus pay was to twofold: one, to recognize the incredible work and commitment of our frontline retail and distribution associates to ensure families received the food, medicine and essential household goods they required, and two, it was the right thing to do.”

Beyond supporting its associates, SpartanNash has found inventive ways and forged local partnerships to make sure people have access to the food they need.

“Our distribution team sought new, innovative partnerships with food distributors who specialized in delivering groceries to restaurants, schools and colleges, health systems and large businesses,” Eidson said. “These distributors had excess inventory and transportation teams due to the states’ shelter in place executive orders. We were able to partner to meet our increased transportation demands, and redirect food into our supply chain.”

SpartanNash’s retail team also launched an innovative partnership with West Michigan restaurants struggling due to COVID-19, he said.

“Our team assisted [restaurants] with the packaging, labeling, food safety and quality assurance to sell products in our heat-and-serve deli cases, and 100% of the revenues went back to the local restaurants, which enabled them to rehire staff and generate sales.”

In an uplifting message for fellow Spartans, Eidson emphasized the need to be authentic in times of crisis and to draw on the importance of building local relationships.

“Michigan State University Spartans are defined by what’s inside each of us: a commitment to something bigger,” he said. “This means working for the common good while we continuously explore endless possibilities of ‘What if?’ And thinking about tomorrow, today.

“This mindset and passion — or, as we say, ‘Spartans Will’ — is exactly what is required during COVID-19 to work together and across disciplines to find new solutions.”