You may know them by the infamous blue shirt they wear, by the friendly “hello” or “can I help you find something” they offer as you peruse the aisles or by their vast product knowledge and unending commitment to customer service. These characteristics make up the Heinen’s associate.
At Heinen’s, we believe “you have to find the best to sell the best,” and this includes finding the best people! Our vision begins with those who wear the Heinen’s blue shirt; they are what makes shopping with Heinen’s memorable and enjoyable; however, not all Heinen’s associates wear the blue shirt.
Working hard behind the scenes to provide a premium shopping experience are the skilled individuals at our warehouses, manufacturing facility and corporate office. Although they may not wear the blue shirt on the job, they display what it means to be a Heinen’s associate in every other way!
So, let’s get to know the people who embody the blue shirt! Today, we’re talking to Denise, associate at Heinen’s manufacturing facility who, over her 25 year career, has gained vast grocery retail experience including everything from customer service to food production.
How long have you worked at Heinen’s?
I’ve been with Heinen’s for 25 years. In fact, I know the exact day I started – September 9, 1996.
I was inspired to apply by a cashier who was always extremely friendly when I shopped. I never knew her personally, but she was just so pleasant that I figured a company with people like that would be a great place to work.
What did you do before working for Heinen’s?
I worked in accounts receivable and reception for Goldberg Companies, Inc. They’re a property management organization in Beachwood, Ohio.
Have you worked at any other locations outside of Heinen’s manufacturing facility?
Yes! I actually started my Heinen’s career at the stores, specifically the Mayfield Village location. I worked in the Deli for four and a half years, then worked my way over to Seafood for two years.
After working in the stores for a while, I transferred over to Heinen’s warehouse on Warrensville Center Road where I spent six years in the “sausage kitchen” cryovacing (a packaging technique that uses airtight plastic bags) and working in the smokehouses preparing cooked turkeys, salmon, roast beef and more.
After working in the sausage kitchen, I transitioned over to the ready-to-eat side of the warehouse where I helped make some of our most popular items like lasagna, quiches, grilled chicken and the infamous artisan cheese spreads. The interesting thing about working in this area was the hours. I worked from 10 pm – 6 am so the food we prepped could get out to the stores during traditional business hours.
Today, I work at Heinen’s manufacturing facility. I’ve been here since it opened about four years ago. At first, I worked with the pasta machines and ovens in the kitchen, but now I am helping prep ingredients for many of our ready-to-eat items, in addition to our ready-to-eat inventory once a month.
One of my biggest roles in working in food prep is what we call “consuming job cards.” Each ready-to-eat item that we make has an associated job card that outlines the ingredients. As we make each item, I use the job card to document how much of our ingredient inventory has been used throughout the day. And speaking of workdays, my traditional day at the manufacturing facility starts at 4 am and ends around 1 pm. Although it’s still early, it gives me great flexibility in my day.
What attracted you to working on the manufacturing side of Heinen’s business?
I really did enjoy working in the stores, but the hours available at the manufacturing facility were what drew me to this side of the business. With small children at home years ago, I struggled working nights and weekends. The manufacturing facility provided me with the perfect schedule for my lifestyle then and now.
Do you have to go through special training to work at Heinen’s manufacturing facility?
Yes, we do! We go through quality assurance and safety training regularly to ensure we are operating using best practice methods.
What do you like most about working at Heinen’s manufacturing facility?
I really enjoy the people I have met and the friends I have made at the manufacturing facility. I don’t get to interact with customers at the stores like I used to, so I value forming strong relationships with my fellow associates.
What are the challenges of working at Heinen’s manufacturing facility?
The holidays are a fast paced time for the grocery retail industry as a whole, and we definitely feel the pressure on the manufacturing side of things since we have a higher volume of product to make and send to our stores in a short window of time. These pandemic years have been especially challenging as we have had to make up for those who could not come to work. All that being said, those challenging times bring us together as a team, and at the end of the day, our stores and customers got what they needed.
However, even during these somewhat stressful times, we find a way to make things fun. For example, every year just before Thanksgiving we have our annual “Stuffing Saturday” where make approximately 32 orders of our customer-favorite crouton stuffing. We all come in at different times throughout the night to help cook and package the product for our stores. It always ends up being a fun experience.
What does “a day in life” look like for you at Heinen’s manufacturing facility?
My current day-to-day work is focused on food prep, so it’s pretty routine; however, I don’t necessarily know what I am prepping until I get my job cards when I come in to work everyday.
Although my typical day is structured, I’m always willing to help in other areas of the manufacturing facility when they need me.
If there is one item from our stores that you can’t live without and recommend to everyone, what is it?
I really enjoy our Two Brothers roast beef, and have since we were oven roasting it at the warehouse on Warrensville. In addition to being delicious, it’s also all natural and preservative-free, so I can feel good about eating it.
When we moved over to the manufacturing facility a few years ago, we switched our cooking method from oven roasting to water roasting (a sous-vide cooking technique that uses airtight plastic packaging combined with long cook times). I was worried that this would affect the taste of our roast beef, but I am thrilled to report that it tastes just the same, if not better!
What’s your favorite way to spend a day off?
Since I wake up at 2:45 am on a typical workday, I enjoy sleeping in on my days off, even if my version of sleeping in is only 6 am.
I also like to read mystery books.
What is your fondest memory from working at Heinen’s?
One thing that will always stand out to me is how we celebrate our birthdays. Our team will usually bring in cake and celebrate together. Although it’s a small gesture, it’s a great reminder that Heinen’s sees us as people, not just associates.
Why do you love working at Heinen’s
The Heinen family is what makes working for Heinen’s so unique. Tom Heinen is extremely involved at the manufacturing facility and every time I see him he is always friendly, kind and easy to talk to. You don’t always see owners of a company being so engaged with day-to-day associates and processes, but the Heinen’s family has always made that a priority. It shows how much they care!