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 Vanessa, an associate who brings energy, experience and a sense of teamwork to Heinen’s manufacturing facility.
How long have you worked at Heinen’s?
I’ve worked at Heinen’s for 11 years, but I haven’t always been at the manufacturing facility. When I first started, I worked in the salad kitchen at the warehouse on Warrensville Center Road. Although it was called the salad kitchen, we worked on preparing a lot of the ready-to-eat foods that you see in the Prepared Foods Department, like Chicken Romano and Sundried Tomato Chicken.
From there, I moved into the sausage kitchen at the same warehouse. Don’t let the name fool you, I didn’t actually make sausage in this kitchen, although that’s what it was used for years before. I guess the name just stuck. In this kitchen, we had huge walk-in smokehouses that roasted other customer favorite items like turkey and salmon.
In addition to working in the kitchens, I also assisted with catering when that service was available. I would help prep the food and even got to serve at some of the events. I really enjoyed helping make our customers’ celebrations memorable.
After years at the warehouse, I moved over to the manufacturing facility down the road when it opened four and a half years ago. I’ve been here ever since.
What did you do before working for Heinen’s?
I was the head cook at the podiatry college in Cleveland while simultaneously working at Red Lobster doing everything from serving to working the prep and cook lines. The only thing I think I didn’t do at Red Lobster was bartend.
I’m especially glad for my job at Red Lobster because it led me to Heinen’s. One of my former managers actually helped me make the connection after he got a job at Heinen’s. He encouraged me to apply online, Heinen’s called me back and now I’m here.
What attracted you to working on the manufacturing side of Heinen’s business?
I really wasn’t too familiar with the store operations or production/ manufacturing side of the business when I started at Heinen’s, but 11 years later, I’m glad that I chose to work in manufacturing because it provides me with the most structure.
I know my tasks, I know my quotas and I know what I need to do by the time my shift is done.
I also love the hours. Unlike many other associates, I come in very early in the morning and leave by early afternoon, so a lot of my daylight hours are spent outside of work.
What departments or areas have you worked in at Heinen’s manufacturing facility?
When I came to the manufacturing facility, I worked in shipping and receiving, making sure that the product coming in from our vendors and the product going out to our stores was handled and accounted for correctly.
Since then, I have also worked in the poultry department, as well as helping prep ready-to-eat items – a department that came with us when we moved into the brand new manufacturing facility.
Today, I work in meat and have been in this department since August 2021. Typically, I work with the machines that vacuum package and label the fresh meat that you see in store. I’m responsible for making sure that meat is transferred from the machine that vacuum packages to the machine that adds the label. I also work the “grind line” where I help package many of our ground meat products, like hamburgers and meatloaves.
Although that’s my day-to-day job, every day can look a little different. It all depends on how our machines are operating and who needs help completing their tasks.
Do you have to go through special training to work at Heinen’s manufacturing facility?
Yes! We’re always being trained on machinery and food safety practices. Sometimes it feels like information overload, but it’s so important.
What do you like most about working at Heinen’s manufacturing facility?
I have really good co-workers here! In fact, my son-in-law works at the manufacturing facility, too. He’s in receiving and delivers products from our vendors to the various departments in the building.
We’re all hard workers here and it’s nice to be surrounded by people like that.
What are the challenges of working at Heinen’s manufacturing facility?
We have daily quotas that we aim to meet in order to supply our stores with the product they need to provide our customers with the best shopping experience. When one of our machines breaks, it affects our entire workflow.
Although our machines can be fixed pretty quickly and we usually make up for lost time, it often forces us to adjust how we work for the rest of the week.
Another thing that people might not realize is how cold the manufacturing facility is. Since we’re working with fresh food that needs refrigerated, the temperature is usually between 34 – 38˚F. To keep warm, I usually wear a pair of tights, a pair of long johns, a pair of outer pants and thick socks, in addition to jackets. I always tell people to never wear anything loose. You want your clothes to be tight to your body to keep the heat in.
What does “a day in life” look like for you at Heinen’s manufacturing facility?
My day-to-day is never the same, especially after these last few years of the pandemic. Like I said before, I mainly work in meat, but I am often hopping lines to help others based on the number of associates we have working and how our machines are functioning on any given day. It’s a total team effort.
If there is one item from our stores that you can’t live without and recommend to everyone, what is it?
I consider myself a mac and cheese connoisseur, and I always make my mac and cheese with the Heinen’s cheeses in the Dairy Department. My personal favorite is the Monterey Jack.
I am truly obsessed with cheese. If a doctor told me I had to stop eating cheese, we would have to talk that out.
What’s your favorite thing to cook?
I like to bake, but I live by myself now, so I don’t really need a full batch of treats, but I’ll bake for my kids when they ask for something special.
What’s your favorite way to spend a day off?
I don’t consider myself a full-on “plant mom,” but I spend a lot of time taking care of my house plants. I find that they have their own personalities, but I haven’t gone as far as to name them. I like gardening in the summer too, so I guess you can say I have a bit of a green thumb.
Why do you love working at Heinen’s?
I love working for Heinen’s for a few reasons: it offers me structure, it helps me support myself and my family and I like being a part of a team. At the manufacturing facility, we all work together to make each other’s jobs easier. When you have that mindset, you can achieve a lot.