Squeezed for Workers, Food Companies Look Toward Ex-Employees

Bringing back former employees cuts training time and can provide mentors to younger workers.

February 20, 2023

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—The Wall Street Journal reported that food companies are tapping into what might seem like an unexpected labor pool—their ex-employees.

“Kroger Co., the biggest U.S. supermarket operator by sales, is staying in touch with ex-employees and bringing some back. Cereal maker General Mills Inc. has persuaded some retirees to return to plant jobs, and other food-company recruiters have combed social media for former workers who might be open to coming back,” the Journal said.

Kroger has been reaching out to some former employees via text and email. “Alumni are also a talent source,” said Tim Massa, the grocer’s chief people officer.

The Journal reported that Kroger has seen “a significant increase in the number of former employees of various demographics returning to the company—so-called boomerangs.” These workers typically return within six months.

The Journal reports that food companies, like many others, lost senior employees early in the pandemic, as these workers opted for retirement or other employment. But without their know-how, efficiency has suffered.

One General Mills human resources manager facing staff shortages “sent letters to 45 retirees, inviting them to return, and nearly a quarter did,” the Journal reports.

General Mills also operates a program in which retirees are temp employees, filling in when a regular worker is out, for example, on maternity leave. One benefit is reduced training time. Another is that these workers can act as mentors. Overall, General Mills' rehire rate has increased about 50%.

The Journal reports that at “Associated Wholesale Grocers Inc., one of the biggest U.S. grocery wholesalers, recruiters are having luck contacting former employees via LinkedIn and … Facebook.”

David Smith, Associated Wholesale’s chief executive, told the Journal that the company’s average rehire rate has increased by four times, and the company has been more aggressive with rehiring after seeing the success.

“It was like a little lightbulb came on. They were good workers that left our workforce and were coming back,” Smith said.

Discover how to keep your kitchen fully staffed in “Recruiting Foodservice Pros” from NACS Magazine, or explore how some employers are turning to robots in the face of a labor shortage.