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Leadership – May 27, 2020

Virtual Interview on COVID-19: Unyong Nakata, Enterprise Marketing Director & Operations Integrator, Y. Hata & Co., Ltd.

Unyong Nakata, Enterprise Marketing Director & Operations Integrator, Y. Hata, speaking at the 2018 Wahine Forum

What has been your company’s latest pivot or innovation?

The pandemic accelerated the launch of our online store, chefzone.com, which is part of our larger efforts to strengthen Y. Hata’s customer solutions offerings. chefzone.com supports the food delivery models that we created for safe and affordable food purchasing during the pandemic: curbside pickup and Superette-to-Go. We put together food bundles sold on the site, which have been incredibly popular. We’re now looking at ways to customize shopping for our partners and support our customers to increase their success and sales. The opportunities are limitless.

What has been your company’s latest opportunity or opportunities?

What’s been really fulfilling is being able to keep the doors of ChefZone open during the COVID lockdown. We were able to move quickly to create a safe shopping environment for everyone, and I think because of that, we were able to welcome many more ‘ohana members who were looking for affordable, diverse food options. Because more eyes were on social media, we had the opportunity to convey to everyone the opportunity of free membership to ChefZone. We still give special attention to our food service operators, but it’s been great to see a larger number of local families taking advantage of our service.

In what ways do you think your business will be different at the end of the year?

The mom and pop restaurants and fine dining restaurants have been hit hardest and that will reflect on the type of customers we will see recovering and re-opening. At the same time, we will have a much heavier emphasis on sanitation and safety. There will be a greater emphasis on labor saving ingredients, menu re-design and ServSafe training. Our supply chain is still strong but we don’t know how that might change over the next few months. I also think how we engage with our customers will be different. We are a 107-year-old company but we’ve already made enormous leaps in our digital communications with our customers and community.

What technology has been helpful for your company during this time?

Video conferencing has been critically important for us as we had to move completely remote for certain departments. We’ve been using WebEx to ensure seamless operations with those employees. E-commerce has been an important addition to our service and how we are able to add value to our customers.

What advice for other companies?

Two things: April was tough on everybody, mentally and emotionally. May is continuing to be just as challenging but in a different way. It’s important that we show appreciation for every one of our customers and staff and to proactively check in on them to ask if they’re OK and really support their mental and emotional health. The other is to continue to think outside the box. One of the things I appreciate about Russell Hata is that he’s a visionary and he comes up with these ideas that push us to think creatively. I think everyone needs to shift their mindset because things have forever changed. Y. Hata has survived over the generations because we’ve continued to adapt, and I think you must in order to survive and thrive in this new reality.

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