© 2022 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.The COVID-19 pandemic has elevated the ‘essential service’ question to the forefront of government policy, business functioning, and public discourse. This qualitative study uses community disaster resilience and institutional work theory to analyse the responses of Canadian grocery retailers to COVID-19. Based on a thematic analysis of 53 grocery retailers’ website messaging over three periods at the height of the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada, the research identifies ten themes that capture the retailers’ response to the pandemic. Focusing on major grocery retailers in Ontario, the research tracks messaging concerning the elevated community role of grocery retailers through a period of crisis. We develop a conceptual framework to understand the community disaster resilience levers of grocery retailing during a pandemic. The research highlights the shift in the balance of messaging concerning the institutional logic of grocery retailers, away from market forces towards a community logic. The findings illustrate how grocery retailers stepped up as an essential service and extended their reach beyond the bounds of their underlying institutional logic to encompass the public good.