Supermarket employees are working under extreme conditions as the COVID-19 pandemic spreads,  and Kroger (NYSE:KR) is rewarding its employees for helping keep Americans supplied with the necessities of life during the crisis.

The nation's biggest supermarket operator said on Tuesday evening that it will increase by $2 an hour the pay of its store clerks, baggers, and other workers who are keeping its operations humming through an unprecedented demand spike. That's in addition to a one-time bonus for front-line workers that it previously announced.

An employee restocks fresh produce.

Image source: Getty Images.

The higher pay rates will apply to hours worked from March 29 through April 18. "Our associates have displayed the true actions of a hero," CEO Rodney McMullen said in a press release, "working tirelessly to ensure everyone has access to affordable, fresh food and essentials during this national emergency."

Kroger's sales volumes have soared since mid-March, when state and local governments across the country started recommending people stay at home as much as possible, and a large share of the nation's restaurants began limiting service to take-out and delivery, or temporarily closed their doors.

The chain has had to balance its role as a provider of essential consumer staples with its obligation to protect employees and shoppers from exposure to the coronavirus. Among the safety measures it has introduced are enhanced cleaning and sanitization procedures, installing plexiglass partitions at registers to separate cashiers from customers, and reducing store hours to give employees time to clean them more thoroughly, and also to give its staff more downtime.