After the extraordinary honorees we presented for Progressive Grocer’s inaugural GenNext Awards in 2018, we were eager to see what this year’s slate of 175 nominees would bring, and we weren’t disappointed.
The entries revealed individuals who are bringing plenty of energy and innovation to bear as they prepare to lead food retail into its next era.
Two types of honorees quickly emerged among the submissions: those who are new to the grocery industry, and those who’ve grown up in the business. Among the latter, we were particularly impressed by such scions as James Buddig, of Carl Buddig and Co.; Thomas Cingari Jr., of ShopRite Grade A Markets; and Jake Tavello, of Stew Leonard’s, none of whom were content to rest on their inherited laurels, but rather, were all the more keen to prove themselves worthy of their family legacy, as well as not fearing hard work alongside their employees.
Among those not involved in family businesses, there were some truly inspirational stories, among them that of Brandon Henson, of Ralphs, who, despite being on his own from the age of 16, managed to put himself through school and ultimately excel as a district floral/produce coordinator, bonding with his associates to the point where he learned Spanish so as to be able to communicate with them better.
Another note: A look at the fields in which our 25 GenNext honorees are exceeding expectations provides a road map to what will shortly be on all grocery industry members’ radar: inventive plant-based products, creatively reducing food waste, stepping up sustainable practices and streamlining ecommerce, to name just a few. Their colleagues across the food business would do well to pay close attention to their younger counterparts’ ideas and practices.
When it comes to adapting to the future of food retail, we can all learn something from the under-40 cohort.
Category Manager-Dairy, Harris Teeter LLC
A well-rounded associate with 19-plus years of experience at Harris Teeter, Akins, in his three years as dairy category manager, has successfully navigated top-line pricing deflation of core commodities while improving departmental practices and reducing food waste and reclaim by more $1.5 million dollars in 2018. During the past three years, the dairy industry has faced numerous challenges, including retail deflation, accelerated mergers and acquisitions, commodity pricing pressure, and consumer purchase patterns shifting away from conventional white milk. With dairy operating its own profit-and-loss statement, Akins found ways to grow sales, reduce waste and improve profitability in spite of being inexperienced in a challenging retail environment. Looking at the business through a new lens, he has taken chances on new brands, focusing on such trends as health and wellness and environmental sustainability in the dairy department. Further, Akins’ ability to teach and coach associates enables him to develop others for future opportunities and recruit successful replacements.
Regional Sales Manager, Carl Buddig and Co.
In addition to his daily responsibilities as regional sales manager for 11 Midwestern states, Buddig is heavily involved in key projects and employee programs, and represents the next generation of family owners at customer, employee and trade events, as well as in public relations. Tasked with finding new avenues to sell and support a recently acquired barbecued ribs and prepared entrées business, he is leading a team to develop three platforms for hot deli prepared food innovation; this work will help lead the company to future growth, building on acquired capabilities and delivering much-needed solutions to key customers and consumers. Buddig’s passion for the industry has led him to continue to develop his meat expertise by completing a certificate for professional education in sausage and processed meat at Iowa State University. His accomplishments and active role in the company have set a high standard for other next-gen family members who have yet to join the business.
Talent Development Supervisor, Brookshire Grocery Co.
Starting out at Brookshire Grocery Co, (BCG) as a cashier while still in high school, Burkett returned to the company after college, eventually rising to her present role, in which she assists with corporate-initiated talent development programs for BGC’s 14,000 employees. A strong proponent of professional development, Burkett has created and instructed various courses for Brookshire University, the company’s in-house education program; implemented web conferences to equip retail store trainers more frequently and without travel expenses; and worked to launch Store Director Academy, a two-day training event focused on leadership and operational skills. She also serves on the corporate Partner Council, a panel of employees who discuss and implement improvement ideas, helping to advance corporate culture through initiatives to boost employee engagement. One of her most impactful contributions, however, is BGC’s learning management system: Burkett oversees the design and distribution of interactive digital training courses on topics relevant to all employees, along with job-specific instruction.
Director of Interactive, CROPP Cooperative/Organic Valley
Addressing the changing needs of both brick-and-click and pure-play retailers, Cardin has developed a digital transformation strategy for CROPP Cooperative that will enable it to offer retail partners the most impactful content for its products on their platforms, as well as deep content they can provide to their customers on subjects relating to food, farming and healthy eating. Among her accomplishments are helping lead a national media campaign with a strong online video presence, which drove down cost per view, raised awareness and purchase intent recommendation scores by double digits, and overtook the co-op’s biggest competitor, as well as beating ROI goals by two years. Cardin also developed retailer-specific content to support highly successful promotional programs by retailers such as Jewel-Osco. Retailers’ online channels and loyalty programs allow them to engage their customers, and Cardin is determined to provide the most timely and rich content so that retailers can grow their organic and natural businesses and overall basket size.
Thomas Cingari Jr.
VP, ShopRite Grade A Markets Inc.
In and around the grocery business all of his life, Cingari is responsible for Grade A’s produce, dairy and floral departments, as well as overseeing technology, ecommerce and retail efficiencies for the company’s 11 stores. He’s one of Grade A’s champions of retailer cooperative Wakefern Food Corp.’s push for efficient retail operations, which requires challenging routines and implementing best practices throughout all departments. Cingari is also executive leader of the PURPOSE Initiative, a Wakefern-wide cultural change initiative. As well as assembling a cadre of trainers and championing the training of every Grade A associate, Cingari has mentored many high-potential employees, allowing them an up-close look at how managing a large organization works and the nuances of leading a culturally diverse workforce, while always maintaining an exceptional level of customer service. Somehow, he also finds the time to be involved with several committees within Wakefern, sharing his expertise and experiences with other owners and senior management, in addition to supporting nine local food banks.
Store Manager, Giant Food Stores LLC
A store manager for 14 years who’s overseen high-volume, conventional, urban, discount and gourmet locations, Cordero has most recently been a part of the project team responsible for creating Giant Heirloom Market, an innovative small-format, upscale grocery store concept whose first two locations he opened as store manager. Before the openings, Cordero’s role was to curate the store assortment, lay out the merchandising, and develop the working operating model and team of partners for each store. Located in Philadelphia neighborhoods desperately in need of fresh food at an affordable price, the stores — now three in number, with a fourth still in the pipeline — are performing above expectations. The concept also represents a departure for Giant Food Stores, which had not offered anything like that previously. In a highly competitive retail landscape, differentiation is critical, and, thanks in large measure to Cordero, Giant Heirloom Markets deliver on that score.
Senior Manager, Fresh Demand Planning, C&S Wholesale Grocers
Through Flick’s leadership and tireless efforts, he and his team of 10 demand forecasters have driven superior promotional performance for C&S’ customers across all fresh categories. At the same time, he’s been able to reduce food waste through better and more accurate promotional forecasting, which has led to lower leftover promotional product on a weekly basis. Innovative practices implemented by Flick have boosted the wholesaler’s overall year-over-year forecast accuracy to achieve better than “best-in-industry” standards: This year’s results include higher annual promotional service performance across the customer base and significantly lower leftover promotional product. Flick also leads corporate demand planning’s Numbers & Ideas team, which generates “the art of the possible” for the most challenging problems, using technology, employee experiences and outside expertise to give C&S’ demand forecasters a competitive advantage. By accounting for the ever-changing market dynamic, he and his team have been able to achieve strong overall demand forecasting results.
Founder, Tattooed Chef
The original “tattooed chef” herself, Galletti launched the plant-based food and lifestyle brand in 2017 after time spent abroad, growing it over the next few years into a nationally known company with product distribution at Sam’s Club, Walmart and Costco locations across the United States. Fusing her culinary skills, Italian family roots and new experiences, the company’s products, which include cauliflower burgers, cheese pizza, pizza crust, and mac and cheese; zucchini and other veggie spirals; and açai, Buddha and sofritas bowls, are sourced using only the highest-quality, ethically sourced organic ingredients from its two facilities in California and Italy. The items’ edgy yet playful branding and clever, eye-catching design meet the skyrocketing market demand for plant-based products, and appeal to a new generation of younger, eco- and health-conscious consumers with the power to make a strong impact on the consumer packaged goods industry, as well as to a larger and more conventional audience of individuals and families interested in plant-based eating.
VP of Data Science, The Kroger Co./84.51° Division
Gibbons is responsible for supporting the growth of new ventures within Kroger, finding opportunities to leverage Kroger and strategic partner assets to create alternative revenue streams for the company. She leads the development and delivery of advanced algorithms and predictive analytics that unlock value in such new ventures areas as health care solutions, enabling the identification of, and investment in, consumer product brands. Gibbons worked across multiple Kroger business units and with external partners like Lindsay Goldberg to develop new algorithms, leading to breakthroughs that allow the systematic discovery of new brands that will delight Kroger customers and help the business achieve rapid growth. She was the driving force behind data science innovations that became critical building blocks in the formation of PearlRock Partners, an investment vehicle that identifies, invests in and helps grow the next generation of consumer product brands. Gibbons and her team are responsible for PearlRock’s evolution into one of the most massive data-driven investment vehicles focused on consumer brands today.
VP Host Experience, Lowes Foods
Joining Lowes as an intern and working his way up to his present position in what is known at other companies as human resources, Greene has been a positive force for change and innovation throughout his career. Among his many improvements are developing and facilitating the company’s five-year strategy team to ensure that Lowes remains a relevant and progressive retailer; creating the Lowes Legendary Leadership program, in which future leaders are not only identified, but are also given additional opportunities to work cross-functionally and grow as leaders; and implementing in-store training that incorporates role playing, computer-based training, and “growth spurts” that outline development pathways to drive continuous improvement. Greene serves on the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) board and has been instrumental in the continued evolution of the FMI Future Leaders eXperience, his energy and leadership resulting in purpose-driven experiences for attendees from around the world. In addition to all of that, the father of two is an active member of his church’s music worship community.
Store Manager, The Kroger Co./Ralphs
Overseeing 24 stores, Henson has promoted 15 associates to department leader over the past year, and was recently chosen to oversee the training of all newly promoted produce/floral department leaders for the entire division, developing his own easy-to-follow materials. Taking a hands-on approach, he regularly works alongside the associates in the produce/floral departments he oversees, and, as many of the department leaders speak limited English, he even returned to school to learn Spanish so he could communicate more effectively with them. A huge proponent of education, Henson, despite having been born in poverty and living on his own since the age of 16, put himself through college while working full-time at Ralphs, earning bachelor of arts and master of education degrees, and also continued his professional development. As a result of his inspirational leadership, his district’s produce/floral identical sales have risen from near the bottom to No. 1 among all Ralphs districts.
Total Rewards Manager, The Kroger Co./Ruler Foods
Hocker has redefined how Ruler Foods handles the recruiting/onboarding pipeline, going well beyond his normal duties to develop crucial pieces of software that automated the new-hire pipeline. He also took responsibility for rolling out and supporting this change at all Ruler stores. The end result has been to give store managers more time to spend on the sales floor with their teams and customers, and the initiative has proved so successful that it’s currently being scaled up to the Kroger Center of Recruiting Excellence. Hocker also redeveloped store training materials to better apply to small-format Ruler stores, created an interactive labor management tool that advises store managers on scheduling and wage spend, mentors a group of high-potential store managers, and came up with an interactive, electronic “Employee Life Cycle” to guide a store manager through every part of an associate’s career. Through Hocker’s work, Ruler is able to develop future leaders who can draw on various disciplines to solve grocery retail problems.
Division Facility Engineering Manager, The Kroger Co./Cincinnati Division
One of the select few be both a GenNext Award winner and a Top Woman in Grocery — the latter an honor that she received in 2016 — Howitz manages the division’s engineering team in minor capital, maintenance and energy programs, recently leading an organizational restructure and providing efficiencies to operations. Her guidance reduced operational costs and service repair time through collaboration, thereby enhancing the customer experience. Howitz’s leadership in creating and streamlining processes ultimately frees up capital that allows the company to continue investing in new partnerships and innovations. Additionally, passionate about eliminating hunger in Kroger’s surrounding communities, Howitz volunteers and supports the grocer’s Zero Hunger | Zero Waste initiative through endeavors such as Fuel NKU, a partnership between Kroger and Northern Kentucky University, for which she led the redesign of a first-of-its kind on-campus food pantry that not only offers healthy options for underprivileged students, but also provides them with space to network and study.
SVP, Martin’s Super Markets; Division VP, Retail, SpartanNash
An accomplished executive and role model for achievement who was recognized as a Top Woman in Grocery in 2018 (also see Lynn Howitz on page 29), McClellan has led the way in the store-concept marketing and advertising innovation, personalization, digital media, and ecommerce spaces within a network of small to mid-sized grocery retailers, and she continues to lead case-study-worthy campaigns that act as a blueprint for other retailers. Additionally, McClellan’s corporate responsibility activities — she has served on a variety of nonprofit boards and development committees — showcase the idea that a grocery chain isn’t just a business, but also a cornerstone of the community that can help raise funds and awareness for local efforts. Her drive to innovate with grocery technology highlights the fact that even a small chain with a small budget can change and grow to speak to customers effectively and continue to drive sales in a world of Amazon and meal kits.
VP of Sales, Insignia Systems Inc.
With a diverse background in shopper marketing, category management and sales, Nelson came to Insignia Systems equipped to bring a well-rounded perspective to clients. Taking a consultative approach, she first seeks to understand her CPG clients’ brand challenges and objectives, and then tailors a solution that addresses their needs. For example, in a campaign for Unilever novelties, Nelson and her team leveraged a unique approach for each brand, enabling Unilever to highlight the most applicable retailers and integrate shopper promotions/offers into national creative, helping its dollars to work harder. In another campaign, she worked with Unilever to develop a process and creative specifications that enabled the company to highlight its J4U loyalty program offers at Albertsons stores. By innovatively combining in-store signage with digital offers, Unilever drove conversion and awareness in programs in which it was investing heavily. These are just two examples of Nelson’s strong analytical and financial acumen enabling her to optimize valuable resources and provide able stewardship of her CPG clients’ investments.
CEO and Founder, Rosie
While at Cornell University, Nickitas first had the idea for a service that gives independent retailers the opportunity to offer online ordering and in-store pickup or delivery to their shoppers. With Rosie, he created a best-in-class ecommerce service, offering a white- label product that an independent can brand as its own. Unlike large corporate grocery retail chains that can invest in the exploration of ecommerce development, indies don’t typically have the financial resources to develop an ecommerce platform, and most simply don’t know where to start. Rosie delivers that for them in a single affordable package including all of the training, equipment, software and success strategies that an independent retailer often can’t create on its own, and that can be installed and made operational in a short period. Nickitas also continuously improves Rosie by remaining connected with customers to make all adaptations that are required by each individual retailer. He then makes each of those enhancements available to all current customers in the form of upgrades.
Manager, Corporate Demand Planning, C&S Wholesale Grocers
Papaleo heads a team of nine demand planners whose work spans all categories, with a strong focus on fresh. Their customer base includes C&S’ independent retailers across the United States. Papaleo has motivated his team to understand the needs of customers based on their regional trends, the differences they experience in seasonality, and the differences in their formats. A year ago, he was hand-selected to drive superior promotional performance for the Houston-area independent retailer market serviced by Grocers Supply, delivering tremendous improvement in promotional execution in the region. Papaleo and his team are currently working on innovative tools through his leadership on demand planning’s Numbers & Ideas team. By not only looking at historical data to drive future performance, but also looking at future trends, Papaleo has brought an inventive approach to demand planning that can anticipate the needs of retail customers, and their customers, almost before they do, enabling C&S to deliver the freshest product every time.
Category Management Team Leader, Unilever
Peterson took a leadership role in an industry-wide group to define e-category management in a group organized by the Category Management Association (CMA) and the Partnering Group, and consisting of more than a dozen manufacturers and retailers. Her work was recognized by all parties involved, with the result that she was invited to speak at the 2018 CMA Annual Conference. Ecommerce, a critical area for growth today and in the future, had yet to be defined for category management, and Peterson took it upon herself to play a big part in the industry initiative to define the space, as well as to develop frameworks and training to help both retailers and manufacturers get started. Peterson performed this necessary work on top of her already demanding day job as a team leader for category management at Unilever. Such untiring dedication makes her, as one colleague heartily attests, “a star in our industry.”
Division Fuel Manager, The Kroger Co./Nashville Division
Powell was responsible for managing initiatives that assist in controlling expenses, maintaining sanitation standards and supporting the division’s efforts for ecological sustainability across 91 retail grocery facilities in Kentucky, Tennessee and Alabama. She also led the Food Waste Recycling Program, and in that capacity helped the Nashville division improve food rescue by 86% and food waste recycling by 170.8% versus 2018. Currently, more than 99,000 pounds of food in the division are being donated, with more than 68% of stores donating 1,000-plus pounds per month. Under her leadership, all 91 Nashville Kroger retail stores became inaugural members of the Tennessee Department of Environmental Conservation Get Food Smart TN this year, and she shared reports and information enabling two other Kroger divisions operating stores in Tennessee to become members, too. She’s also a member of the Urban Green Lab Corporate Sustainability Roundtable, which meets to review opportunities and share ideas to promote sustainability at other local companies.
President and CEO, Geissler’s Supermarkets Inc.
On Jan. 1 of this year, Rybick was appointed president and CEO of Geissler’s Supermarkets, his family’s 96-year-old business in Connecticut and Massachusetts, embarking on store renovation and design projects to keep shoppers engaged, and moving to enhance partnerships with local businesses and farms. In the latter instance, Rybick took under his wing several local chefs who approached him to sell their spice lines at Geissler’s, taught them how to be successful at retail and forged strong partnerships to help them grow. These spice lines have now evolved into Geissler’s Gourmet Meals, wowing customers while supporting local businesses. Another passion is the environment: He boldly eliminated plastic bags at Geissler’s Connecticut stores two years ahead of a state-wide ban set for 2021. Rybick has also transformed Geissler’s culture with a literal open-door policy, encouraging associates to share their ideas, be creative, and not be afraid to try something new that they think will be beneficial to customers and businesses.
Senior Manager, Decision Support (Finance and Revenue Growth Management)-Ahold Delhaize, The Coca-Cola Co.
Ahold Delhaize is Coca-Cola’s fifth-largest retailer, and its six divisions and decentralized structured decision-making make it one of the most difficult customers to manage in the company’s system. Shoemaker oversees this domain with the mastery of a business consultant: His decision science models, revenue growth analysis and agile retail acumen make him one of the most effective and lauded leaders in his space across all national retail sales in the organization. Shoemaker guided the entire Northeast bottling and national retail sales system through the thickets of state legislative pricing, ultimately designing a decision model that enabled all stakeholders to easily understand the various impacts. This has led to collaborative, strategic solutions with the stakeholders and bottling partners. Additionally, he creates financial and revenue assessment models through a sales lens. Shoemaker is an influential leader with a goal of innovating to scale, and the keen ability to make the complex simple.
VP and Chief Marketing Officer, Giant Food Stores LLC
Simon’s forward-looking management style pushes Giant Food Stores toward innovative practices. Since Giant has shifted to a digital marketing approach under Simon’s leadership, the reported growth in digital engagement is topping the charts, with 2.5 million weekly coupon activations, up 1,150% from the year prior. He has also helped Giant use social media as a communications vehicle to engage customers by sharing meal inspiration from user-generated content, and to drive sales with spot buys. Simon’s contributions to Giant’s overall strategy have been crucial during a time of remarkable innovation and growth for the company, as evidenced by the recent launches of urban-format banner Giant Heirloom Market; ecommerce program Giant Direct, Powered by Peapod; and the Giant Choice Rewards customized loyalty initiative. He has helped the company turn to data, AI and digital engagement to bring its brand to life, connect with customers and spur innovation, all while nurturing and harnessing the creative power of tomorrow’s marketing leaders.
VP, Stew Leonard’s
The grandson of company founder Stew Leonard Sr., Tavello joined the family business in 2003 at age 15, working in every department across all stores. In college, he spent two summers interning with the company’s COO to learn about store operations. In 2016, Tavello became store director for Stew Leonard’s Danbury, Conn., location; three years later, he was promoted to VP of the chain’s seventh store, in Paramus, N.J. With a focus on increasing customer convenience, Tavello helped spearhead Stew’s Fresh Delivery Powered by Instacart grocery delivery service. Understanding the evolution of how customers shop, he has placed a heavy emphasis on ecommerce and using digital platforms to expand Stew Leonard’s market and social media influence for its customers, and is making it easier for them to shop both in-store and virtually. Despite his youth and status as the “boss’ kid,” Tavello has gained the entire company’s trust and respect through such actions as working holidays on the floor alongside his fellow associates.
Wallace is known as the “Experience Creator” at Decorworx, a family-owned branding, design, manufacturing and installation business in Cedar City, Utah, that focuses on the independent grocer. She is positioned to become CEO within the next five years. Wallace understands the importance of keeping up with trends, pushing decor boundaries and attracting the younger generation to local stores. Since companies must evolve to stay relevant and inspire customers, she believes that the design and execution of a grocery store will inspire shoppers to linger, and make their shopping an invigorating experience. Wallace ensures that Decorworx is on the cutting edge of technology and innovation. She has created one strategy to address the concerns of a branding and design sector of the company, while formulating a separate approach to address the challenges of manufacturing and product installation. Further, Wallace serves her rural community by executing her business plan for the local chamber of commerce to expand the area’s tech sector, among other activities.
Division Produce Merchandiser, The Kroger Co./Mid-Atlantic Division
In just his first year at the Mid-Atlantic division, Welton has effectively introduced inspired selling strategies through different merchandising techniques. He focused on implementing more flex space to help create multiweek promotions that drove sales. Welton’s major milestones included reformatting produce department layouts/standards, rolling out assortment adjustments, and harnessing the power of merchandising through incremental displays and themes, leading to positive same-store produce and floral sales during the second half of 2018. Welton also drove strong sales through Kroger’s exclusive brands, and created such winning programs as seasonally relevant items displayed at aggressive retails to drive units in stores, and two to three fresh items and one packaged item featured every four weeks to promote sales. As a result of Welton’s success, he has been asked to share best practices to improve total company results. His work shows that through incremental selling, Kroger can inspire customers to think beyond their shopping lists and fill their baskets with more produce.