EXCLUSIVE: SpartanNash Shares Game Plan for Indie Success

At annual expo, food solutions company exchanges best practices across supply chain and merchandising
Lynn Petrak
Senior Editor
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Our Family
SpartanNash's Our Family and OwnBrand private label lines continue to perform well at its independent grocer customers and at its company-owned stores.

The theme, “Playing to Win,” proved apt at the 2023 SpartanNash Food Solutions Expo, held July 26 and 27 at DeVos Place in Grand Rapids, Mich. Bringing together independent grocers, vendors and SpartanNash associates, the event showcased the ways that all players rely on teamwork to score points with consumers and get closer to the goal line of loyalty and better margins.

In an exclusive interview with Progressive Grocer, SpartanNash CEO Tony Sarsam agreed that the analogy is a fitting one in today’s operating environment. “There is a difference between playing to win and playing not to lose,” he said. “When businesses are struggling, it’s like a football team struggling in a game – you’ve got a three-point lead or two-point lead and start getting conservative and playing the game not to lose. And what happens invariably is that teams play not to lose and they lose, because something goes wrong. Businesses do the same thing, pulling back on this and that and not leaning in.”

[Read more: "SpartanNash Reopend Midwest Stores Under Family Fare Banner"]

On that point, the goal of the annual expo is to help independent grocers and their vendors lean in their plays and, ultimately up their game. As a company that operates its own grocery retail business and food wholesale business, SpartanNash had a unique perspective as it navigated challenges of the past few years, embarking on supply chain and merchandising transformations to help its partners.

“We came out of COVID and had this period of very rapid inflation and said, 'We’re in a new realm now.' We had to make sure that pricing makes sense for our shoppers and our customers,” explained Sarsam. “It worked out well ,and we have a great program now that helps us with stability on the overall inflationary impact and allows us to take next steps on the merchandising transformation.”

The energy at the two-day event reflected the times, he added. “It feels like we’re back into scratching and clawing and trying to figure out how to make a penny there and  nickel there – back to the phase of being more alert and more vigilant to grow the business,” Sarsam observed.

The expo was a way to do that, with opportunities for indies to connect directly with vendors across all product categories, including center store, bakery, deli, meat/seafood, produce, floral and GM/HBC. SpartanNash also presented educational sessions and tours of its model stores during the event. “We’re in the same business our customers are in. Our stores are typically larger, so we can experiment with things that would be more costly for them to experiment with. This way, they can learn from the way we’re positioning products and other things,” Sarsam remarked.

The show floor reflected today's hyper-competitive market and category trends. For example, SpartanNash’s expansive Our Family exhibit spotlighted the array of private label products that have resonated with shoppers seeking both value and high-quality experiences. “In 2022, we launched about 320 products – completely new items that we developed,” reported Dan Estelle director of OwnBrands at SpartanNash, noting that the evolution of private label has been notable and rapid over the past few years.

New product trends were also evident at vendor booths, from elevated comfort foods like cactus chili and white cheddar mac and cheese from Sandridge Crafted Foods to artistic doughnuts from Mel-O-Cream Donuts to microbiome-friendly products like KeVita’s probiotic refreshers, to name a few. SpartanNash also shared its many services available to independent grocers, such as its retail technology services, Our Family support services group and SpecialtyDirect online platform created in partnership with Specialty Food Partners. 

Grand Rapids, Mich.-based SpartanNash operates two complementary business segments – food wholesale and grocery retail. Its global supply chain network serves wholesale customers that include independent and chain grocers, national retail brands, e-commerce platforms, and U.S. military commissaries and exchanges. On the retail side, SpartanNash operates over 140 brick-and-mortar grocery stores, primarily under the banners of Family Fare, Martin's Super Markets and D&W Fresh Market, in addition to dozens of pharmacies and fuel centers. The company is No. 41 on The PG 100, Progressive Grocer’s 2023 list of the top food and consumables retailers in North America.

Scenes From 2023 SpartanNash Food Solutions Expo

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