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FMI CONNECT: Top Store Managers Awarded


The Food Marketing Institute today announced the winners of the 2016 Store Manager Awards on the second day of the FMI Connect expo in Chicago during a keynote session that included a Q&A with celebrity chefs Mario Batali and Robert Irvine.

After receiving 85 applications, FMI narrowed the list to 10 finalists and scored Store Manager Award nominees based on their ability to generate sales growth, provide exceptional customer service and/or community relations, execute in-store innovation and demonstrate team leadership.

“Our Store Manager Awards recognize the achievements of top operators who are truly invested in their local communities and we’re so pleased to honor and celebrate the unique talents among these grocery heroes,” said Leslie Sarasin, FMI president and CEO. “In order to more widely share the stories of our finalists, FMI hosted its second-annual Store Manager People’s Pick Award Facebook contest and doubled the engagement compared to last year, with nearly 8,000 votes during the week-long contest, plus hundreds of comments, shares and likes.”

Batali and Irvine joined Sarasin and FMI Chairman Kevin Davis in presenting the awards in the following categories:

Category A: (1-49 Stores)

Alberto Ayala, Northgate Gonzalez Market, Los Angeles

Ayala’s firm ties to the community and his commitment to catering to an urban environment with diverse tastes contributed to his success. His employees know that his core business priorities are differentiation, operational excellence and a winning environment. Ayala has opened several stores under the chain, and he leaves each one as a profitable operation.

Category B: (50-199 Stores)

Piotr Soja, Big Y Foods Inc., Northampton, Mass.

For Soja, going the extra mile for his staff delivered more profit to the bottom line and earned his store No. 1 in the company for employee satisfaction and engagement. He has shown the highest degree of commitment to creating and continuing partnerships with local growers, manufacturers and vendors.

Category C: (200+ Stores)

Josh Birmingham, The Kroger Co. Columbus Division, Holland, Ohio

Building a solid staff and acknowledging the team members’ achievements is Birmingham’s secret for record sales in establishing Kroger’s first Marketplace store. Birmingham blended two store cultures together, and his team of 260 associates served more than 1.5 million customers in 2015.

Category D: (International)

Ted Pigeon, Overwaitea Food Group, Victoria, B.C., Canada

Pigeon has focused on sound communications throughout his 36-year career at 15 different stores in nine British Columbia communities. Pigeon increased sales by 12.7 percent over the last year, and in addition to increasing sales, he has raised store standards by increasing productivity, executing programs, insisting on store cleanliness, minimizing holes and increasing profitability.

2016 Store Manager People's Pick Award

Jon Wieser, Festival Foods, Green Bay, Wis.

Wieser and his team are active in Green Bay Public Schools and the New Community Shelter, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and even serve as math tutors at a local elementary school. Wieser had garnered 2,893 Facebook votes at the conclusion of the contest. Wieser received a unique award and $500 to celebrate his store employees.

The 2016 Store Manager Awards winners each receive a $1,000-prize and a crystal award.

Smarter, simpler meals

Sarasin interviewed Batali and Irvine on a host of topics ranging from their food influences and early work experiences to their thoughts on how retailers can help grocery shoppers make better choices.

“Presenting good food with simplicity is an expression of joy,” Batali said. “Make it simpler, more realizable and do it with a smile.”

Both celebrity chefs urged grocers to make better use of social media to connect with consumers. “You want to tell people what you’re doing and what you’re not doing,” Irvine said. “It’s a great way to drive people into your stores.” He said supermarkets should be “a lot more fun, brighter, [with] easy access – an experience, not a mundane store.”

Like what’s offered at his popular Eataly dining-retail experiences in Chicago and New York, Batali said shoppers should “constantly be hit with tastes and samples” as part of a culinary learning experience, with recipes and cooking demonstrations that “show them they can be a rock star in their own homes.”

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