Fresh Encounter’s Michael Needler Jr. Receives Thomas K. Zaucha Award

Honor bestowed ahead of NGA Show in Las Vegas
Bridget Goldschmidt
Managing Editor
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NGA Zaucha Award Main Image
L-R: NGA President and CEO Greg Ferrara, Fresh Encounter President and CEO Michael Needler Jr., Mondelēz International VP of Industry Development Rick Brindle, and former Fresh Encounter CEO Michael Needler Sr., the 2012 Thomas K. Zaucha Award recipient

The National Grocers Association (NGA), the trade association representing the independent grocery industry, has presented the Thomas K. Zaucha Entrepreneurial Excellence Award to Michael Needler Jr., president and CEO of Findlay, Ohio-based Fresh Encounter Inc. The award, sponsored by Deerfield, Ill.-based Mondelēz International Inc., goes annually to an independent retailer that demonstrates concrete examples of persistence, vision and creative entrepreneurship throughout the year. Needler received the award on Saturday, Feb 26 in Las Vegas, where the 2022 NGA Show is taking place through March 1.

By 2020, Needler had built a successful business of more than 50 grocery stores operating under a range of banners in Ohio and Indiana, among them Community Markets, Needler’s Fresh Market and Save A Lot. He recently purchased 51 additional Save A Lot stores in the Tampa Bay region of Florida

“Michael has shown the characteristics of a true entrepreneur throughout his career, but especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, as he was able to not only maintain the success of his already existing stores, but add more under Fresh Encounter,” noted Greg Ferrara, president and CEO of Washington, D.C.-based NGA

After buying the additional Save A Lot stores, Needler’s first priority was to bring Fresh Encounter’s culture to those stores, visiting all 51 locations, becoming acquainted with team members and sowing the seeds of trust so they knew their voices would be heard. He went on to establish extensive training protocols for store teams so they could implement the company’s values and mission; this led to an improved customer service. 

“Michael grew up working in the grocery business with his father and over the years has used his passion and sharp business sense to build a remarkable and diverse company grounded on solid values,” added Ferrara

Since 2009, the Thomas K. Zaucha Award, presented by Mondelēz International and named for NGA’s first president and CEO, has been given annually to an independent grocer who exemplifies persistence, vision and creative entrepreneurship.

In January, Needler testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law on the devastating effect of food supply chain consolidation on independent grocers. This issue has been a major focus for NGA. 

On Monday, Feb. 28, the 36th annual Best Bagger Championship, sponsored by PepsiCo, will take place at the 2022 NGA Show at Las Vegas’ Caesars Forum Convention Center. Television personality Akbar Gbajabiamila will emcee the event. The contest brings together the best grocery baggers from across the United States to compete for a grand prize of $10,000. Contestants are judged on speed of bagging, technique, weight distribution in the bag, and style. 

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