Skip to main content

Indies Envision Future at NGA Event

Executive Conference and Public Policy Summit took place late last month
NGA State of the Independent Grocer Panel Main Image
One of the panels offered at NGA's recent Executive Conference and Public Policy Summit was the State of the Independent Grocer.

More than 250 independent grocery executives recently met for analysis, insights and discussions about the future of their industry and how politics is shaping their business, at the Executive Conference and Public Policy Summit held by the National Grocers Association (NGA) at the Grand Hyatt in Washington, D.C., Oct. 22-25, 2023. Attendance surpassed that of last year’s event.

The conference wrapped up its general session on Wednesday, Oct. 25 with The Future of Retail Leadership, an exploration of the ability and vision that will be required of the industry’s up-and-coming leaders. Moderated by Greg Ferrara, president and CEO of Washington, D.C.-based NGA, the panel consisted of Erin Horvath, COO of grocery wholesaler United Natural Foods Inc. (UNFI); Tim Lowe, president of Lowes Foods; and Kurt Schertle, COO of Weis Markets.

[Read more: "NGA Debuts Rapid Response Outreach Program"]

Highlights of the final session included Horvath’s advice: “Be flexible for the customer, for what they want their experience to be. Know their expectations and be able to match that.” 

Lowe observed: “America needs what you have. Brick and mortar’s not dead, [but] technology’s not going away. Be in the right place at the right time. … You can’t be everything to everyone, but you’d better be something to somebody.” 

According to Schertle: “I’m bullish on our future. We’ve earned a lot of trust over the last few years. ... We’re changing to adapt to the newer consumer.”

 “The insights shared by some of independent grocery’s most prominent leaders were the perfect way to close this year’s conference, as we all look ahead to the future and how best to keep this industry strong, successful and vibrant,” noted Ferrara. “We thank all of our attendees for taking the time to work on their businesses, and we appreciate our generous sponsors for their ongoing support of NGA and our industry.”

Additional Wednesday sessions were an NGA staff presentation on The Future of Food and Payments, including such programs as SNAP online, nutrition incentives, produce prescriptions and healthy benefit cards; The Future of Food Safety Regulation and Litigation, dealing with emerging scientific, regulatory and food safety legal trends; and The Future of Grocery Distribution, moderated by Mark Allen, president and CEO of the International Foodservice Distributors Association, who led a panel consisting of Dan Funk, COO and incoming president/CEO of Associated Wholesale Grocers, Certco President/CEO Amy Niemetscheck, URM Stores President/CEO Ray Sprinkle, and Scott Widtfeldt, EVP of sales, chain natural and independents at KeHE Distributors.

Sessions on Tuesday, Oct. 24 included presentations from SPINS on The Future of Consumer Demands and how grocers can deliver on shoppers’ changing needs; a panel led by Saint Joseph’s University Academy of Food Marketing Executive Director Joe Bivona on The Future of Talent, with strategies for attracting, managing and nurturing employees; The Future of Center Store, featuring discussion of category management, assortment and promotions; The Future of Fresh, discussing the direction of perimeter categories; and The Future of Retail Policy, a look at the ways in which government influences business operations. There were also breakout sessions that day on positioning; general merchandise; front end; traceability; deli, dairy and bakery; and emerging brands.

On Monday, Oct. 23, following welcome remarks from Ferrara and NGA Board Chairman Ted Balistreri, owner of Sendik’s Food Markets, Scott Moses, of Solomon Partners, led an executive panel exploring the State of the Independent Grocer, featuring Econo Health Path Markets CEO Enid Barillas, Wakefern Food Corp. Chief Customer Officer Steve Henig and North State Grocery Executive Director Richie Morgan. Panelists spoke about the status of the independent grocer amid the current economic and regulatory landscape, and how operators can further leverage and grow their unique value proposition within a dynamic marketplace.

Among the key subjects raised during this inaugural session was inflation, with Barillas noting, “Customers are spending the same amount of money per basket – they’re just buying less.” 

For his part, Henig weighed in on digital, observing, “Most people who experience your brand for the first time are probably doing it on an app.” 

As for what shopping will be like 20 years from now, Morgan predicted: “The basics are still going to be important. … Provide a place that people want to be, for gathering and human interaction.”

Several awards were also presented during the conference. 

Convening during the Executive Conference were the Women Grocers of America (WGA) Emerging Female Leader (EFL) share group and Executive Female Leaders (EXFL) Network meetings. EFL met Oct. 24-25 and EXFL convened Oct. 25 through midday Oct. 27. 

Summit sponsors were AR Marketing, BRdata, Claire’s, The Clorox Co., Ecolab, ECRS, Instacart, Kellanova, Kimberly Clark, KraftHeinz, Mondelez International, Nestle Purina, ReposiTrak, SPINS, TimeForge, UNFI and Upside.

This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds