Ladies First

Progressive Grocer proudly honors another truly outstanding contingent of female industry leaders with its annual Top Women in Grocery awards.

One of the great clichés of awards programs is that every year, the submissions get better, but in the case of Top Women in Grocery, it happens to be true.

Ever since Progressive Grocer first introduced this industry-leading awards platform in 2007, the judging panel has not only seen the quality of candidates steadily rise, but also the number of worthy candidates — leading to our largest-ever pool of winners this year, with 204.

One of the main reasons for these increases in quality and number has been the continuing proliferation of women throughout the grocery industry, from entry-level positions to the top slots. Along the way, they've excelled in such traditionally female niches as communications and human resources while moving into dynamic roles previously held only by men — construction, information technology, transportation and warehouse facilities management, among others — with stellar results.

Instead of dwelling on the historical gender gap in the food industry, however, our Top Women in Grocery program also fulfills a unique purpose: to mark — indeed celebrate — the continuing steps to close it while prominently recognizing the critical roles our honorees play within an industry that touches each and every American's life in some way or another on a daily basis.

As always, one of the most rewarding aspects of reviewing the hundreds of nominations is getting to know a little about the remarkable women profiled in each of them. Whether it's taking to the road with her family to support the rollout of a product line she's passionate about, organizing and skillfully executing new programs and strategies in record time and under budget, or just offering personal support to the husband of a loyal store customer battling cancer, these invaluable members of their companies are making a huge difference to their overall success.

One inspiring thought that we kept in mind during the demanding judging process is that Top Women in Grocery exist across all walks of industry, even beyond our three overarching categories of Senior-level Executives, Rising Stars and Store Managers. As one grocery clerk wrote to us earlier this year: "Every day and throughout the night, thousands of wonderful women are working long and hard in the grocery industry.

They receive, stock and sell all of the grocery merchandise. These grand women greet and serve the companies' guests 365 days a year. They are the true heart and soul of a grocery company, [as] they provide the very foundation on which all others rely and progress from."

While our 2012 Top Women in Grocery honorees in these pages represent a mere fraction of the many women who contribute to the grocery industry's success, the eloquent tribute shared above reminds us to be thankful for all of the unsung female associates who do their jobs admirably in anonymity — and who could, one day, take their rightful places in a future edition of PG's Top Women in Grocery.

Senior-Level Executives

Tanya Domier


Assuming the post of COO in late 2010, Domier set about changing the face of Advantage Sales and Marketing by crafting a new company strategy focused on five "pillars" and implementing key initiatives against each pillar. She reorganized the leadership team for top talent, drove the launch of an expanded entry-level training program touching all divisions, and established a business development team; introduced a pay-for-performance culture and drove corporate communication and talent training initiatives that increased associate engagement and talent across the organization; restructured the sales and marketing teams to sharpen senior-level focus on clients and customers, driving a measurable increase in service satisfaction, and launched a research initiative to identify industry best practices in SMA outsourcing; aided in the development of LEAN practices for the organization, from technology to staffing, that yielded better service not only to clients and customers, but also a better shopper experience; and led significant revenue growth in both the sales and marketing divisions, as well as guiding talent to drive clear sales results on the existing portfolio. Domier's industry affiliations include Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE), Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA).

Sharon Kieffer


As managing partner of 2X Consumer Products Growth Partners, Kieffer co-leads not only branded consumer products investments and partnership activities, but also all aspects of the private equity firm. A visionary in CPG innovation and brand building, she worked closely during 2011 with Beanitos Inc., a bean-based chip with nutritional cred. Across 2X's five active investments, Kieffer was a key contributor to 2011 average revenue growth of 66 percent versus the prior year. In addition, her contributions have resulted in 2X's position as a top investment firm and clear choice of entrepreneurs seeking growth capital of $1 million to $10 million, making twice as many investments in the past 24 months as the next most active firm. Despite her busy workload, Kieffer manages to stay involved in leadership activities in her community and industry, as well as raising her 8-year-old twin sons.

Francesca Weissman


Responsible for budget oversight of the entire New York metro division of Stop & Shop, Weissman joined the company in May 2011. During this brief time period, she was able to establish a finance function within a newly formed division. She also amply demonstrated Stop & Shop's core values through her commitment to people development and promoting a performance culture focused on learning, motivation, rewards and recognition that enables teams to work at their best; highlighting women's issues within the division by being an active participant in the company's local WAV (Women Adding Value) events; orchestrating and embedding the process and tools that ensure business performance is monitored, disciplined financial controls achieved, and value-added analysis created, to enable optimal decision-making; and working with the executive management team to help drive sales and reduce costs. While achieving all of that, Weissman was nominated to take part in parent company Ahold USA's Diversity Leadership Council.

Libby Christman


Various projects that Christman has spearheaded during 2011 include streamlining return-to-work programs for all locations and improving processes by applying technology and automation so that retail management engages in cost-saving measures; ensuring that medical provider lists are up to date and used by all facilities; and increasing engagement with the claims management group to improve claims outcomes, which includes the development of defense counsel guidelines and best practices for claims management. On a larger scale, she spent the year implementing a telephonic nurse triage program to benefit injured associates in distribution and retail locations. The program provides immediate access to a medical professional as soon as an occupational injury is reported to management. She also provided oversight for the development of crisis management teams in each Ahold USA operating division and the consolidation of business continuity management (BCM) into a corporate support function. A frequent lecturer on risk and safety at national conferences, Christman also shares her time in a formal mentoring program.

Tracy Pawelski


In 2011, Pawelski, who serves as the spokeswoman for Ahold USA and coordinates the company's leadership visibility, helped to build four divisions of communicators into high-performing, highly collaborative teams. Across Ahold USA and the divisions, the teams fielded more than 1,500 media calls through the end of the year. She additionally played a lead role in the company's inaugural Sustainability Summit, which explored how to better collaborate with suppliers in support of this goal. What's more, under her continuing guidance as the U.S. lead for community engagement, charitable giving across the four divisions exceeded $51 million. Pawelski also helped manage the Our Family Foundation, which provides charitable donations to local organizations that fight hunger, help children and build healthy communities, and her team launched a charitable vendor partnership in 2011 that has so far raised $8 million to support legacy charitable programs. Other industry commitments include serving on the board of the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank and chairing the Food Marketing Institute's Communications Committee.

Patty King


King was instrumental bringing the Ahold U.S. controller's office, which supports a $25 billion operation, to the next level during 2011. During that time, she completed the design and implementation of a world-class facility that focuses on the fiduciary responsibilities of accounting and reporting and risk and controls, while providing an environment for associates to develop and grow in the organization. King is also an active member of several committees and treasurer for the company's not-for-profit organizations, responsible for the financial reporting and income tax reporting. Further, she's part of a team that merged two of Ahold USA's charitable giving foundations and is setting the strategic direction of the newly formed foundation. For these reasons, King was invited to participate in Ahold's Global Leadership Academy in 2011.

Lili Mahlab


In her work with in-store marketing network AMG FrontLine, Mahlab oversees revenue for in-store networks and manages marketing costs across North America. Over the past year, she delivered record profitability for FrontLine, with direct involvement in bringing $5 million in new client relationships to the company. Under Mahlab's leadership, FrontLine joined forces with Adflow Health Networks to replace traditional in-store blood pressure monitors with Personal Health Centers that provide customized product recommendations and coupons. These Web-enabled, multi-functional biometric kiosks have since been rolled out in such major retailers as Walmart and Kroger. Mahlab also helped five new female hires become high-performing retail marketing executives. A member of the Network of Executive Women (NEW) and active in National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS) annual meetings, Mahlab dedicates her personal time to such charitable groups as Hadassah; contributes, with her sisters, annual scholarships to Hebrew University in Jerusalem; and actively supports indigent and homeless children in New York, Africa and Israel.

Janette Davis


In 2011, Davis' role at revenue reconciliation and cash office management software provider Balance Innovations changed radically. As the company's strategy shifted, she lost several experienced team members to promotions, gained three new employees and assumed a host of new responsibilities, including implementation oversight for an additional product, and management of third-party vendors. The Kroger veteran was also a key player in a customer implementation that featured significant technology developments and resulted in a $20 million annual cost savings for the customer. Outside of work, Davis is a member of the Network of Executive Women (NEW) and an avid volunteer and contributor to local charities, giving her time and energy to Harvesters, the Women's Employment Network, the Wounded Warrior Project, Kansas City Corporate Challenge and a coat drive for her local homeless shelter.

Donna Frazier


Responsible for creating and continually achieving the core mission of the Category Management Association, with a particular focus on strategic planning, Frazier advances professional standards in category management, working with members and developing new products and services to meet their needs. Over the past year, she drove exponential growth in membership, management/staff, industry certification and conference attendance. Additionally, in keeping with the association's goal to expand into more markets, its conferences in both the United States and Latin America were huge successes, attracting large numbers of attendees.

Teri Llach


Llach worked with Blackhawk Network partner retailer Giant Eagle in 2011 to develop and launch an award-winning PayPower Visa debit card tied to the grocer's "fuelperks!" loyalty program. Additionally, under Llach's supervision, during the largest gift-giving season of the year, Blackhawk joined forces with HGTV's Michele Beschen to help shoppers turn gift cards into personalized, one-of-a-kind gifts through a series of local and national print, broadcast and online interviews in which Beschen highlighted simple, creative, do-it-yourself ways for consumers to add a personal touch to gift cards. The campaign resulted in more than 20 million news outlet impressions. Llach also oversaw the company's social media platforms, which, through a combination of blogger outreach, blog partnerships and gift card giveaway promotions, generated more than 28 million impressions. As part of her responsibilities in this area, Llach introduced the social media destination Gift Cards Rock!, an online community for people who love to give and receive gift cards. In just under three months, the community generated 14.4 million impressions on Twitter and more than 128,600 Facebook impressions. An avid painter who has created several works for charity auctions over the last few years, Llach had several of her paintings auctioned off to support the American Heart Association this past year.

Michelle Guswiler


Guswiler established the customer care organization as a first-of-its-kind entity within Coca-Cola in 2011 after the company acquired its largest independent bottler, CCE. Her team developed a Coca-Cola Refreshments-wide strategy for becoming customers' most valued supplier, drove significant cross-functional process improvements to enhance customer relationships and service delivery to customers, and implemented operational improvements within the customer care organization that yielded both significantly higher service levels to customers and productivity and efficiency gains. Recognized within the company for building a successful productivity program, significantly improving quality and safety in manufacturing, playing a key leadership role in helping Coca-Cola receive numerous Supplier of the Year awards from key customers, and considerably boosting Coca-Cola's ranking in critical industry customer surveys, Guswiler is a member of Food Marketing Institute (FMI). Somehow, this consummate professional and single mom of three (with a fourth due this month) also finds time to help out at Girls Scouts of Atlanta.

Debbie Buckner


Buckner successfully ran a 4,500-person operations team for the United States and Canada, executing more than 400,000 events in 2011. Under Buckner's leadership, the team expanded its coverage to include specialized talent for targeted programs such as tech advisor, health & beauty advisor, home improvement specialist and auto advisor. The success of these programs allowed the team to expand its portfolio offerings even further to include parking lot events, "retailtainment" programs, grand-opening events, and themed event programs paired with targeted marketing campaigns to improve the shopper experience. As a result of the additional coverage and expanded service offerings, Buckner's team achieved a 185 percent sales lift on products associated with events for Crossmark's core client in 2011. Buckner also planned, created and launched the events program in Canada for Walmart in May 2011. A key reason that Buckner's team was able to achieve client objectives so effectively was the implementation of an internal shared communications platform on CrossmarkConnect, the company's intranet system. A four-time winner of the Crossmark Circle of Excellence Award, Buckner is a founding Crossmark member of the Network of Executive Women's (NEW) north Texas branch.

Sheila Gamble


Backed by more than 50 members of her client services team, which manages clients representing consumer goods companies that generate a combined $300 billion-plus in annual retail sales, Gamble is spearheading the rollout of Crossmark's new Crossview system, a proprietary business process for managing the headquarters/ retail business of the company's top clients. She's also taken a leadership role in a major corporate initiative to centralize financial services that, ultimately, will encompass deduction management, order processing, contract generation and order to cash. A member of the Network of Executive Women (NEW) who leads the Crossmark Network of Women group, Gamble has held a variety of committee and fundraising roles.

Millie Muczko


As the manager of Crossmark's training and development and call center functions, Muczko has created and launched more than 158 e-learning modules, 88 printable job aids, 165 videos and six classroom courses, along with devising a training program for more than 7,500 Walgreens managers. During the past year, she managed a call center supporting more than 27,000 retail associates, handling inbound/ outbound call campaigns while facilitating day-to-day retail functions. Uniquely, the call center overseen by Muczko also supports the onboarding of all Crossmark associates. A member of the Network of Executive Women (NEW) and the American Society for Training and Development, Muczko donates her free time to the ASPCA and the North Texas Vizsla Rescue program.

Carla Cooper


Cooper traveled widely throughout the country during 2011 on behalf of global retail branding partner Daymon Worldwide, meeting with CEOs and other top leaders at key retailers and suppliers. At industry meetings and speaking engagements, she championed the need for private-brand programs to develop more strategic approaches to branding and marketing. Within Daymon, she spearheaded the development of a new five-year strategic plan that will continue to elevate the company's position as a full service partner for global retail branding and sourcing, and led the charge in developing a more customized approach within Daymon's traditional brokerage model. Additionally, her active participation in Food Marketing Institute (FMI), the Women's Foodservice Forum, and other industry organizations and events helped open up a new dialogue about the future of private brands and retail services.

Mary Jo Cook


2011 was a monumental year for Fair Trade USA, which decided to part ways with Fairtrade International and revamp its standards to deliver substantially greater impact to farming communities. During this time, Cook helped to develop and promote the organization's newly redesigned certification label, which became, for the first time, a globally recognized mark. Under Cook's direction, Fair Trade USA developed an awareness campaign to help consumers and partners alike understand the concept and unite in a mission to empower farmers around the world. In support of this mission, she helped to develop the simple yet effective message "Every Purchase Matters." This tagline was used to increase awareness and understanding of Fair Trade during Fair Trade Month in October. Cook also helped build on Fair Trade USA's history of development work, focusing on deepening its commitment to small-scale farmers through "Co-op Link," an initiative that creates innovative partnerships with global financial institutions, industry partners, non-government organizations, social entrepreneurs and in-country service providers to strengthen cooperatives at the ground level. In addition to her business career, Cook has contributed her time to many local nonprofit organizations, including LeaderSpring, which provides leadership development and management training to executive directors.

Jackie Parker


Having worked at Manteo, N.C.-based Food-A-Rama since she was 12, Parker has grown up in the grocery business. She's been operating the store — one of the first full-service grocery stores in the outer banks of North Carolina — since her father retired in 2000 and is currently grooming her oldest son, Brandon, to eventually take the helm and continue the store's legacy. Responsible for all activity that affects the store's bottom line and growth strategy, including sales planning and execution, pricing, promotions, procurement, development, hiring, training, and day-to-day store management, Parker over the past 12 months has navigated the company through challenging new waters. An older IGA store, essentially in the same parking lot, converted to a Piggly Wiggly and was upgraded with larger cases in meat, produce, dairy and frozen, as well as updated lighting, flooring, décor, and a new signage program and advertising campaign. Instead of retreating or avoiding the potential threat of a new competitor, Parker met it head-on, giving Food-A-Rama a remodel of its own, including new décor and flooring. Even when faced with flooding and power outages caused by Hurricane Irene, she rose to the occasion in a big way by leading Food-A-Rama through its best sales year ever: an 11 percent increase.

Leslie G. Sarasin


While she isn't directly responsible for a supermarket company, Sarasin provides visionary guidance for Food Marketing Institute (FMI), the association serving as the voice of food retail. Under her leadership, FMI has become a forward-focused and member-centered organization committed to helping supermarkets focus on their role of feeding families and enriching lives. Her collaborative spirit has infused FMI with a renewed commitment to help its members creatively address the critical industry issues of the day, including food safety and the emerging importance of health and wellness. Her major achievements at FMI in 2011 include successfully advocating for national legislation calling for debit card swipe fee reform; strategically aligning FMI's departments to reflect retail food industry and industry priorities such as the creation of the private brands department and the Center of Retail Food Safety and Defense; spearheading, in collaboration with the Partnership for a Healthier America, a strategic conversation between government officials and food retail industry leaders to address the opportunities and challenges of increasing access to healthier food in underserved areas; overseeing FMI participation as a MyPlate strategic partner with the U.S. Department of Agriculture; receiving the Food Safety Innovation Award from the International Association for Food Protection (IAFP) in May 2011 for Rapid Recall Exchange, an FMI program for prompt and accurate product recall notification; and providing key leadership in collaborative ventures with partner associations across numerous events, initiatives and programs.

"Leslie Sarasin has transformed FMI into an organization that serves the food industry more effectively in all of the important ways it serves the member companies and their supply partners," says Ric Jurgens, chairman and CEO of West Des Moines, Iowa-based Hy-Vee and FMI past chairman. "Under her leadership, the organization is stronger than ever in dealing with the critical political issues we've had to address. The organization is the best it's ever been at educating food industry executives at every level."

Laura L. Malisani


In her role as treasurer, Gary and Leo's co-owner Malisani is responsible for all finance and HR operations for the three-store independent. She's also the IT point person, researching and coordinating upgrades to the company's store system, and ensuring PCI compliance. During 2011, Malisani brought Havre, Mont.-based Gary and Leo's into the digital world, working closely with IGA's corporate team to develop a new online presence for the company with the new tools made available to IGA retailers last year. Because of her success in this area, she accepted invitations to speak at both the IGA Rally and National Grocers Association conference this past February. Malisani has been chairman of the board of the IGA NW group for the past two years, as well as being an active member of PEO, mentoring college students via work study groups and participating in the Montana State University Alumni Association.

Lora Dikun


This past year was a busy one for Dikun. First, she helped start up the Team Member Care Fund, a newly formed nonprofit organization that provides grants to team members in need. It has already helped nearly 200 team members. She also launched several "Live Well" programs, including "Live Well Advocates" and "Live Healthy Challenge." Making healthy living a priority among employees, Dikun has ensured that biometric screenings are made available to all of Giant Eagle's team members to encourage preventive care. She also launched a chain-wide smoking cessation program, implemented registered dietitians, made flu shots available to all team members and got the company to open on-site fitness facilities. Meanwhile, Dikun has improved benefits programs for both union and non-union retail team members. She is a four-time winner of Giant Eagle's Team Achievement Award and has received the President's Award, the company's highest honor. Outside of Giant Eagle, Dikun has received the Golden Rule Award for work with Girls Hope. She's also the founding president of the Young Leadership Board for Girls Hope, among many other instances of community involvement.

Michele Meyer


Under Meyer's leadership, Small Planet Foods has experienced steady growth over the past few years with its Cascadian Farm, Muir Glen and Larabar brands. In fact, since 2000, General Mills' natural and organic business has grown at a 13 percent compound annual growth rate. As president of the Small Planet Foods division, Meyer reports to Ian Friendly, EVP and COO. She is also a VP of the company. Prior to becoming president of Small Planet Foods in 2007, Meyer served as VP and marketing director in the Big G cereal division for strategic growth channels and adult cereal. She has received General Mills' internal Champions Award (the company's highest honor) and has also earned a General Mills Excellence in Marketing Award (a GIMMY) and a Sales Achievement Award. In addition to her responsibilities at General Mills, Meyer is a member of the Organic Trade Association and a board member of Common Bond Communities.

Shelly Sponholz


As Giant Eagle continues to grow, so does Sponholz's role with the company. As SVP of real estate and development, she was accountable for more than 200 development projects during 2011, including the opening of multiple new stores under the Giant Eagle, Market District, Valu King and GetGo banners. A strong proponent of sustainable operations, Sponholz and her team supported the construction and opening of CNG fueling stations, Giant Eagle's first solar roof, the installation of electric charging stations, and many other environmental activities to reduce waste and drive profit. Sponholz has received a Pennsylvania Best 50 Women in Business Award, and is an active member of Core Net Global and the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC), where she sits on boards and committees related to real estate and development. She is also a member of the Pittsburgh Arts Council Board.

Stephanie White


White leads a team that develops and executes merchandising strategies for Giant Eagle, including assortment, space planning, pricing, promotions, procurement, and related information systems and technology. It's an all-encompassing job that has traditionally belonged to men, but White has made it her own — with the help of a hard-working team. White and her staff have recently implemented a number of processes, tools and technologies that help provide efficiencies, drive sales and profit, and increase customer loyalty. Those tools include MarketPartners, Giant Eagle's vendor portal; DealCentral, an electronic deal negotiation tool; Merchandising Insights, an analytic tool used by the category teams to drive business decisions; Vendor Funds Visibility, an analytic tool that provides category teams visibility into vendor funding; Scan Based Trading, the process by which suppliers maintain ownership of inventory within retailers' warehouses or stores until items are scanned at the point of sale; Micro Space Management, enabling store-specific planograms based on customer demand; and Fixed Replenishment, enhancements to processes and tools that achieve more efficient product flow by replenishing product closer to customer demand. White is especially proud of the implementation of nutritional messaging in Giant Eagle's Columbus, Ohio, and Maryland stores, as this program supports Giant Eagle's goal of changing consumer behavior and health outcomes by providing nutritional information and guidance at the shelf. White is also VP of Giant Eagle's Women's Business Resource Group and a member of Giant Eagle's inclusion and diversity board. In addition to her busy roles at Giant Eagle, she serves on Nielsen's Retail Advisory Board and the Let's Move Pittsburgh board of directors. She also lends her time to many charitable organizations and enjoys running. At the end of the day, though, she maintains that her "passion" is being a mom to her three young children.

Tina C. Flowers


Under Flowers' management, Giant Eagle continues to be the national industry leader (sales per location) for third-party gift card sales. In calendar year 2011, the retailer's third-party gift card sales achieved a record level. Flowers recently assumed management responsibility for payment strategies, GetGo fleet and business-to-business initiatives with minimal additional resources. She managed a company-wide interdepartmental team that developed and implemented chainwide the GetGo surcharge-free ATM program in approximately 129 GetGo locations. In 2011, she was appointed executive director of Giant Eagle's Women's Business Resource Group, and she mentored a team member through the Giant Eagle "Connections" mentoring program. She was recognized with two 2012 Paybefore Awards: Best in Category and Top PrePaid Retailer (Blackhawk Network and Giant Eagle Gift Card Teams), as well as a 2011 Most Powerful and Influential Woman of Pennsylvania Award, which was granted by the National Diversity Council. In addition to her work at Giant Eagle, Flowers is active in numerous trade associations and engages in volunteer work in her spare time. She is also a soloist for the Wesleyan Choir at St. Paul's United Methodist Church.

Cassie Green


With the quirky title "owner/head stock girl" at Green Grocer Chicago, Green trains and manages a staff of six employees, works with more than 90 vendors, and heads up marketing, PR and outreach to the community. She and her husband co-own the business, which they refer to as the "original micro market in Chicago." Last year, sales at Green Grocer Chicago rose 18 percent, while profits grew by about 15 percent. Meanwhile, Green donated more than S3,000 to local philanthropies in cash or product. A big proponent of education, Green serves on the development board of a local public/charter school, the Academy for Global Citizenship. She also teaches a bi-weekly after-school cooking program focused on healthy cooking at a local public school. Green was recently honored with a Chicago magazine "Green Award," and last year was named a "Remarkable Person" by the Chicago Tribune. She has spoken at several universities, MBA organizations and the Chicago Dietetics Association, and has served on panels at the Good Food Festival, among other events.

Mary C. Sophos


In her current role at the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), Sophos has been at the forefront of some of the industry's most important initiatives and activities, including the "Facts Up Front" labeling program; the move to, and continuation of, an issue-driven, project-based internal system; and her continued leadership of GMA's strategic planning. Taking on her present position in January 2010 after serving as GMA's SVP and chief government affairs officer since 1993, Sophos coordinates strategic planning and policy development across the organization. She was previously assistant secretary of legislative affairs and deputy assistant secretary for legislative affairs for the U.S. Treasury, and also assistant minority counsel to the House Ways and Means Committee, budget associate staff and legislative director to U.S. Rep. Tom Loeffler (R-Texas), and legislative assistant to the director of the Office of Management and Budget. In addition to working closely with the FDA, HHS, USDA and the White House, among others, Sophos sits on the board of the Congressional Institute and is a member of the Powerscourt Group.

Andrea Karns


Karns oversees all advertising and marketing of Mechanicsburg, Pa.-based Karns Quality Foods, a seven-store independent located in the crosshairs of a fiercely competitive central Pennsylvania marketing territory. Her particular specialty is the development and maintenance of electronic marketing tools such as e-newsletters and social media. During 2011, Karns flexed her e-marketing muscle with the deployment of several successful online initiatives. She revamped the grocer's website to add functionality and make it more user-friendly, and grew the company's Facebook presence by strongly engaging members through regular dialogue and promotions such as the grocer's weekly "Facebook Friday." She also significantly increased the subscriber base of the chain's weekly e-newsletter, which now has more than 40,000 subscribers. During this busy time, Karns, who's active in a variety of community groups and organizations, completed her master's degree in food marketing at St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia.

Emily E. Hynson


Hynson is co-owner of Hall's Great Valu Supermarket along with siblings Reed Hall, Tammy Wilder and April Gray. The fifth-generation store has served the Colonial Beach, Va., area for the past 114 years, and following four expansions is now 28,000 square feet. Hynson oversees finance, public relations, e-marketing strategies and strategic planning, and is active in day-to-day operations. Last year, she positioned her store to successfully compete with the arrival of a new Walmart Supercenter, posting sales growth of 15 percent, which she's been able to skillfully maintain with a three-phase plan encompassing customer service, operations and marketing. In addition to implementing an aggressive new pricing strategy for some 7,000 items, Hynson presided over a seamless remerchandising of the center store to enhance gross profit in each category. Her tenacity was further revealed via the establishment of an events calendar that has since become tremendously successful alongside an overhaul and upgrade of store equipment that brought forth expense reductions across the board. The result: The more efficient store leveraged its value items and community roots to drive traffic in the face of the Walmart opening, and the outstanding service and new strategies implemented under Hynson's direction have kept shoppers coming back.

Jessica Gasser


Gasser oversees HR, payroll and office services for the company's two retail brands. She is also a member of Kings' executive committee. Last year, Gasser was selected to oversee several new initiatives at the company — and her successful efforts landed her a major promotion. First, she was chosen as the leader of a special project — Innovation Lab — whose team created, developed and launched a new "event-driven" concept in a 45-day time period, thereby increasing sales on average $1,000 per week in two departments. She also successfully launched the Online Home Shopping concept for the company and transitioned the initiative to a store manager for ongoing oversight, all while continuing in her role as senior director, team support, development and culture. Gasser's accomplishments resulted in her promotion to VP. She also earned numerous company awards: In January 2011 she received the inaugural award for the Corporate Office Associate of the Month, and in June, she received the Kings Team Award for Innovation. Gasser is a member of Food Marketing Institute (FMI), Employers Association of New Jersey (EANJ) and the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD). She is also a certified facilitator for Partners in Leadership training programs. Outside of work, Gasser volunteers her time as a troop leader with the Girl Scouts and Brownies, as well as being an active parent volunteer with the PTA.

Michele Dowling Johnson


Johnson has double the responsibility of most retail marketers, as she oversees the marketing strategy for two important brands: Kings and Balducci's. In 2011 her many major accomplishments included creating and launching Kings brand positioning and a logo to all marketing touchpoints (in-store, in home and online); launching a new website with rich product and recipe content, which increased daily visitors by more than 300 percent; relaunching Kings' social media presence with a new Facebook page and Twitter handle; launching a text-messaging recipe campaign, which drove a product-level sales increase of up 140 percent; and launching a new in-store brand experience at Kings' Bedminster, N.J., location (the concept is slated to be rolled out across the chain. Outside of work, she is involved with her church as chair of public outreach, co-leader of a women's group and a Sunday school teacher. She also helps coach youth field hockey, a sport that she played at the varsity level at Cornell University.

Kari Olsen


Kari Olsen and her brother, Dallas Krause Jr., co-own Krause's Supervalu, which consists of three stores located in the North Dakota towns of Hazen, Washburn and Garrison. Olsen manages all financial and operational aspects of the company, and is also the lead HR executive. She also sits on the company's board, and is heavily involved in ad planning and promotional activity. Olsen's efforts helped drive an overall sales increase of more than 15 percent this past year. Among these efforts were a customer service initiative to boost customer satisfaction, and streamlining the deli and bakery departments. Outside of the store, Olsen is an active board member and past president of the North Dakota Grocers Association.

Kris Kowalski Christiansen


Christiansen has been a key part of Kowalski's since its inception in 1983. As COO, she oversees all aspects of store and company operations. This includes having responsibility for more than 1,200 employees, nine Kowalski Markets stores, a Cub Foods store, Kowalski's Transportation Co., a central production and baking facility, and Catering by Kowalski's. Last year, in spite of a soft economy, Kowalski's grew its customer count and margins under Christiansen's guidance — particularly in the perishables departments, which are her specialty. She continues to seek out and support innovative entrepreneurs in the communities Kowalski's serves. One example is Lemongrass Bol de la Vie, an Asian concept that she brought into the Woodbury, Minn., store as an eatery. Under Christiansen's leadership, Kowalski's received several honors during 2011, including Progressive Grocer's Outstanding Independent Retailer of the Year, the Minnesota Dietetics Association Golden Apple Award and St. Thomas University's Entrepreneur Awards Family Business of the Year. Actively involved in a number of community groups, Christiansen serves as a board member of the Minnesota Grocers Association and a lead organizer for Minnesota Active Citizenship Initiative.

Alison Pordash


For center-of-the-plate products at Kroger, Pordash is at the center of the action. In her position, she manages multimillion-dollar sales and profit budgets, managing meat and seafood merchandising, commodity price negotiation, and category management across 20 retail divisions. She was promoted to her current role in 2011, after holding a variety of leadership positions at Kroger. Already, she has reorganized the commodity side of the company's meat and seafood business, with a new structure designed to leverage category management in commodity procurement. Over the past several months, Pordash has traveled to plants around the country learn about more about the meat and seafood sector. A founding member of Kroger's Cultural Council, she's also a member of the Corporate Advisory Board, United Way, the Fine Arts Fund of Cincinnati and her local school system.

Ann Reed


In an era in which making and adhering to a budget is critical, Reed has an important and highly visible role in achieving sales and profit for the Fry's division of Kroger in Arizona. It's her responsibility to oversee all of the store department budgets, which encompass functions including sales, gross profit, merchandising, logistics, warehousing, pricing, marketing and advertising. She's a numbers person to be sure, but also must be a people person, in that she works closely with merchandisers on the goals of achieving their profit budgets and leading change and innovation within the merchandising area. Reed is considered tops in her field because of her effectiveness: Under her direction, in 2011 the Fry's division reached its budgeted sales numbers and scored particularly well in market share growth in wine, cut fruit and seafood. She also helped transition the division to new centralized processes, including a new ad format. Within the company, she has been an executive sponsor of the Fry's women's leadership affinity group and is considered by many associates to be a mentor. Additionally, Reed has been recognized as one of the Top 50 Women in Business in Arizona by Who's Who in Business.

Dana Zurcher


Zurcher recently reached her one-year mark as VP of operations in the Mid-South division, and a retrospective shows that she made a swift impact. In the past year, the division reported improvements in several operational metrics, such as an increase in key retailing recertification rates (from 77 percent to 85 percent). In addition, out-of-stocks went down by 5 percent, while total shrink declined as well. OSHA accidents, too, were down in her division, which boasted the best reduction performance within the Kroger organization. Zurcher knows of what she speaks in part because of her own experience at the company as a district manager, director of retail operations, group VP of retail operations and Southern regional VP of operations, along with stints as co-manager, store manager, perishable coordinator, division floral merchandiser and operations coordinator. Currently, she supervises nine district managers, a retail operations manager and the Nashville, Tenn., operations director.

Christine Wheatley


Wheatley helps Kroger raise the bar (to borrow a legal term) through her leadership and commitment to detail in the grocer's legal group. Leading a team of business lawyers and paralegals, she is responsible for corporate and securities work for the company. Wheatley is as conscientious as she is involved in legal matters throughout Kroger's two dozen banners, covering all of the business transactions, vendor discussions, contracts, patents, trademarks and other complex issues that affect the organization and its associates and customers alike. Moreover, she's helping the company meet the challenges of the future, recently heading the reorganization of Kroger's business law team. While she knows the letter of the law, Wheatley is canny about facts and figures, too, and served as the legal counsel for Kroger's personal finance team. Before joining Kroger, she was an attorney in private practice and remains active in her field as a fellow in the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity and a member of the Greater Cincinnati Minority Counsel Program.

Debbie Kramer


Her title has the word "architect" in it, and Kramer definitely works from a blueprint for success. She's responsible for organizational change management (OCM) for Kroger's Project Mercury Team, through which she communicates transition changes to associates and shares with them how they'll be affected on a variety of levels. She also brings the "business solution" part of her title to her role by handling the strategic thinking for Kroger's merchandising systems and performing cost benefit analyses for the company's larger projects. One of her specialty areas is the development of an IS&S strategy to support the business plan. In that area, Kramer was the liaison between IT and the business. As she's built her expertise in strategic thinking and IS&S, Kramer has relied on her extensive background at Kroger, which spans 25 years and a range of positions. Her depth and breadth of knowledge led Kramer to serve on Kroger's General Office Cultural Council and the Network of Executive Women (NEW). Beyond business, she supports her family's church and schools, and is a member of the Dean's Advisory Board for the College of Informatics at Northern Kentucky University.

Jill V. McIntosh


As her title denotes, McIntosh has a broad area of responsibilities within The Kroger Co. Primarily, she's a strategic partner to corporate brands and manufacturing leadership to ensure that human resources and labor relations functions (HR/LR) exemplify the company's "Customer 1st" strategy with an excellent network of people. She leads the HR/LR team in Kroger corporate brands and manufacturing, a division comprising 34 manufacturing facilities and about 8,000 associates. She has more than 60 professionals in her HR/ LR group. Underscoring the integral position she holds, McIntosh recently teamed with Kroger's president to lead the senior team through a successful team-building process. Prior to her current job, her role as a top woman at Kroger was evident in her position as a senior director of HR/LR and head of money services and corporate secretary of Kroger Personal Finance. She has received several awards, including a District 1 Community Service Award for Attorneys 40 and Under by the Ohio State Bar Association and a Board Leadership Award from the southwest Ohio chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsels.

Margaret McClure


The deli/bakery is a busy part of most stores, and in her role, McClure is busy making those departments successful. She is tasked with the overall sales, merchandising and marketing for the company's deli/bakery department, from providing the general vision and direction for the group to overseeing end-to-end strategies to spearheading technological innovations. She played a key role in the development of the deli/bakery corporate sales planning and category management team. McClure is all about collaboration, both within the company and beyond, as she handles company-wide procurement and works closely with manufacturers. In the past year, she improved chicken products in the deli using her meat department background, pioneering several initiatives and working to strengthen the fresh ready meals that were created with quality and convenience in mind. She is a past recipient of the Division Kroger Service Award, co-chair of Kroger's Women EDGE committee and a member of the deli/bakery department cultural council. When not training and inspiring colleagues, McClure enjoys coaching youth sports, including volleyball, soccer and basketball.

Kathy Hanna


Keeping budgets and systems flowing smoothly at Kroger is a role that falls to Hanna, who is responsible for corporate payments, corporate store support functions, the Center for Excellence and Kroger's WIC program. Considered the company's expert in the field of electronic payment, she has worked closely with merchant groups, third-party providers and card companies to sharpen that expertise. Company leaders cite her recent accomplishment in providing Kroger with substantial savings and concurrently improving customers' experience. She's been especially pivotal in regard to the company's WIC system, turning it into an important part of Kroger's business and increasing the number of states participating in electronic WIC. Another notable effort in 2011 was Hanna's leadership in litigation efforts, also saving the company valuable resources. In the industry, she has been recognized by Food Marketing Institute (FMI) for her leadership as chair of the electronic payments committee, and is an active member of the Association of Financial Professionals.

Marlene Stewart


Stewart's position is a new one for her — she earned her latest title in January— but she has a deep background in merchandising that she brings to the table as she leads, develops and executes Kroger's merchandising strategy. In just a few months, she has chosen her operations team and participated in executive transitioning throughout the company. Prior to her promotion, she was an integral part of Kroger leadership as a VP of operations for the Mid-Atlantic division, in which capacity she managed $500 million in annual expenses and spurred her division to beat its budget with sales increases. Indeed, she has come a long way — through hard work and a spirit of collaboration — from her first job at the company, as a bagger. Even then, while she worked full-time at a Kroger store, she simultaneously earned a bachelor's degree in business and was subsequently and steadily promoted to jobs with more responsibility and leadership. Stewart is involved with the Kroger Circle of Friends, through which she mentors peers, and also gives back through her work with the local Habitat for Humanity, area food banks, the United Way, the Muscular Dystrophy Association and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

Mary Ellen Adcock


As "natural" has gone from a buzzword to a true driver of customer interest and purchases, Kroger turned to Adcock to oversee the burgeoning market segment. She brings a proven track record to the position that she has held since January of this year. Previously, Adcock was VP bakery/deli manufacturing, in which capacity she led three plants toward tonnage growth and profitability and certification by the food safety governing body as part of the Global Food Safety Initiative. In the growing area of natural foods, she will use her grocery insight in both procurement and in helping determine what "natural "means to customers at the point of purchase. She is a member of the American Bakery Association Board and involved in various activities in her community, including church organizations.

Natalie Ream


If a company's brand is its identity, Ream strives to protect and strengthen Kroger's identity. In addition to overseeing the company's brand development, she leads all customer marketing, media, creative and production services. Given that significant role, she has direct oversight into Kroger's multimillion-dollar marketing/advertising/administrative budgets, and her purview spans the company's 2,439 U.S. stores. Befitting her Top Woman status, she was deemed instrumental in delivering Kroger's continued growth in both sales and profit in 2011. Last year, she also developed and introduced a common advertising layout format and helped the company improve its investment in digital communications projects. Internally, she worked with the VP of merchandising to lead the reorganization of her entire 265-person department. Mentoring is a personal priority for Ream, too; she currently mentors five female associates. Ream is also an active member of the Network of Executive Women (NEW) and the Food Industry Leadership Council.

Molly Malone


You might say she makes the general specific. Malone manages general merchandising for Fred Meyer in Alaska, Oregon, Washington and Idaho, as well as some stores in Utah. Overseeing general apparel, general merchandise, electronics and product development for apparel and home products, she led her team to an identical-store sales increase in general merchandise last year — a rare accomplishment in that field and a stark difference from competitors that logged ID sales decreases. She's credited with the success because of her focus on customer needs and her move to create a low-pricing strategy that matches products and prices with consumer demands. Malone also understands the importance of communication as not just a two-lane street but a multilane highway, encouraging engagement with associates, soliciting their feedback and writing a column in the company newsletter. Previously an SVP for the general group and a group VP in the apparel division, Malone is active outside the organization as well, serving on the board of directors for the YWCA and as a member of the Philanthropist Educational Association.

Penny Goddin


Managing a $6 billion budget and navigating a division in a tenuous economy can seem a daunting task, but it's one that Goddin has taken to heart. Responsible for merchandising and advertising plans for 162 stores in the Mid-South division, she has responded to any challenges with aplomb. Her leadership has allowed the division to manage the impact of inflation and grow its market share in the three major markets of Louisville and Lexington, Ky., and Nashville, Tenn. She also helped boost the number of loyal customer households in each period. A bottom line isn't the only healthy thing that Goddin tries to achieve: She recently served as executive sponsor of the company's new "Eat Well, Move More, Live Better" employee health awareness initiative. Goddin has been recognized for her skills and dedication, receiving a United Way Leadership Award and being nominated for a Leadership at the Peaks seminar in Colorado Springs, Colo., at the Center for Creative Leadership. She is also active in her local school system.

Sharon Sever


Loyalty is everything, as the saying goes, and that's especially true in today's grocery industry. At Kroger, Sever is loyalty director for the company's innovative "Winning in Each Store" (WIES) initiative. She helps engender customer loyalty by leading, along with two other employees, the WIES project using tools that show store personnel how to learn what their customer base is about and how they can best connect with shoppers. Given those tools, stores can pinpoint where to apply resources and energy to meet customers' needs and, in the process, enhance customer loyalty. Her work affects all of Kroger's divisions, and while she improves customer connections one store at a time, the WIES initiative has thus far been effective in improving stores' customer service. Described by many as an eternal optimist, Sever has been with Kroger since 1980, rising from an entry-level position to an executive. She is involved with the Network of Executive Women (NEW), and volunteers her time and talent at a local food bank and for Easter Seals.

Beth Iacone


A registered attorney in the state of Minnesota, Iacone leads a cross-functional risk management team to identify, prevent and mitigate risk to protect Nash Finch associates and other assets. Responsible for environmental, health and safety, loss prevention, insured claims and litigation management, and risk financing, Iacone also leads the company-wide "Culture Champions" team, which identifies and implements initiatives and action plans in response to associate feedback and in support of the company's culture. Her team's efforts have resulted in a 10.5 percent decrease in the company-wide associate injury rate and a 7 percent decrease in executive risk and casualty insurance premium costs, while also decreasing deductibles in key lines, and a 265 percent decrease in the number of open workers' compensation claims. Within the Nash Finch culture, Iacone has developed and implemented a Team Spotlight Poster to support company culture integration, and also established a "Good Meeting!" program to define best practices for conducting necessary, efficient and effective meetings. She won Ovation Awards from NFC for her Culture Champions work, as well as for successful management of two catastrophic property damage situations. Iacone belongs to the Minnesota chapter of the Risk and Insurance Management Society.

Manjit Minhas


As the co-owner and CEO, Minhas is primarily responsible for day-to-day operations such as marketing, sales, research and development, and human resources, as well as the expansion of current and new breweries. She oversees all American and Canadian offices for the company, which is the 10th-largest brewery in the United States. Minhas has forged partnerships for her product and private label products with grocery chains including Trader Joe's, Walmart and Fresh & Easy. Her out-of-the-box marketing, relationships, sales techniques, tight budgeting and overall business savvy have helped Minhas reach revenues of more than $120 million in 2011. A petroleum engineer by education, Minhas started a liquor company when she was a 19-year-old college student. She was one of the Top 100 Women Entrepreneurs in Canada, an Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year finalist in 2011, and Chatelaine magazine's Top Entrepreneur Woman of the Year in 2011. Minhas volunteers her time to mentor young women through the Women's Executive Network, works with MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), and organizes Sikh cultural and religious events.

Kathy Mahoney


In her role of general counsel, Mahoney is responsible for managing all of Nash Finch's legal affairs and regulatory compliance, as well as protecting the corporation's legal interests and maintaining its operations within the scope established by law. As a member of the executive team, she is involved in analyzing and negotiating acquisitions. Mahoney also is an adviser to the Nash Finch board of directors, including, but not limited to, matters of corporate governance, and is secretary of the company. In the recent past, she led the negotiation for the acquisition of Wally's Supermarkets, and the simultaneous sale of one of the stores to another customer, as well as the integration of the stores into Nash Finch, among other acquisition due diligence projects. Mahoney also established a women's leadership mentoring group for senior-director-level leaders within the company and acts as a mentor to many female leaders at Nash Finch. Among a veritable myriad of awards and honors are selection in 2011 as one of the Top 25 Women In Business Industry Leaders by the Twin Cities Business Journal and selection as a speaker at the 2011 National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) Board Leadership Conference. Mahoney is active in the NACD and FMI, among other organizations, and is a director of the Nash Finch Co. Foundation.

Leah Palubicki


Palubicki, a fourth-generation grocer, purchased Fosston, Minn.-based Palubicki's Food & Deli from her parents. As president, she's responsible for all aspects of store and fuel operations. During 2011, Palubicki added the fuel center to the store, and implemented a "Pump Perks" promotion to drive store traffic. In addition to expanding her offerings, she's also looking to expand her store count, and has begun the process of planning a new ground-up store with Supervalu's development and marketing services. Palubicki is also a big giver, contributing more than $263,000 to her local community last year through a charitable rebate program. She also chaired the Tango & Cash fundraiser for the Hospital Foundation, where she's a board member.

Lisa Walsh


Walsh leads multiple customer teams and functions within PepsiCo sales with a staff of more than 70 associates, and is accountable for ensuring that PepsiCo's sales teams leverage a "One PepsiCo" approach to collaborative partnerships with retail partners, develop strategic plans for driving sustainable growth with customers, and lead and motivate high-performing sales teams. She also leads all industry involvement for PepsiCo, including industry association involvement, trade events and trade media strategy. Walsh led strategic transformation work to elevate PepsiCo's presence within the industry and add value to retailers and business partners to drive growth. She established and managed a new approach to elevating sales capabilities across all lines of business within PepsiCo, resulting in stronger customer collaboration and action planning. Perhaps most importantly, Walsh achieved the annual sales growth plan and stayed within budget in 2011. With a Manager Quality Performance Index (a manager evaluation tool) in the top 15 percent of all PepsiCo VPs, Walsh has executive training that includes Leading Beyond Boundaries, a six-month case study experience; Wharton Executive Leadership; Shanghai Immersion Session; and Human Performance Institute Energy Management. She's on the National Grocers Association board, is the PepsiCo Ambassador to the Network of Executive Women (NEW) and volunteers at George Washington Elementary School.

Cara Figgins


Figgins is EVP in charge of sales and marketing for Partners, a woman-owned, 20-year-old family business that manufactures and distributes crackers, flatbread crisps, cookie crisps, and granola cereal and snacks for the specialty and natural grocery trade. Figgins directs all corporate strategic planning and sales initiatives, as well as overseeing the national sales manager. She developed a sales management team and guided sales initiatives resulting in 10 percent sales growth, with an increase in market penetration in specialty grocery, as well as club/mass merchandising and in private label projects. Figgins currently sits on the Supplier Marketing Council of the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade (NASFT) and on a grocery channel task force with retailers, brokers, distributors and suppliers to review channel processes and improve channel performance for specialty foods in the grocery channel. She is a former president of the Seattle chapter of the Young Entrepreneurs Organization and serves as a mentor to new women in business in the specialty food channel of trade.

Jane Asmar


Asmar has more than 20 years of experience in the raisin and food industry, and has been instrumental in the growth of National Raisin Co. (NRC) since assuming her present post five years ago. At senior-level management, reporting directly to the president and sitting on the board of directors, she has P&L responsibilities for all domestic and export sales, including new product development, packaging, manufacturing and logistics as it relates to all customers. Her sphere of influence extends to all retail/food ingredient sales for domestic and import businesses, with budget oversight. Asmar has overseen and directed corporate activity through a particularly tumultuous time. She has successfully guided NRC through short supply tonnage and the highest commodity prices in history; unique pressures at retail, retail buying, consolidation, grower relations and international procurement; and corporate restructuring to improve efficiency through all operative phases: management evolution, IT, manufacturing, marketing and logistics. She is on the California Raisin Marketing Board, the Raisin Advisory Board, serves in the local PTA and does church work.

Kate Jones


With more than 142 items that cover the full spectrum of dietary supplements for children and adults, Northwest Natural Products (NNP) offers innovative delivery systems to facilitate absorption and make vitamins palatable to a wide audience. Jones, as president, drives growth by analyzing trends, unique product innovation and competitive pricing. She also, through NNP, is an ardent supporter of Share Inc., a nonprofit organization that strives to create communities without hunger where all people have safe and adequate housing and the skills to enhance their quality of life. With Jones' and NNP's support, Share has implemented the Backpack Program in response to an increasing number of nutrition-related problems among students from underserved families in southwest Washington state. Under the initiative, students discreetly receive a backpack filled with five to 10 pounds of food each Friday to ensure that they and their families have nutritious items to eat over the weekend. Jones brings the creativity and leadership she shows at NNP to the philanthropy that she supports. Outside the workplace, she continues her leadership and strategic partnerships with the Good Family Orphanage and the Boys and Girls Clubs.

Heather Howell


Cute job title notwithstanding, Howell has done much to generate company growth for Rooibee Red Tea, which offers the only full line of bottled rooibos (red bush) tea on the market. During 2011, she raised more than $1 million in financing for the company, and was just $10,000 shy of tripling sales from 2010. As it is, Rooibee's sales have increased more than 286 percent. Additionally, thanks to Howell's efforts, the two largest distributors of natural and organic products, United Natural Foods Inc. and KeHE, have signed on to carry the products. Howell also gained the National Women's Business Enterprise Certification on behalf of Rooibee. Her many professional affiliations include membership in the National Association of Women MBAs and the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade.

Christine B. Cottrell


As founder and CEO of RetailData LLC, a marketing research company providing causal data, in-store and Web-based pricing across the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico, Cottrell heads a regional company that continued to grow its client base, trade verticals, service offerings and geographical reach in 2011. During that year, she was instrumental in opening full-scale operations in Canada, expanding core data collection and analysis to include the world's largest CPG companies, and overseeing technology that rolled out to the company's more than 1,200 data collection associates, as well as working with the U.S. Patent Office on various technologies used by RetailData and its associates. Cottrell was honored as one of Virginia Lawyers Media's Influential Women of Virginia in 2011. She's also a member of the CEO Forum and active in local schools.

Amanda Martinez


Martinez is responsible for the sales and profit of the frozen food departments across all of Safeway's U.S. divisions. She's responsible for more than $1 billion in annual sales across categories such as frozen prepared foods, ice cream, novelties, frozen vegetables and snacks. In 2011, as VP of U.S. grocery manufacturing operations, Martinez and her team commissioned a multimillion-dollar production line, representing a significant improvement in productivity and line efficiency for Safeway's U.S. bread manufacturing. She led several mentoring initiatives, was elected to the board of Safeway's Women's Network Group, participated in a significant rebranding effort for self-manufactured breads and led the supply operations CSR initiative for manufacturing before being assigned to her current post. In her 14 years with Safeway, Martinez worked in multiple divisions before moving into a corporate role in 2001. She has held leadership roles in procurement, marketing business processes, supply chain, logistics, manufacturing and merchandising. Martinez is an active member of the Northern California chapter of Network of Executive Women (NEW) and the National Frozen & Refrigerated Foods Association.

Barbara Walker


Walker's primary responsibility is brand strategy for consumer-facing marketing communications across all channels, including broadcast, digital, social, mobile, e-mail, Buzz/PR, print, outdoor and in-store point-of-sale materials, as well as directing the annual media budget for all channels. She leads an internal team of more than 80 members and directs the company's relationships with more than a dozen advertising agencies. In early 2011, Walker's scope increased, with the addition of the digital marcom team creating a unified, integrated group focused on measurable results. These organizational changes allowed for the development and implementation of an integrated planning process that engaged all internal and external resources and resulted in sales-driving and award-winning promotional campaigns. Walker has 20 years of experience in consumer communications in grocery retail and bank marketing on the corporate and agency sides. She was instrumental in the company's receiving several honors related to its product marketing campaigns.

Cathy Lord


Lord is responsible for ensuring that Safeway provides competitive compensation that not only attracts key talent and retains it, but also serves to motivate and reward, and she has full responsibility for company-wide relocation programs to ensure equitable and consistent relocation benefits to employees requested to move by the company while maintaining cost-effectiveness. Lord is an active member of the Information Technology Project steering committee, which has oversight on all capital technology projects. She's responsible for a multimillion-dollar budget, with oversight of compensation in four countries. Lord implemented a specialized incentive and reward program for IT that significantly reduced the delivery time of a company-wide program and resulted in significant financial rewards for the company, implemented a unique performance share plan to link long-term goals of the company with executive compensation, and streamlined the retail bonus programs to simplify the bonus criteria. A mentor for women at Safeway's corporate offices, Lord has received the company's Outstanding Achievement Award and was nominated as chair for its Single Moms Network Group. She's a member of the National Association of Stock Planning Professionals and the World at Work Total Rewards Association.

Carrie Rasmussen


Rasmussen provides support and services to Safeway's retail stores and backstage employees, ensuring that the technology they use to do their jobs is operating as expected. This includes the technology field service team, the support desk, customer-facing relationship management and the customer service program that measures and improves technology services across the IT department. With a team of more than 700 members, Rasmussen's operational oversight includes resources in every company division, including a strong presence in the company's corporate offices. Among other achievements, Rasmussen led the company's loyalty program through the first half of 2011 while supporting a transition to the new VP of loyalty role; completed the build-out of the new customer-facing Web platform to support the launch of "Just for U" to Vons; established a tech support team to focus on loyalty, including teams in the United States, Canada and The Philippines; provided better customer service by training Safeway's technology service desk to resolve more than 70 percent of support calls in one call; and successfully launched a company-wide eWast program for technology equipment that aligns with Safeway's corporate social responsibility goals. She's also involved with the Network of Executive Women (NEW) and Women in Information Technology (WIIT).

Christy Consler


Consler is responsible for developing Safeway's sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy across the enterprise. She works to ensure that Safeway takes a leadership position in the grocery retail industry with respect to sustainability, including developing, driving and coordinating its sustainability strategy and initiatives. As Safeway's sustainability efforts span the entire enterprise, Consler influences spending priorities for multimillion-dollar budgets. The efforts she leads result in cost savings and customer loyalty that equate to a significant financial benefit for the company. Consler's work on sustainability and instituting a CSR initiative led the company to many accomplishments in 2011, including being named one of the World's Most Ethical Companies by the Ethisphere Institute, to the Dow Jones Sustainability Index North America for the third year in a row and to the Calvert Social Index for the first time. Consler was named to the Top 100 Women Greening the Future by the Girl Scouts of Northern California, has been elected to the board of the Network of Executive Women (NEW) and is a member of the American Society for Training and Development.

Diane Dietz


Dietz manages the P&L of Safeway's multiple business units and is responsible for all functions related to advertising, marketing, product development, product manufacturing, merchandising and supply operations. She also oversees all aspects of the company's policies and initiatives regarding advertising, merchandising and brand strategy. Dietz controls a large portion of Safeway's multibillion-dollar budget, including all expenditures for the aforementioned areas. She also leads some of Safeway's most innovative marketing and brand development programs. In late 2010 and 2011, her team began rolling out Just For U, an industry-first program that gives shoppers who register for the program the lowest possible prices on the products that they use most. Also in 2011, Dietz's private label product development team expanded Safeway's reputation in the retail food industry as an innovator in health and nutrition by introducing Open Nature, a line of foods made with all-natural ingredients. In all, Safeway's private label growth has outpaced national brand growth by a three-to-one margin. Dietz has been named one of the Forty Under Forty most influential business leaders by the American Marketing Association and has also received the Cannes Advertising Bronze Lion and Gold Lion awards.

Larree Renda


Renda has direct responsibility for retail strategies at Safeway, as well as a broad range of administrative functions, including labor relations, public affairs, government relations, health initiatives, human resources, corporate social responsibility and sustainability, industrial engineering, re-engineering, and communications. She also chairs the foundation that oversees the company's charitable giving activities. In 2011, under her direction, Safeway contributed more than $180 million annually to a range of charitable initiatives. In 2010, Renda became president of Safeway Health, a business created to provide assistance to other companies in their efforts to create a culture of health and better health options for their employees. Renda controls a significant portion of Safeway's multibillion-dollar annual budget and is a key decision-maker on company strategy. She also manages the company's relationship with Casa Ley, Safeway's joint venture in Mexico, and is a member of the board of directors. Renda played a key role in restructuring the company's health care program for non-union employees. She has been twice named one of the 50 Most Influential Women in Business by Fortune magazine.

Elizabeth Shoemaker


Shoemaker provides strategic communications insight and management for branded consumer communications and integrated marketing plans, brand strategy and consumer PR and buzz marketing initiatives, and account management for internal corporate departments' communication assignments. She oversees an eight-figure annual budget. Shoemaker kicked off a health-and-wellness marketing strategy that included the launch of SimpleNutrition, an in-store shelf tag system to help shoppers make better nutrition choices for themselves and their families. She also orchestrated a business-critical consumer PR and high-impact communications plan for the Open Nature all-natural product launch. Shoemaker was the key figure in helping Safeway secure various awards for the marketing of the Open Nature line, including a gold Hub Prize and PG's Best Integrated Campaign.

Laura Donald


Donald oversees corporate governance, securities law compliance and all transactional work in Safeway's legal division. Promoted from senior corporate counsel to her current post in January 2011, she oversees her team on contract preparation and negotiation for various business units, legal compliance counseling, intellectual property protection, consumer protection, privacy, banking/financial services, public property matters, bankruptcy/credit collection matters, and pharmacy regulation and compliance. Last year, Donald handled all of her primary job responsibilities and took on added supervising responsibilities, including managing workload, dealing with personnel issues and evaluating performance. In private practice before joining Safeway in 2005, Donald is a member of the Society of Corporate Secretaries and Governance Professionals and its corporate practices committee, and the Securities/Corporate Governance In-house Group, an informal network group of in-house counsel at peer companies.

Leslie Nelson


Nelson is responsible for all finance and control functions for the multibillion-dollar sales of Safeway's 116-store Texas division (Randalls and Tom Thumb). She also coordinates the division's corporate social responsibility efforts and is the only female member of the division's four-person executive management team. Despite a tough economic climate, the Texas division significantly exceeded its 2011 financial plan under Nelson's leadership. Nelson also led a successful shrink reduction effort, using enhanced analytical reporting. She enhanced Safeway's "Be Safe, See Safe" program with incentives and store accident-free recognition celebrations. Nelson drove the division's sustainability efforts, with a focus on energy savings and other green initiatives, resulting in a reduction in waste and an expansion of recycling efforts. Further, she continued her support of the division's Women's Network Group as a featured speaker at a series of brown-bag lunches that focused on career opportunities and individual paths to professional success and advancement. Nelson is the only female CFO among Safeway's 10 divisions. She is involved in the Texas Retailers Association, the Houston Grocery Manufacturers Representatives Association and the Dallas/Fort Worth Grocers Association.

Melissa Plaisance


An executive officer of the company, Plaisance is a key player on the company's financial management team, with responsibility over the treasury and investor relations departments, and is involved in the company's strategic development activities. She influences the top strategic decisions at Safeway. Plaisance is responsible for developing and maintaining strong relationships with the investment community, the banking community and rating agencies, and is the senior spokeswoman of the company relating to financial and investor matters, representing the company to financial and mainstream media. Plaisance oversees the company's $5.4 billion U.S. and Canadian debt portfolio, and is responsible for annual refinancing activity, as well as the company's $1.5 billion bank debt facility. She is one of a small number of executive officer-level women in this industry, and has been highly visible within the industry through roles with the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and at retail industry investment banking conferences. Most recently, Plaisance carried out Safeway's $1.1 billion Canadian dividend strategy, negotiated and closed on a $1.5 billion bank facility, managed analysis and execution of a stock repurchase program, executed an $800 million U.S. debt offering, and arranged a $700 million U.S. term loan.

Lori Raya


As president of Safeway's largest division, Raya has ultimate responsibility for 277 Vons and Pavilions stores in Southern California and southern Nevada, with a workforce in excess of 25,000 employees. The first woman president of the Vons division, she is responsible for building a differentiated position in the market and building identical-store sales growth. According to Safeway, Raya has enjoyed "a well-earned stratospheric rise in job titles and responsibilities." Vons president since January, she had been SVP of deli/foodservice, branded concepts, dairy, and refrigerated and frozen food since June 2011, before which she spent 10 months as SVP of beverages, snacks, main meals and ingredients. Her current post is the culmination of a 25-year career that began as a courtesy clerk in Safeway's Denver division. Raya has been elected vice chair of the Safeway Women's Network Group, represents Safeway at the Western Association of Food Chains and Food Marketing Institute (FMI), and has been the keynote speaker for corporate events to support the advancement of women into management positions.

Further, under her leadership, employees of the Vons division will contribute more than 250,000 volunteer hours to their communities in 2012.

Michele Silva


Silva leads a 188-employee team that recruits new executives, collaborates with executive and division management to develop new recruiting strategies, oversees the entire company's payroll, and collaborates with IT on the HR technology portfolio. Safeway describes Silva as an "effective, client-focused and team-oriented professional who consistently delivers operational excellence and outstanding financial results." Among her most recent achievements are growing the company's junior military officer program for retail and expanding it to supply operations to secure proven leaders, improving overall accuracy of the annual payroll, and exceeding operational standards such as reduced overtime, reduced budget, increased use of electronic payroll versus paper checks, reduced paperless transactions, improvements in the time to fill metric and decreased time to implement labor contract changes. Silva is a board member of Safeway's NSC Women's Network and the company's succession planning talent advisory board, and is collaborating with two other Safeway women to create a Phoenix chapter of the Network of the Executive Women (NEW).

Nancy Cota


Cota and her team are responsible for identifying consumers' unmet needs and the development of solutions and platforms to solve those needs. Her role includes developing innovation across the entire store, and the integration of new technologies and packaging innovations. In 2011, Cota's major focus was her strong leadership role in the development of Safeway's newest consumer brand, Open Nature, exceeding $100 million in sales in the first year of launch. Passionate about the launch of the brand of all-natural products, Cota wrapped her personal motor home with Open Nature branding and took her family through 23 states coast to coast, to drive brand awareness. Cota has been recognized by the Northern California Perishables Food Council for her contributions to the deli industry, and has earned Safeway's own Outstanding Marketing Leadership Award and its All Stars Award. She's a member of the Center for Corporate Innovation, the Retail Product Innovation Council and the Network of Executive Women's (NEW) northern California chapter. Cota is also extensively involved in a variety of mentoring programs focused on supporting women in the grocery industry.

Janet Sparkman


Taking on this new role in February, Sparkman is responsible for leading and providing strategic input for business transformation initiatives. In her previous position as group VP of health and wellness, she was responsible for the leadership and strategic direction for the company's health-and-wellness division, encompassing 800 pharmacies and $3.5 billion in sales. In this capacity, Sparkman delivered improved sales trends and boosts in gross margin and market share for the department. Supervalu says Sparkman "has demonstrated great success in her marketing and merchandising leadership roles." Sparkman has been inducted into the "Who's Who in Shopper Marketing" by the In-Store Marketing Institute and sits on the boards of the Global Market Development Center and National Association of Chain Drug Stores.

Sue Mullins


Mullins provides direction on human resource matters for store operations and the supply chain, including recruitment and selection, talent management, succession planning and legal matters. Her department is responsible for more than 6,500 associates in California, Arizona and Nevada, including 182 stores, two distribution centers and a private fleet of truck drivers. Mullins developed and implemented a major customer service program called FAN (Friends and Neighbors). She was also instrumental in the renegotiation of the uniform contract that will result in a significant savings to the company. Further, Mullins and her team expanded the store operations talent management program with a focus on developing action plans for fast-track and high-potential associates. A graduate of the USC Food Industry Management Program, Mullins has had an extensive career with Smart & Final, holding senior leadership positions in buying, merchandising and store operations. Recently honored by the Food Industries Sales Managers' Club of Los Angeles, Mullins is the team leader for the Smart & Final American Heart Association fundraising drive, which last year raised more than $10,000 for the American Heart Association.

Michele Murphy


Murphy oversees corporate human resources, HR shared services, and labor and employee relations functions, including performance management, employee engagement, negotiation and administration of all collective bargaining agreements, and payroll administration. In addition to playing a key role in driving Supervalu's business transformation efforts within HR, Murphy was also integral in leading a critical labor negotiation at the company's Albertsons banner in Southern California. She additionally helped lead Supervalu through several difficult labor reorganizations and store closure announcements in the past year that have been critical to the positioning of the company in its turnaround. Murphy has been recognized several times within the company for her leadership of diversity initiatives. She's a member of the Network of Executive Women's (NEW) board of directors, a director for the Council on Labor Law Equality and a member of the U.S. Labor & Employee Relations Network.

Sharon Lessard


Lessard oversees a design team responsible for the overall look, layout and design of 1,100 retail stores. She leads store remodel projects and contributes design plans and recommendations for thousands of store layouts and in-store displays. She also leads all new concept and format designs for Supervalu and its independent retailers, and this past year was given oversight to identify efficiencies and develop better work environments. Lessard introduced a new workforce environment at corporate headquarters and has been leading the remodeling and rollout across the company's offices. The "open" workforce environment is expected to create better collaboration and communication across teams and departments while also allowing the company to use the office space more effectively and efficiently. Once complete, Lessard's efforts are expected to save the company millions annually in reduced facilities use. Lessard has won several awards, including the Superior Achievement in Design and Imaging award for Supervalu's Pequot Lakes, Minn., 30,000-square-foot store, which features a rustic cabin-inspired design. She has been involved in delivering several LEED stores and helping incorporate more sustainable design concepts to a traditional grocery store format.

Tandy Harvey


Harvey oversees all category management for Supervalu's Midwest/Southeast region, helping drive sales to the division's nearly 750 independent retail customers. Supervalu says she has been "integral to the division's continued success and growth," helping to drive new business and category improvements through strong vendor programs as well as the continued rollout of the company's private-brand offerings. Harvey brings more than 20 years of experience to her new position. She started her career with Supervalu at the former J.M. Jones division in Champaign, Ill., working part-time in distribution while in college. Upon graduation, she accepted a position as a distribution management trainee in Salem, Ore., where she took on positions of increasing responsibility in distribution and procurement. In 1992, she moved to the former Great Lakes division in Pleasant Prairie, Wis., to work as a buyer/merchandiser. She has subsequently worked in director-level roles within merchandising, advertising and marketing. Harvey has been the Midwest/Southeast region's director of grocery/frozen food/dairy for the past two years.

Sherry Smith


Reporting directly to CEO Craig Herkert, Smith is responsible for the $37 billion company's overall finance activities. She maintains critical relationships with Supervalu's investor community, and manages its bank and creditor relations. Smith has been active in key initiatives of the company, including business realignment activities, and has worked closely with other members of management in strengthening relationships with various constituents, including equity and debt holders, and banking and financial partners. She has helped manage cash flow to ensure debt payments are on or ahead of schedule, and has been integral in helping the company identify opportunities to reduce overhead and remove significant expense from the business, strengthening the company's business turnaround plans. Smith led initiatives across the organization that have delivered more than $100 million in cost reduction for the second consecutive year. She was also interim CFO in 2010 before being named permanent CFO late that year.

Kathy O'Brien


O'Brien's skills and talents directly touch some of her company's most prolific brands, which collectively generate $2 billion in annual retail sales. She has overarching responsibility for all brand equity development activities, go-to-market activation and operational delivery. With oversight of a 30-member team, O'Brien is turning up the volume on marketing for Unilever's food brands, with new agency partnerships and an edgier take on engaging with consumers over what to eat. Just take a look at the recent creative and humorous "RagÚ Asks" online video campaign for a hint at where she's taking Unilever foods to "Win Differently." Throughout her career, she's built cutting-edge campaigns alongside building brand equity and executing brand activation plans, including her work with Dove, where she led programs that helped the brand achieve its goal of reaching 5 million girls with self-esteem programming. Under her leadership, Dove also reached the $1 billion sales mark, catapulted into pop culture history with the Campaign for Real Beauty, and was held as a best-in-class example for successfully executed integrated marketing campaigns. Among her many other noteworthy accomplishments, O'Brien has served since 2005 on the board of governors of the Cosmetic Executive Women (CEW), one of the most influential leadership organizations for women in business and the most prestigious in the beauty industry.

Senior-Level Executives & Rising Stars

Carole Christianson


Christianson has led the Western Association of Food Chains' (WAFC) educational programs to new heights while enhancing the financial soundness of the association. During the past year, she grew the class size at the University of Southern California Food Industry Management by 50 percent and secured several new companies for participation. She also championed a new pre-paid tuition model for the Retail Management Certificate Program, which helped eliminate the barriers to entry that often exist for mid- to lower-level associates, while broadening the scale of the program with online courses, resulting in a 25 percent uptick in enrollment. Among the other highlights of Christianson's year was a successful, cost-effective overhaul of WAFC's website that opened up the lines of communications for members and led to record-high attendance for the association's annual convention. Christianson is actively involved in numerous organizations, serving as a trustee of the California Grocers Association Educational Foundation, EVP of the Food Industries Circle for the City of Hope and past president of the Long Beach/Orange County Grocery Sales Association. As co-founder of the "Kids4Hope" program, which has raised more than $2 million for pediatric cancer at the City of Hope, Christianson is also an active mentor and member of the Network of Executive Women's (NEW) Southern California chapter.

Adrienne Heil


Heil led the design and implementation of an applicant tracking/e-recruiting tool within Ahold USA and its retail divisions, which was completed on time and within budget this past January. The new system is expected to contribute to significant recruitment time and cost savings within the company. As if that wasn't enough, she developed an overarching diversity and inclusion strategy that focused the organization's future diversity and inclusion initiatives on the areas of building talent, community and business. The strategy also included the creation of the organization's first-ever diversity council, as well as a best practices review and recommendations for the deployment and use of business resource groups. Additionally, Heil oversaw activities designed to significantly increase Ahold USA's involvement in the Network of Executive Women (NEW), leading to an increase in company membership of 53 percent. Outside of work, she's an active supporter and past volunteer of a nonprofit no-kill animal center for dogs and cats. All of these accomplishments are made even more impressive by the fact that Heil is currently pursuing her master's degree in HR management, and expects to graduate in December.

Elizabeth Ahl


Responsible for 29 stores in New York and Connecticut, for which she oversees front end budgets and scheduling, Ahl took the lead in two company projects in 2011: the Ahold USA Kids Calendar Contest to promote safety in the workplace and the New York Metro Division Associate Forums to gather insight on job satisfaction, training and customer service from company's associates. She was responsible for the planning and execution of both endeavors, as well as communicating the results through the company. Ahl also played a prominent role in the opening of new stores, remodeled locations and stores affected by competitive intrusion. Her many industry affiliations include being a member of Ahold USA's WAV (Women Adding Value) as well as the Network of Executive Women (NEW), and she also finds time to promote community involvement in her stores — a real passion for her, as colleagues attest.

Rising Stars

Lisa Kinsey


In line with her brief to ensure that the financial statements of Ahold USA are reported correctly to both external stockholders and internal management, Kinsey revamped the way that the company provides financial results to be more transparent and in alignment with Ahold USA's goal of streamlining its business, implemented new levels of controls over financial information to ensure accuracy, and assisted in the implementation of the back-office restructuring. The 25-year grocery veteran and CPA has worked for the company for more than two decades, including a stint with the parent company in the Netherlands. Among her community activities are volunteering with the MS Society and the American Heart Association, and teaching at her church.

Nancy McDonough


Defining store requirements and needs, providing input on standard operating procedures, and implementing best practices to ensure the four-state New England division is balancing local effectiveness with overall efficiency, McDonough was a key driver in establishing the division's "Significant Weather Event" process, bringing together all of its components to ensure stores were properly serviced, product protected during power outages and proper communication maintained throughout the event to all functional areas of the organization and external entities; implemented a delivery schedule optimization tool enabling the division to evaluate and assess delivery scenarios for a store by commodity, thereby optimizing order and load size and driving efficiency in warehousing and transportation; and established a "back-room cleanout" process for the stores, employing internal warehousing and transportation functions to turn trash into income. When not making things run more smoothly at work, she regularly raises funds for the Brain Tumor Society.

Maureen Elsworthy


Elsworthy manages the U.S. treasury team and leads the execution of treasury initiatives affecting the U.S. continental platform, which can range from executing cash management strategy tender-handling projects to funding real estate projects to negotiating bank services and fees. This year, she led the request for proposal and implementation of card-acquiring services in the Czech Republic, resulting in material annualized savings and a customer payment solution for Ahold's operations in that country; coordinated the request for proposal to select a card payment processor for U.S. retail businesses; developed a U.S. retail mobile/e-commerce payment strategy; negotiated new fees for in-store money transmission with Western Union; and coordinated a compliance framework with store operations to benefit all grocery retail, via lobbying in Washington to support passage of the Durbin Amendment and further address the high cost of fees related to card acceptance for all merchants worldwide. In addition to such professional commitments as representing her company on the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) electronic payments committee, Elsworthy has proudly served as a Big Sister for the past 26 years.

Paula Besso


Besso achieved sales and profitability budgets in her region's deli and bakeshop departments across 72 stores in 2011 by teaching and mentoring store teams and field support, executing merchandising standards, providing extraordinary customer service and community support, and ensuring that item mix and merchandising reflected individual stores' demographics. She also developed and executed a new regional program that provided in-depth training across all areas of the business for all departments' next generation of department managers. Under the program, Besso worked with sales, operations, technology, quality assurance, safety, maintenance and human resource departments to coordinate training for 108 associates. As a result of her efforts, the region has seen eight associates promoted to department manger positions. Besso went on to play the critical role of mentor to the newly assigned sales managers, and was instrumental in solidifying the new sales team and field support in her region. An active member of the Network of Executive Women (NEW), she is a 2010 graduate of the Ahold Retail Academy.

Shannon Emery


Supporting the leadership and associates at 28 stores across three districts with customer service-related skills, tasks and programs, Emery developed a Customer Service Boot Camp in 2011 to teach store leaders how to show and tell associates what exceptional customer service is. The action-oriented program gets associates involved in the physical and emotional aspects of service, providing them with the skills to actively engage customers to offer the best shopping experience. In aid of this goal, Emery taught "Train the Trainer" sessions to store managers in nine districts, enabling attendees to take what they learned back to their stores. She also created front end, deli and department manager classes focusing on the needs of customers and including mystery shop-specific criteria. Train the Trainer has proved so successful that other Ahold USA divisions have asked Emery to bring the program to their teams. Outside of the job, she has served on boards for Relay for Life, Habitat for Humanity, Feast of Sharing and numerous community theaters.

Donna Porritt


With financial and developmental oversight of 47 corporate-owned retail stores in two states, Porritt co-developed a RORC cash management system and a register system with IT programmers to build a comprehensive program for all corporate stores; worked to consolidate the corporate entities ARS and AFM by streamlining systems, tools and processes; aided in the rollout of a new workforce management system to corporate retail stores; co-developed and facilitated the training curriculum for customer loyalty training meetings at retail stores; and had a direct influence on the improved morale and engagement of team members, among other 2011 accomplishments. Her charitable endeavors for the year were equally impressive: She granted 13 wishes for the Make-A-Wish Foundation; raised $94,000 for the Muscular Dystrophy Association and, more locally, volunteers with the youth program at her church, just to name a few of her many activities in this area.

VeraLynn Kovalski


Transitioning into her present role in 2011, Kovalski essentially developed the position from the ground up. She and her team assisted in the creation of standards guidelines for the stores to follow for optimal conditions, and Kovalski devised a merchandising strategy to help drive private label penetration, leading to a positive corporate-brand share penetration of more than 100 basis points. She also created merchandising playbooks for all holidays, resulting in seamless transitions at store level and rendering optimal year-over-year results. Kovalski's seasonal flex program sustains departments between holidays and seasons, capitalizing on direct store delivery sales opportunities, while her vendor execution model encouraging increased vendor participation has been adopted by other Ahold USA divisions. This past year, Kovalski took the lead in running the New York Metro division's first Divisional Charity Golf Outing, which raised more than $70,000 for an associate assistance program called "Helping Hands." Consistently honored at work, Kovalski complements her many activities at Stop & Shop with membership in the Network of Executive Women (NEW).

Jennifer Brown


As director of catering operations for upscale regional chain Balducci's, Brown has to meet some pretty high expectations. Luckily for the company, she often exceeds those expectations. Brown provides executive leadership and direction for all of the catering programs and personnel for both Balducci's and Kings. She works with the company's senior executives, as well as with marketing, culinary, operations and merchants, to set financial goals. There are currently more than 35 employees dedicated exclusively to catering in 10 units and at the company's call center. In 2011, Brown helped increase same-store catering sales for Balducci's over the prior year by 5 percent, by improving upon and enhancing current practices. At Kings, same-store catering sales soared 10 percent, as Brown focused on current practices and developed new initiatives — no small feat during a tough economy. She also reorganized the catering organization chart to improve sales and operations while reducing total payroll, improved in-store marketing programs, continued to improve upon efficiencies for an online ordering program that was introduced in late 2010, and successfully introduced and implemented Synergy, a proprietary catering software, at Kings by working with IT and the vendor. With all these accomplishments under her belt, it's no wonder that Brown received a Balducci's TEAM Award in 2011.

Cathy Cockrell


Cockrell was promoted in November 2010 to her current position, in which capacity she helps formulate a "road map" for the company's information technology department, detailing plans for the next 12 to 18 months and providing directional guidance for the next three to five years. Her role further requires her to advise IT and company leadership on IT project status and resource planning. During 2011, she was project manager for the company's SAP manufacturing and plant maintenance systems, in addition to the retail perpetual inventory and computer-generated initiatives. She also oversaw the creation of the IT program management office and the implementation of the IT project accounting governance program. A past winner of Brookshire's Extra Mile Award, Cockrell has been a featured speaker at the America SAP User Group (ASUG) national convention for the past four years, as well as contributing to college classes on various IT topics.

Rachel Gee


Under Gee's direction, Brookshire's 2011 fuel operations exceeded the gross profit goal by 28 percent — the best-ever results for the company's fuel operations. In the process, she cut expenses by 22 percent over the previous year. Some of her other accomplishments during the year were establishing a fuel help desk to ensure quicker response times to problems at sites, opening three fuel stations, extending Topco Fuel Supply into Brookshire's Texas markets, and serving on the steering committee and implementing a fuel rewards program as a part of the grocer's "YourPoints" marketing initiative. An in-demand convention speaker on fuel topics, Gee also manages to volunteer with a nonprofit organization that provides shelter, food, clothing and finances for the needy, and to serve alongside her husband as youth pastors at their church. According to an admirer, one of her main pieces of advice to the young people she mentors is "make friends with old people; they have wisdom."

Holly Shotts


In her role of directing Brookshire's financial accounting functions and maintaining all related accounting records, systems and procedures, Shotts was a vital player in several key initiatives during 2011. She researched, selected and implemented software to help identify and manage ERP controls for the company's segregation-of-duties project; worked on the development and implementation of the "YourPoints" program as the company's primary marketing initiative going forward; and improved business systems and processes to ensure greater accuracy and efficiencies in the vendor deal receivables project. Current projects for the busy Shotts include streamlining payments and converting vendors to scan-based trading. Selected as part of a company task force to work with the University of Texas at Tyler to develop a retail lab in the school's College of Business and Technology — the first such partnership between a university and a company in the nation — Shotts helped develop the program curriculum and now makes presentations to business classes.

Claudine Hollman


Joining Crossmark in late October 2011, Hollman created, staffed and delivered — on time and on budget — a new dedicated retail sales team of more than 200 to deliver distribution, shelving, merchandising and pricing strategies while achieving specific retail objectives in Walmart and Target stores. In a mere 12 weeks, she set up all management infrastructure, created a fiscal year 2012 budget, developed key metrics and score-carding, and provided optimal territory coverage and training of each team member. The team went live at the end of January 2012. Obviously undaunted by challenges, this Network of Executive Women (NEW) member also volunteers her time on the St. John's Episcopal School auction committee.

Melissa Sosa


As Crossmark expanded its reach in the grocery industry, working with both manufacturers and retailers in 2011, Sosa served as a key leader in consummating one acquisition, two mergers and one sale/exchange. Her duties included developing processes and procedures related to the various transactions as well as accounting for the transactions properly in the financial statements of the company. Thanks to Sosa's leadership and accounting acumen, these transactions have resulted in Crossmark's status as the largest provider of in-store marketing services in North America. A member of the Institute of Management Accounts (IMA) and the Association of Financial Professionals (AFP), Sosa uses her head for numbers in her off-hours as the treasurer for a youth baseball team.

Wanda Marshburn


Marshburn, overseeing 65 stores and more than 2,500 associates as director of operations for Food Lion's Mid-Atlantic division, Region 2, headed two major projects in 2011. One was an initiative connecting her stores with military families at the Norfolk Naval Base. Each time a ship returned to the base, Marshburn and her stores would host special "welcome home" events for spouses and their children. Food Lion provided food and snacks for these occasions, as well as coloring books for the kids. Ultimately, the relationship led to the retailer's adoption of six ships, which received both "going away" and "homecoming" support. For her efforts, Marshburn received community awards from both the naval base and the U.S. Army. The other big project was piloting a sales-driving program at 17 stores in her region with expanded shopping hours. The successful program has since been rolled out to other stores in the chain. Additionally, Marshburn's district is one of three company-wide that have raised the most money for Food Lion's main philanthropic endeavors, including Children's Miracle Network Hospitals, Hunger Has a Cure and Easter Seals.

Sandy Deiters


Under Deiters' leadership this past year, the client operations division's revenue grew 27 percent and its contribution margin grew 34 percent over plan. In 2011, she spearheaded several programs to improve quality and drive results for clients, including the Retail Effectiveness Initiative, which has now has been rolled out globally across Crossmark as a key mechanism to ensure quality and consistency for the client and retailer. Deiters also developed an onboarding curriculum for client management professionals to ensure that the company delivers exceptional service to clients. Her team has developed common practices for the support and management of clients that, in turn, have helped to drive efficiencies within the organization. These standards and practices have been leveraged by other divisions within the company. An executive sponsor of Crossmark's Network of Women (NOW) program, which focuses on the growth and development of women in retail, and a current member of the Network of Executive Women (NEW), Deiters devotes her free time to mentoring and working with children and young adults.

Carly Spross


The Fresh Grocer, a seven-store independent operating in the greater Philadelphia area, is well known for its community outreach. In addition to addressing food deserts, the grocer is involved with many ongoing community initiatives, including programs for feeding the hungry, as well as initiatives to educate the unskilled labor force found in its markets. At the center of these programs is Spross, who heads up the grocer's marketing, public relations, advertising, internal and external communications, and branding efforts, among other roles. She continues to spearhead initiatives that align The Fresh Grocer with its mission to improve the communities in which its stores are located, such as three healthy-eating programs she developed last year specifically aimed at children. She also forged strong collaborations between the grocer and The Food Trust, Temple University's Center for Obesity Research and Education, and the Einstein Center for Urban Health Policy and Research to create store programs based on health and wellness. Outside of work, Spross continues her personal outreach as a member of Philadelphia's Food Policy Advisory Council and Vacant Land Subcommittee, and of the American Red Cross of Southeastern Pennsylvania's Friends of Red Cross Leadership Council, where she serves as co-chair of the public relations committee.

Debbie Krasnow


A 32-year veteran of Giant Eagle, Krasnow continues to find ways to grow the company's pharmacy business. She led recent contract negotiations that resulted in a remarkable 98 percent increase from proposed sales and margin. She also achieved a 25 percent increase in the flu season immunization program, when the industry saw a flat season. To top it off, she achieved an 8 percent increase in prescription benefit savings on the Giant Eagle prescription benefit plan. Krasnow was Giant Eagle's first pharmacist in 1980, and through the years, her efforts have led to numerous promotions. In 2001, she was promoted to her current position — director of managed care — with responsibilities across the entire Giant Eagle footprint. Today, Krasnow manages contracting and negotiations with managed care organizations, pharmacy benefit managers and health plans for Giant Eagle's pharmacy business. She's also responsible for developing programs to increase market share/participation with existing third-party pharmacy providers. In addition, she manages pharmacy benefits for all 35,000-plus Giant Eagle team members. She has won numerous company awards and is involved in multiple trade groups. She's also Giant Eagle's representative on the United Way Women's Leadership Council and participates in Giant Eagle's Women's Business Resource Group.

Keri Brown


Brown, a former Walmart manager who has been with Giant Eagle for five years, oversees operations for 19 corporate supermarkets, 12 independent (franchise) Giant Eagles and 17 GetGo Fuel Stations. Her region includes the North Hills of Pittsburgh, the Beaver Valley area of western Pennsylvania and the northwestern mountain area of Pennsylvania. A few of Brown's major accomplishments over the past few years include mentoring a minority leadership candidate through the Giant Eagle "Connections" mentoring program, leading the retail Heart Walk Team for the American Heart Association and Giant Eagle for the past three years, successfully leading the transition of a Giant Eagle Supermarket to a Giant Eagle Market District and successfully completing the Women's Executive Leadership Program at Duquesne University. An active member of her community, she leads the Girl Scouts of America Brownie Troop 57065, serves on the Women's Leadership Council for United Way, is president of the Perry Highway Lutheran Pre-Kindergarten board and is committee chair at Wexford Elementary PTO. She's also a member of the Giant Eagle Women's Business Resource Group board.

Donna Pahel


Pahel is involved in an evolving area of the business: interactive and online marketing. She has used her leadership and creativity skills to develop and deliver an industry-forward digital strategy for Giant Eagle and its banners. Pahel's team spans Web, social, mobile, online media and search marketing. Over the past year, it helped grow the online audience for Giant Eagle by more than 40 percent year over year. Pahel developed the retailer's mobile strategy, which included launching a new mobile suite for Giant Eagle (the many multifunction apps include eOffers, Weekly Specials, My Perks, Menu Planner and Shopping List). She continues to evolve the eOffers program, which features digital coupons that load directly to a customer's loyalty card. In fact, she achieved an industry first with a holiday eOffers and recipe Facebook campaign that facilitated load-to-card digital coupons. The social campaigns Pahel has overseen, including new product launches, own-brands marketing and grand openings, have garnered industry recognition. At Giant Eagle, she received the Giant Eagle 2011 Star Performer Award, a Giant Eagle 2011 Team Achievement Award-Social Media and a Giant Eagle 2011 Team Achievement Award-Community. In Pahel's free time, life is "all about" her two daughters.

Mia Bywalski


Bywalski manages all of the retailer's targeted customer communications, which include direct mail, e-mail and Catalina programs. One of her primary duties is to increase loyalty among top shoppers, and she's certainly risen to the occasion over the past year. She led a team that has taken Giant Eagle's targeted marketing and loyalty programs to a new level. Her accomplishments include developing and launching a top shopper loyalty program that's delivering personalized rewards resulting in significant incremental sales, managing the development and execution of successful competitive defense programs against 23 competitive openings, growing Giant Eagle's marketable e-mail list by 45 percent and overseeing the delivery of more than 400 e-mail campaigns, and managing the strategy and production of more than 68 targeted direct mail programs. Bywalski, who has won several company awards, was nominated for a Giant Eagle President's Award this year. When she isn't at Giant Eagle, she spends most of her time being a "fabulous mom" to her two toddlers. She also enjoys running and training for races.

Nancy Pabian


As the regional leader of 28 Giant Eagle stores and 11 GetGo fuel stations, Pabian has been involved in numerous company projects over the past year, as well as industry and community outreach initiatives. Activities she's participated in include the Ohio Bagging Competition, the Talent Development Project, Feed a Family of Four, the Health, Beauty & Wellness Project, the Cross Merchandising Project and the Seasonal Event Project. She also proposed a new Giant Eagle Market District for Strongsville, Ohio. Pabian is a mentor at Giant Eagle and serves as treasurer of the company's Women's Business Resource Group. In addition to her work at Giant Eagle, she recently volunteered her time with Medina County (Ohio) Red Cross Power of the Purse and the American Heart Association board of directors' Heart Walk.

Kim L. Poulin


In 2011, Poulin was responsible for directing the design, scope of work, support through construction, and grand opening of three new stores and 11 major remodels for Hannaford Supermarkets. She managed the company's three-year capital investment plan, and developed the design and scope of work for an additional 23 major remodels and seven new stores that are currently under design or construction for the coming two years. In addition, she continued to manage the ongoing capital investment program for Hannaford's 179 stores. Poulin chairs the Hannaford prototype planning and store standards and supplies governance committees. She is also owner of Alpha Home Design, a small residential design/build company where she works with her husband of 15 years.

Rochelle Seideneck


The past year was a busy one for Seideneck. Under her leadership, Giant Eagle finished the conversion of its natural, specialty, organic

and international business with United Natural Foods. She also oversaw the conversion of a fifth Market District store, and continued to focus on innovation and planning for further expansion of the retailer's gluten-free selection. Seideneck is a board member and community relations chair for the Women's Business Resource Group at Giant Eagle. She's also a board member for St. Anthony's School programs and a volunteer with the Alzheimer's Association, as well as Strong Women Strong Girls.

Molly Devanney


As the "face" of Highland Park Markets, a family-owned chain of four stores in Connecticut, Devanney directs and is involved with programs in several communities. She's part of the third generation of the Devanney family to be directly involved in managing the business. Devanney has played an integral role in the success of the Highland Park Market Families Foundation. In 2011, she organized the company's first golf tournament and raised thousands of dollars for local community organizations that the retailer supports. She's currently working on the second annual tournament, to take place in June 2012. Devanney was honored as one of Volunteers of the Year by the Manchester Community Services Council and was recognized by the Manchester Chamber of Commerce with the 2011 Community Achievement Award. In addition to her retail work, she serves on a number of boards and committees in Manchester, Conn., including the July 4th Fireworks Committee, the Manchester Scholarship Foundation and the board for the Lutz Children's Museum.

Cindy Sulzman


Under Sulzman's leadership, Hy-Vee's floral departments increased sales and profits in 2011 and set new standards for quality and service. One of her most significant achievements was developing a new "Everyday Bouquet" program for all 235 stores that saves time and labor for retail designers. Sulzman worked directly with Topco and Florist Distributing Inc., Hy-Vee's floral subsidiary, to source fresh product for the program, developed the bouquet names and price points, and communicated the program to retail designers. She also developed a new Hy-Vee Signature Bouquet as a centerpiece of the program. In addition, she led the team of floral supervisors in the development of the first floral training manual for students at Hy-Vee University and put together hands-on training classes to be conducted at floral buying shows. She also collaborated on a new design for Hy-Vee floral shops that uses the newest Borgen coolers. Sulzman is secretary of the board of directors of Florist Distributing Inc., a position to which she was elected in 2011. She's also involved in numerous charitable organizations and activities, among them serving as a board member of Navy League, chair of the Ladies Night fundraiser for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and information chair for the Hy-Vee Triathlon, as well as fundraising for Variety-The Children's Charity, volunteering for the Go Red For Women event to benefit the American Heart Association, and many more.

Karla Heffron


If everything has its place,

Heffron can tell you where it is and when it comes to Hy-Vee's distribution complex in Chariton, Iowa. This Rising Star, who started at Hy-Vee in 1988 as a part-time store employee, now oversees all distribution activities at the Iowa location, which encompasses 1.2 million square feet of distribution space for grocery, perishable, HBC and pharmacy products. Even as she manages day-to-day operations of the facility through order processing, order selection, shipping and receiving, she's not afraid of mixing things up when needed: Last year, she spearheaded a $17 million expansion project at the Chariton complex and, as a result of a new perishable setup at that site, helped coordinate the transfer of perishables between the warehouse and other Hy-Vee complexes. To be sure, 2011 was a busy one for Heffron, who supervised the addition of labor-saving automated equipment in the pharmacy warehouses and ice manufacturing plant and oversaw a new accounting process in the vending department. Working diligently is nothing new for Heffron, who first worked full-time as a receiving and shipping processor at the Chariton complex 20 years ago, and later moved to the transportation and large-freight departments. She's been an officer of the company since 2008 and was promoted to her current role in 2009.

Kristine Hennings


In her position, Hennings supervises the self-funded benefits plan that includes medical, dental, life and disability insurance benefits for more than 20,000 Hy-Vee employees, in addition to their family members. At a time when employees are more concerned than ever about their benefits plans — and when companies are concerned about the impact of benefits on their overall budgets as an expense — Hennings' role is crucial. Indeed, since benefits are the second-largest administrative expense in the company's budget, next to wages, Hennings knows well that a well-run benefits plan can help lower financial claims. She has performed that role well, helping Hy-Vee hold the line on cost increases to a level well below the industry average. In addition, 84 percent of Hy-Vee's covered employees are now voluntarily enrolled in a "Healthy Lifestyles" wellness program that Hennings oversees. Through that program (recently expanded to include employee's spouses) and the Live Healthy Hy-Vee 100 Day wellness challenge, she has helped employees be healthier and, in turn, more productive.

Lisa Stowater


In today's environment of high fuel costs, transportation is a significant expense for grocers like Hy-Vee. At the company's Cherokee, Iowa, complex, trucks from that distribution center log more than 5 million miles a year, which means Stowater's job of overseeing all aspects of outbound logistics is increasingly crucial. She's responsible for coordinating deliveries to all stores and helping the company maximize transportation resources by, among other things, securing backhauls. Stowater personally oversees 80 truck drivers, along with staff members and maintenance employees, and has another layer of responsibility with the coordination of all human resources activities with an HR staff of three. Recently, she served as a point person in her division on an initiative to reduce the number of empty miles driven by trucks from Hy-Vee's three transportation fleets. In that effort, she successfully moved the department from a manual process to a computer software-guided transportation system that has resulted in the fleet increasing its loaded miles. In turn, the Cherokee group is working with the company's other fleets to help them improve efficiencies as well. In her HR role, meanwhile, Stowater's group has focused on workforce diversification.

Sharon Bastianelli


Bastianelli oversees retail systems at store level and the retail system admin team/store help desk function for two brands: Kings Super Markets and Balducci's. Reporting directly to the CFO, she ensures the proper function and operations for all store-level systems, including hardware and software. Last year, Bastianelli and her team were involved in several key projects, including sourcing and installing new POS hardware for both Kings and Balducci's. All of the work was completed after hours with no store interruption, and the team was able to maintain an excellent level of service at the help desk. Bastianelli also led her team to change credit card processing software to a centralized Web-based server from single servers at each store location, and worked closely on the launch of a new concept store. Finally, operational improvements for the company were achieved through efforts she made in rolling out new hardware to help monitor known waste. She worked closely at store level not only to install the hardware, but also to train store associates on the programs' use in an effort to help reduce shrink. Bastianelli received Kings' Role Model Contributor Award in 2011. Outside of her work at Kings, she volunteers her time with the Community Food Bank of New Jersey.

Donna Mastellone


Last year was a banner one for Mastellone. An expert in her field, with 28 years of experience under her belt, she developed a plan to completely revise Kings' existing gift basket program, which runs as a separate division within the company. She improved all aspects of the program, including adding an online offering, as well as the nationwide shipping of perishables and nonperishable gourmet products. From a visual merchandising perspective, Mastellone integrated company concepts visually into all departments throughout the store. She also introduced and expanded a home accessory line into both Kings and Balducci's that has experienced double-digit growth over the previous year. In recognition for her efforts, she received a Kings Team Merchandiser Award in 2011. Mastellone is a member of the Society of American Florists and an active member of the Home School Association, where she holds the annual role of Tricky Tray Committee chair. She also volunteers her time with her church.

Bethany Oglesby


Talk about blooming where you're planted. Oglesby, who has been in the grocery industry in various roles for 30 years, is currently a floral field specialist charged with the sales and profitability of floral departments in all seven states in which Smith's stores operate. In addition to tracking inventory levels in the warehouse and carefully monitoring store ordering, she keeps on top of sales and floral trends by working closely with corporate sales-planning teams. Sales under her leadership have grown every period since Oglesby took on the position, and she's in the top five in the entire company for percent-of-sales increases. One of her hallmark engagement tactics is a weekly televised communication to stores, through which she inspires associates to share her passion for boosting sales as they work together to help grow the company's reputation as a top floral destination.

Cecilia Sarabia


Houston, we don't have many problems. Indeed, the 23 stores in the Houston area that are coordinated on a daily basis by Sarabia are doing remarkably well, with customer and employee satisfaction measurements exceeding results. In addition to ensuring smooth operations at stores in her division, she also played a pivotal role in the 2011 grand opening of a new Marketplace in Willis, Texas, hiring 250 employees, promoting others and mentoring the store manager throughout the planning process. Mentoring, in fact, is a personal priority for Sarabia, who has long been focused on the development of associates and managers throughout the organization. Last year in her division, two co-managers were promoted to store managers, two co-managers were promoted to coordinators, and two coordinators were promoted to division positions. As she engages district coordinators and store management in planning, implementing and executing merchandising and operations initiatives, Sarabia has been recognized as a natural leader within the organization. Among other honors, she was named a team lead on the company's Leadership Excellence team. Her skills are exemplified in her other interests and commitments, such as her work in organizing walkers in a Susan G. Komen walk and assisting those in need after damaging Texas wildfires.

Dana Knott


In a customer-driven industry, getting close to customers and learning what they want (and don't want) is an ever-important priority. Knott is in the front lines of shopper interaction, responsible for customer communications for the Dillon Stores division of Kroger. In her work in loyalty marketing, advertising, government relations, community affairs, charitable contributions, gift services and people development, she provides customer communications for 92 stores in Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri. In addition to those responsibilities, Knott is an advocate in another important area of business for Kroger, becoming a leader in a coalition of retailers striving to modernize antiquated liquor laws in Kansas. Among other efforts, she was responsible for organizing an event at the Kansas State Capitol Building that enabled 52 division management associates from around the state to meet with their local state legislators. Her knack for engagement and advocacy is evident in Knott's own volunteer work: Last year, she was named Volunteer of the Quarter by the Kansas Food Bank.

Colleen Lindholz


The trajectory of this Rising Star started early, when Lindholz was an intern in the pharmacy department at Kroger while she completed her degree in pharmacy. Over the years, she moved up to pharmacy merchandiser, a position she has held for the past two years. In that capacity, she leads the pharmacy merchandising department for the Cincinnati division of 110 stores in southwestern Ohio, northern Kentucky and eastern Indiana, working on sales-planning activities, sales budgeting, gross profit forecasting, staffing management activities, patient engagement initiatives and overall EBITDA performance for the entire department. How bright is Lindholz's star? She delivered record-setting results in the pharmacy area last year and was able to expand employee group pharmacy clinical care contributions. She also teamed with The Little Clinic (TLC) as it expanded into 11 store locations. She received a Green Leadership Award from Kroger last year, to add to the 2010 Chairman's Award already on her mantel. An adjunct professor and preceptor at the University of Cincinnati, she is an active member of several pharmacy associations.

Deanna Collins


If there's a point person in growth and profitability in the Atlanta division of Kroger Co., it may well be Collins. This divisional district manager oversees 32 managers and more than 600 associates, and is responsible for meeting and exceeding district and divisional sales and profit budgets for revenue growth and profitability for eight stores in Huntsville, Ala. As such, she assesses stores' ability not only to meet but also exceed shopper expectations, and then takes action to fill in any gaps. Last year, Collins' efforts and those of the managers and associates she leads spurred the highest customer satisfaction rating of any in the division, with a yearly score three points higher than the average division score. Her work also resulted in a 2 percent improvement in associate engagement figures. Collins's background in store management — she managed four stores in eight years and was also an operations coordinator — also taught her the importance of community engagement. Last year, for instance, she and her team were recognized for food donations and other efforts following a deadly tornado outbreak that affected the Huntsville area.

Karen Hansen


Building on past success is both a literal and figurative achievement for Hansen, who is a liaison to major construction at Kroger. In her role, she advises project managers on phasing and other construction activities and is responsible for the coordination of remerchandising functions (also known as resets) in existing stores. Among other recent achievements, she completed a process change that had been only a concept a few years ago. Hansen's background in operations, coupled with her willingness to dive right into a project, has served her well in her position, earning her several accolades within Kroger, including a President's Award. The results speak to her drive and expertise: Her efforts stemmed negative impact on sales by nearly 3 percent in resets, while overall conditions in remodels have dramatically improved. In her free time, Hansen also builds a better tomorrow by volunteering in her community and lending her time to a range of charitable causes.

Melinda Moon


She's certainly cool under pressure. As general manager of Layton Dairy, Moon runs the frozen/fluids dairy facility that produces fluid milk, juices, yogurt, cottage cheese, sour cream, novelties, ice cream sandwiches and ice cream. She oversees 255 associates in the facility, which provides the entire Kroger network with Greek yogurt and supplies an array of dairy products to Kroger's Smith's division. The plant has been singled out in a number of ways in recent years: It was one of four selected for a new control system implementation and was recognized as a Supplier of the Year by Kroger Manufacturing in 2012. In addition to leading the overall process control system at the facility, Moon has been busy in employee retention, facilitating surveys of promoted/ newly hired management associates and chairing a diversity retention subcommittee. Moon is active in her own community, too, regularly working to honor fire and police professionals and veterans.

Kristal Howard


You might call her the face and voice of Kroger, at least in two of the nation's top 10 media markets. In her role as PR manager for the Southwest division, Howard manages media relations in the key markets of Dallas and Houston without the support of a staff or agency. In addition to her role as spokeswoman for those metro areas and other cities and towns in her division, she provides public relations counsel and training to senior executives and management associates. Like the media professionals with whom she communicates, she has a large "beat," covering Kroger's Southwest division encompassing 207 stores, 198 pharmacies, 106 fuel centers, two distribution centers and two manufacturing plants. She has been successful in sharing stories from throughout her division, securing more than 35 favorable media "hits" per quarter, including a front-page business article in the Houston Chronicle about pet medication. As social media emerges as an important influencer, she has increased the division's presence in social media by 100 percent. Good works, too, are part of Howard's role at Kroger: She launched a company- and vendor-supported hunger relief campaign, "Bringing Hope to the Table," and raised nearly $55,000 to benefit the American Red Cross.

Philecia Avery


Managing the pharmacy benefits for a half-million people is no small task, but Avery has shown she's more than up to it. In her position overseeing the overall profit and loss for Pharmacy PBM and Kroger Prescription Plans Inc., she works on pharmacy benefits for Kroger employees, which total about 500,000 covered lives. Avery has worked as a pharmacist, pharmacy manager and pharmacy coordinator of Kroger's Mid-South division and as a clinical program manager for Kroger Prescription Plans. Her background and depth in her current role have helped her lead PBM to generate more than 2.9 million prescriptions, with $197 million in sales dollars last year. She also led her team to improve its contribution goal by more than 66 percent. These efforts led to her receiving a 2011 Food Executive Program scholarship, through which she represented Kroger at Cornell University. In addition, she was appointed to the School of Pharmacy relations committee at the Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy. Avery is active in a variety of professional and charitable organizations, from the Young Professionals Board of the Children's Home of Cincinnati to the US Bank Boys and Girls Club of Cincinnati to the Pharmacy Benefit Management Institute.

Rebecca L. Cupp


At a time when consumer concerns about health and wellness are arguably as high as they've ever been, the role of the community pharmacy becomes more pivotal. Cupp takes that philosophy to heart in her role of leading the development of cutting-edge clinical programs in Ralphs pharmacies throughout Southern California. She's responsible for directing all aspects of merchandising, marketing, long- and short-term planning, and operations for 90 pharmacies in the division. Along with 12 associates on her staff and 450 store staff including pharmacists, technicians and clerks, Cupp has teamed up with other health care providers across the region to advance patient outcomes, balancing such efforts with real financial results. For her active leadership in those collaborations and for her participation in California's "Right Care Initiative" pilot program aimed at reducing morbidity and mortality rates, she recently won an Innovative Collaboration Award from the California Department of Managed Health Care. Within her field, she is a frequent presenter at pharmacy schools and a member of pharmacy school advisory boards and associations.

Teresa Tucker


The prescription for success in grocery — including in drug/GM departments — involves a vision of the future combined with a strong commitment to excellence. In her role as director of drug/GM or Fry's Food Stores division, Tucker oversees 121 stores in Arizona and leads 1,000 associates in drug/ GM. She's responsible for merchandising and marketing for all drug/HBC, GM and home departments, and her department's annual sales exceed the $480 million mark. All of her hard work has led to her being credited with growing sales and market share in a tough-at-best economic climate. Among other efforts, Tucker launched the division's first women's affinity program. Continuously focused on giving back, Tucker is an active volunteer, and currently serving as a member of the Arizona chapter board of directors for the Salvation Army.

Silvia Rodriguez Spehar


In many sports matchups, a team is only as good as its coach. The same can be said in the grocery industry — Spehar can be considered a coach of sorts in Kroger's QFC division, helping supervise the operation of 24 stores in the north Seattle region of Washington state by managing district sales and profit budgets. Like a coach, she develops action plans to train store managers on the alignment and results of the company's business goals, drawing on her 30 years of experience in leadership and management. Spehar's record is a winning one: She led her district to the best shrink results last year, helped her district achieve best Key Retailing results and, along the way, earned the President's Award, the Lowest Overtime Award, the Best Mystery Shops Award and Achieve Global recognition. Spehar inspires team members in other ways as well, pioneering an advisory group called Women's Excellence for QFC and serving as a member of the Division Cultural Council.

Tracy McDaniel


To borrow a pharmaceutical term, McDaniel has administered a dose of success to Kroger's 114 pharmacies in the Mid-Atlantic region. The pharmacy merchandiser, who oversees an annual sales budget of more than $360 million, helped her operation boost sales by 9.7 percent last year and improved prescription growth by 5 percent. She's also responsible for ensuring that the division is compliant with legal regulations on pharmacies in all of its operating states, in addition to federal regulations, DEA regulations and contractual obligations. McDaniel takes a team approach to working with store managers and pharmacists, an approach she gleaned from her own experience as a pharmacist and Kroger associate for 23 years. Meanwhile, as Kroger's pharmacy operation has evolved over the years, she has expanded the business with customer service that now includes convenient vaccinations; all pharmacists are certified as immunizers, and the division gave more than 40,000 shots during the 2011 flu season. McDaniel lends her skills to other areas as well, as a member of the American Pharmacists Association and in community activities such as the local Heart Walk.

Wendy McCarty


She's responsible for a $410 million budget and five stores in central Kentucky, along with two large stores five hours away in Nashville, Tenn. For McCarty, big responsibilities have led to big results: Last year, she helped achieve a double-digit overall sales increase (excluding fuel) of 10.21 percent in her area. Her stores certainly boast strong performance numbers: Six out of the seven stores under her purview average more than $1 million a week in sales, with the seventh nearing the $900,000 mark. There's no resting on laurels, though, for this district manager, who opened a new Marketplace store last year and has been tasked with converting two more traditional stores to Marketplaces. For her part, McCarty is quick to recognize and reward excellence within her division, promoting those who have worked hard and showed results to higher levels within the organization. She's equally committed to her family and other causes important to her, like the Louisville Urban League and the Kentuckiana Minority Business Council.

Ronette Malone


The eight military-only MDV Nash Finch distribution centers serve 123 commissaries and 371 exchanges, and last year Malone's sales team secured $70 million, on a goal of $56 million, in annualized new business sales and more than $600,00 in additional revenue on current customer sales. Malone personally secured $19 million of the $70 million. Her team also transitioned $60 million in sales from a retail DC to a military-only facility and then doubled those sales in six months, which was among the primary reasons she received Nash Finch's Ovation Award. Her total responsibilities include managing and supervising four business managers in the military division, whose role is to nurture relationships with current vendors and work closely with them on meeting their needs with MDV services. Malone is also responsible for maintaining and growing the gross profit generated by these sales, in addition to overseeing the sales, drayage, cash discount and other gross profit lines in the budget. As a member of Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Malone has mentored her own "little sister" since 2008. She also volunteers and participates in MDV's quarterly military families outreach events.

Kristine Jordah


With responsibilities that include the development, approval and oversight of Nash Finch's benefits of about $25 million and compensation planning budgets, Jordah also has oversight of the company's human resources budgeting process, as well as being the primary HR business partner with operations in restructuring/reorganization activities and mergers and acquisitions. She gained leadership support in implementing a holistic approach to associate well-being in career, social life, financial goals, physical health and community involvement, and successfully piloted the "Healthy Lifestyle Challenge" wellness program in preparation for its recent company-wide rollout. Jordah was also the key HR partner in a complete restructuring of Nash Finch's wholesale food distribution business segment, which was completed in less than six months. Among the many trade organizations and external professional groups Jordah is involved with are the Twin Cities Compensation Network, the Twins Cities Human Resources Association and the Simley High School boys/girls soccer program.

Jennifer LaFontaine


LaFontaine leads initiatives for the natural and organic (N&O) sales team and works cross-functionally across PepsiCo R&D and marketing to leverage assets for this channel. Her primary responsibilities are to drive the innovation development, trade plans and sales strategy to grow N&O retail customers, including Whole Foods Market. She was responsible

for developing a customer-relevant product portfolio for Whole Foods and R&D teams across PepsiCo. These new product launches led to double-digit growth. LaFontaine coordinated with cross-functional stakeholders to develop step-change innovation for Whole Foods, resulting in highly incremental and Fair Trade-certified offerings on the Stacy's and Near East brands. In 2011, LaFontaine won a PepsiCo Grocery Customer Team Trailblazer Award for the Naked Coconut Water launch. She's a member of Women's Inclusion Network for PepsiCo Sales and Women of the West-PepsiCo Sales Organization.

Kimi Tucker


With headquarters responsibility for the fifth-largest category within Publix Supermarkets' 1,050 stores across five states, Tucker delivered in 2011 gross sales growth of 7 percent, ranking first among the top five retail grocery accounts within PepsiCo's customer portfolio. Her creation of the Publix-specific "All Natural" campaign highlighted the launch of Frito-Lay's "All Natural" ingredients. This included leading the development and joint sell-in of a cross-category merchandising solution providing 52 weeks of value and recipes designed to maximize the category synergies between snacks and fresh produce. The rollout was further amplified with a six-week ad spread that drove performance of the portfolio within Frito-Lay to No. 1 within the top five retail accounts. Tucker's primary responsibilities as director of customer management at PepsiCo include the deliverance of revenue, profit and business growth objectives for Lakeland, Fla.-based Publix, the largest privately owned grocer in the Southeast, with annual revenues of more than $25 billion. She also leads the development and execution of overall customer strategy, as well as developing a high-performance sales team. Tucker is an active member of the Network of Executive Women (NEW) and a volunteer for PepsiCo Feeds America, among other industry affiliations.

Haley Kelley


Kelley's position requires her to interact directly with product development, packaging design, customer development of new products, pricing and all aspects of customer service. This past year, she secured several large national-chain accounts and continued to increase sales on these accounts, thanks to her efficiency and timeliness in responding to retailer requests. Kelley was also diligent about keeping her department within budget and delivering high-quality products to Pineland's customers. Kelley is also active in her northern Maine community, organizing and teaching figure skating classes for children.

Leslie Newlee


Newlee has spent the past 17 years at PepsiCo, and now has the duties of unlocking category and PepsiCo growth at Pleasanton, Calif.-based Safeway through category, customer, and shopper insights; aligning PepsiCo and Safeway strategic direction, creating a seamless joint-selling cycle to produce robust, relevant selling opportunities; and leading PepsiCo efforts in the Safeway loyalty platform, including targeting, offers and execution within the grocer's "Just For U" program. PepsiCo sales at all Safeway divisions are now nearing $1 billion. Newlee co-developed a National PepsiCo Customer Strategic Framework, shifting the singular customer approach to one that captures key customer growth opportunities based on retail outlook and PepsiCo effort. She developed customer-specific solutions above the category desk, including City Target total-store strategy for launch and Fresh & Easy affinity-based total store layout recommendations for new stores. Newlee was also key in developing a common analytic template for PepsiCo customer team sales and share decomposition, and presented it to PepsiCo Europe and AMEA analytic teams. Newlee was a 2008-11 member/volunteer at the Friends of the Katy Trail in Dallas, and participates in various industry events.

Jennie Bak


Bak is responsible for the flow of goods through the supply chain, managing a seven-member planning team. Collaborating with key business areas, she sets supply chain performance goals. For the past year, Bak has managed product service from Publix's warehouses to its stores at a 98.1 percent accuracy/efficiency rating, maintained shelf service at a 98.32 percent accuracy/efficiency rating and, along with her team, delivered a shrink improvement over last year of approximately 2 percent. Further, Bak is taking part in a project that will change the way Publix warehouses and ships its wine and liquor items, as well as expanding those product lines significantly. A participant in the Network of Executive Women (NEW) and a supporter of Publix's "Bring Your Kids to Work" program for the past six years, Bak is also a supporter of the Boy Scouts of America and contributor to the United Way.

Deborah Lauer


In charge of all front end operations and procedures for Redner's 39 grocery stores, Lauer also sets operational standards and policies as they relate to scanning and pricing coordination, from the corporate office to the stores. Having steadily risen through the ranks from her entry-level position of part-time cashier, Lauer displays a firm grasp of her current role and an ability to manage and work with the front end departments, as well as dealing effectively with store operations, price coordination and financial auditing, which have raised her to a high level of leadership at Redner's. When not performing her job flawlessly, Lauer is actively involved with fundraising for the American Cancer Society and the Relay for Life.

Kathy Ralston


Ralston is responsible for developing and implementing technology designed to increase the efficiency of all Smart & Final stores, including front end, ordering and inventory systems, and signs and tags. Last year, Ralston focused on assisting with systems to reduce shrink. She worked with the register systems to improve methods for ringing up individual and random-weight produce. She also worked with operations on new symbol guns to assist with inventory control and accuracy. In addition, Ralston is available around the clock to help store managers with any systems issues. A 16-year member of Smart & Final's IT department, Ralston has led the transition of store technology as the company has expanded to a more complex and larger format.

Chris Covington


Covington is responsible for the development and management of the 182-member field marketing team, which works with community businesses to better serve their needs and to promote Smart & Final on a local level. She created the current field marketing program last year, hired and trained its members, and maintained ongoing communication and training on new products throughout the year. Smart & Final considers the program to be a key factor in its significant increase in business sales during 2011. Covington joined Smart & Final in 1970 and worked her way up to become the company's first female store manager. She joined the field marketing team in 1999 and was responsible for grand openings and special events. Covington also developed a special order program for fire departments so the company could provide support during large fires and local disasters.

Kimberly Cook


Cook is responsible for all inbound freight, third-party transportation and store deliveries to Smart & Final's northern California stores from its Commerce and Modesto facilities, as well as all perishable deliveries from the Riverside and Brea distribution centers. She manages 140 associates, including 100 drivers. As a certified Oz Principle trainer, Cook has brought a culture of accountability to Smart & Final's transportation department. She has been responsible for renegotiating all third-party contracts for transportation, significantly reducing total transportation spend. She also led two task forces with drivers and dispatch coordinators to improve communication between the teams. Cook started with the company in 2008 as traffic manager and has steadily increased her responsibilities. In 2010, she was promoted to senior operations manager, and in 2011 she was given responsibility for the company's entire private fleet.

Mellonie Celestine


Celestine is responsible for the development, design and production of training materials for Smart & Final's 182 stores, corporate office and distribution centers. She's the coordinator for the retail management certificate program, all educational reimbursement programs and the scholarship program. Celestine has been instrumental in the introduction of online learning and online survey capabilities. She was also responsible for the creation of a Smart University Facebook page to keep associates informed about the company's scholarship program. Celestine coordinated Oz Principle training for more than 500 associates in 2011. She joined Smart & Final in 1996 as a part-time associate and was promoted to customer service representative in 2001, to the training department in 2004 and to her current post in 2008.

Diane Vonderheide


With 16 Jewel-Osco stores under her watch generating $449 million in annual sales, Vonderheide is responsible for the efficient operation and the maximization of sales and profits for her territory, ensuring that operations are consistent with established policies and objectives. Vonderheide is responsible for creating superior store directors through professional development and regular coaching of store teams. She is also accountable for delivering outstanding customer satisfaction results through store associates who are friendly, responsive and available for customers. She also works to ensure that associates are knowledgeable and passionate about the business. Vonderheide produced great sales results with a major new competitor in her district; she was still able to improve customer satisfaction results and shrink numbers in all of her stores. She is an advocate and leader in showing the importance of reaching sales goals, and has won many sales contests. She also faced six power outages in her district last summer and was able to rally her team to successfully reopen stores to support the communities they serve.

Tami Papworth


Responsible for managing the chain's construction projects, Papworth reviews and manages capital expenditures and budgets, reviews proposals and change orders, manages the AFC/RFC process, manages service agreements, and tracks cost savings. She's also the company designee to work with the owners to achieve combined company savings through leveraged purchases. In 2011, Papworth oversaw completion of two new stores, 43 store remodels and 125 other smaller construction projects, and directed remodeling of the Riverside, Calif., distribution center. Tracking millions of dollars in approved capital, she negotiated quantity discounts from equipment vendors that resulted in savings exceeding $500,000. As a licensed general contractor, Papworth previously worked for Ralphs and Food 4 Less. She's a member of the Building Industry Association, the Association of Women Contractors, Grocery Real Estate Design and Construction Professionals and the National Association of Women in Construction.

Erin Grotts


Grotts directs a 12-member team focused on delivering a variety of internal communications pieces to more than 135,000 associates throughout the Supervalu family of stores, distribution centers and store support facilities. She's responsible for driving sales company-wide by helping all associates understand the company's business transformation as well as how their contributions will drive its overall success. Grotts has led the implementation of new communications tools, including a business-designed social media tool that's been critical to providing more immediate communication and transparency across the entire organization. This initiative has led to more efficient real-time communication between associates. She also played an integral role in helping deliver the company's first store director summit last spring, which brought together more than 1,100 store directors and company leaders to engage in Supervalu's business turnaround strategy.

Glennis Harris


Harris oversees a team of 10 responsible for retail audit, retail integrity and front end support in 181 Jewel-Osco stores. She provides overall leadership strategy, vision and direction for Jewel-Osco solutions, processes, metrics and best practices, with an emphasis on shrink. Harris works across other teams to collaborate on continuous improvements, tools management, standardization and efficiencies. She also oversees day-to-day operations of the front end systems. Harris was instrumental in developing and rolling out a "Fresh Rescue" program that allowed greater donation of fresh food to the various food banks across Jewel-Osco's Chicago, Indiana and Iowa locations. This program not only allowed the company to help the community, but the new tracking system also helps it realize a tax benefit that wasn't present before. Harris was also instrumental in helping Jewel-Osco see an overall shrink improvement of 23 basis points versus prior year. Harris was the first Jewel-Osco recipient of the Excellence Award, among other accolades, for her many contributions to helping to achieve top earning while mentoring and growing the associate base.

Kim Hager


Hager is accountable for the overall success of the deli operation from a merchandising perspective, including implementation of new items; pricing structure; promotional, advertising and communicating plans; and educating associates on product and merchandising processes. She oversees the salad bar, chef stations, catering and other special events procured by the sales team for 43 deli operations from Richmond, Va., to Elizabeth City, N.C. Hager has generated 12 percent increases in the deli operation over last year. She implemented a baked chicken program that complements Supervalu's fried chicken program; this item is now the company's top SKU. Hager has worked in the retail grocery industry for more than 20 years, operating her own deli before selling the business in 2008. She is currently the champion of Supervalu's PEER recognition awards.

Jennifer McDonald


McDonald supports the maximization of category performance, with a focus on the top line by executing sales programs, pricing programs and local vendor relationships. She works with merchandising operations specialists to drive execution, conduct limited local negotiations and provide input into tactics to complement strategies. In 2011, McDonald led many projects for the division that were recognized and rolled out to the entire Supervalu organization. She created a sports nutrition program that helped the HHB category see a 25 percent sales gain for the year. She also put together a new HHB sales program by teaming with the corporate merchandisers, along with many suppliers, to have an on-shelf coupon program. Results saw item growth exceed 50 percent and category growth rise 6 percent during the promotions. McDonald completed the "Today's Managers, Tomorrow's Leaders" program in 2008 and is currently completing the prestigious Food Industry Management Program at the University of Southern California.

Manda Johns


Johns is responsible for all center store merchandising, directing the largest department in her region, with more than 100 associates ranging from senior-level managers to nonexempt office associates. She knows every associate in her department and keeps in touch with them to ensure she's providing them with the right opportunities and challenges, specifically recognizing the different generations that exist throughout the region and what keeps them motivated. Johns is responsible for developing and measuring all region sales programs, as well as for the budget and financial performance of all of these categories. She continues to meet her budget numbers and constantly works to improve her department. When Johns assumed her current position, she developed and implemented a merchandising program that will enable her region to be more effective and efficient with promotional programs and develop bench strength within center store merchandising departments. Supervalu says Johns' "outside-the-box thinking continues to prove instrumental in ensuring we stay ahead of our competition, while ensuring that our employees are motivated and engaged in the business." Johns also leads VIBE, the region's women's business resources group, and mentors associates at multiple levels within the organization.

Rising Stars & Store Managers

Maria Smith


Overseeing 16 Jewel-Osco stores that generate $527 million in annual sales, Smith is responsible for their efficient operation and maximization of sales and profits. She also is accountable for delivering outstanding customer satisfaction results through store associates that are friendly, responsive to customer needs, knowledgeable and passionate about the business. Smith created evening workshops for key associates that were later implemented as a best practice across Jewel-Osco. She has developed and mentored five successful store directors. Smith's district earned the lowest overtime percentage across all of Jewel-Osco. She has improved customer satisfaction scores while also improving on her fresh shrink numbers. Despite tough economic conditions, results were highly favorable toward industry standards.

Mary Jo Neuman


Neuman is responsible for leading the strategic direction and development of fresh merchandising for the Cub Foods banner. Passionate about the grocery industry, Neuman is described as a "creative and energetic leader with broad-reaching experience." With more than three decades at Cub, she was promoted to her current post in March 2011. In addition to overseeing development and execution in produce, meat/seafood, bakery, deli, dairy and floral, she has been instrumental in creating development programs for associates in the stores and store support center, and over the past two years has taken a lead role in coordination and logistics for Cub's annual leadership summit for store managers and franchisees. Neuman is a member of the Network of Executive Women (NEW) and a leader in the Cub Women for Success and Cub Diversity Council groups. She is also active with Store to Door, a nonprofit organization that shops for and delivers groceries every two weeks to aging and homebound seniors.

Alisa Hundley


Since she took on her current position in March 2011, Hundley has achieved positive identical-store sales for every period. She also increased the overall perishable gross profit by 3 percent from the prior year and easily exceeded overall store budgeted goals. On the customer service front, Hundley reduced customer complaints by more than half, and her store didn't receive a single long-line complaint in 2011. What's more, customer tracking scores for her store exceeded company and district averages in all areas of the tracking study. Among the various community activities she has hosted at her store are food drives for local organizations and a pet food drive for an area animal shelter. This Giant Food Merit Award winner has also served as a visiting professor for the assistant store manager training program at the division.

April Richardson


Richardson's devotion to associate development has led her to become a trainer for Ahold USA's store management training program, which is instrumental in the development of salaried management, and she's received training herself to be an observer for the Assessment Center, which evaluates potential store manager candidates. Richardson also served as the alternate representative for her district on the Store Manager Council in 2011, becoming the district representative in January 2012, as well as being a member of the Female Leadership Advisory Council. In support of the company's "Living Here, Giving Here" philosophy, her store teamed with the organization NW Works to provide employment for an adult with disabilities and participated in the fundraising "Edible Books" festival at the Handley Regional Library. Not only did Richardson's store sponsor the festival, it also won a prize for the cake it submitted depicting the book "Playing for Pizza."

Hilina D. Ajakaiye


Overseeing a diverse workforce of 150 associates, Ajakaiye has faced many work-related challenges, but one of the biggest came not from within but without: In August 2011, Tropical Storm Irene barreled into town, causing her store to lose power for more than 26 hours. This emergency required monumental efforts on Ajakaiye's part to corral her team, employing quick response and clear actions, steps and thinking to mitigate chaos. Through her leadership, more than $1 million of company assets were successfully secured, with minimal loss to the store. Although Ajakaiye was unable to get home to her family for nearly two days, she was able to serve as a source of comfort and strength for her associates and many area families who had no power for many days after the storm. The end result was that her store suffered the fewest losses of the division's stores in the affected area. A graduate of The Partnership Inc., an intense year-long leadership program, Ajakaiye gives her time to many community groups, including Progresso Latino, Boys Town and playground-building organization Kaboom.

Bobbi Majors


Promoted to store manager in 2011, Majors was assigned to a "focus store" with serious shrink issues. By an adherence to standard operating procedures and the development of her store team, she was able to reduce nonperishable shrink by 54 percent within six months. Achieving perishable shrink goals as well, Majors handily exceeded her budgeted sales goals. Her strong emphasis on driving productivity and daily standards, especially in the fresh department, has resulted in a dramatic increase in sales, and she's also improved conditions and associate morale at her store. Having worked her way up from part-time cashier to her current position, Majors also finds time to give back to her community by volunteering through her church to feed the homeless at various shelters in her area.

Kimberly Carr


In 2011, Carr significantly exceeded her 2011 sales budget, not only increasing her sales by 10 percent while bringing her labor in under budget for the year, but also maintaining her customer base despite a ShopRite, a Mom's Organic Market and a Fresh Market all opening in the immediate area. Leading by example, not only within her store, but also as a leader within her district, Carr wholeheartedly takes part in such company initiatives as Ahold USA's Triple Winner program, which supports the Johns Hopkins Pediatric Cancer Center. Carr is also "green" captain within her district and operates a prototype green grocery store. Her extensive community work beyond the store includes helping out the Randallstown Youth Football League and volunteering at the Sacred Heart School. As she puts it, "I am a huge supporter of any program that keeps kids going in the right direction."

Sherry Olson


Not only did Olson surpass all sales, margin and expense goals at her store in 2011, but she also emerged as a bona fide merchandising star, presenting the Ahold USA merchandising standards meeting for the Stop & Shop New England division, based on her ability to promote seasonal events and holidays to their fullest potential, and direct creative tie-ins to set an example for other stores. Olson additionally serves as a mentor to assistant store managers, as well as a facilitator for First Line Skills Training, which educates department managers to become successful leaders. Additional distinctions for Olson include her status as top performer in nonperishable shrink reduction in her district, and her support of the Greater Boston Food Bank and the Norwood and Sharon, Mass., Food Pantries.

Donna Epley


Winner of the 2011 Food Lion Store Manager Excellence Award and the 2011 Food Lion Mid-Atlantic Store Manager of the Year recognition, Epley led her store to strong financial results, developed and promoted associates, and exceeded company financial goals to support community efforts. During 2011, her store achieved a 1.88 percent increase in same-store sales and made a 10.27 percent profit from operations versus a budgeted 9.2 percent. Epley's associate development accomplishments included identifying, training and promoting six entry-level associates to managerial positions, including her head stocker and a part-time frozen food clerk, both of whom became grocery managers. When not growing associates, winning new customers and driving excellent store performance, Epley volunteers her time with local community efforts benefiting public schools, Toys for Tots and the fire department, among other causes.

Barbara Algeri


As acting owner of the store and first in line as its successor, Algeri manages all operations of the Buttermilk Hollow IGA, a 15,000-square-foot store supplied by Supervalu's Pittsburgh division. She handles all strategic decisions concerning the store's direction, including finance, marketing and all personnel matters. In 2011, Algeri planned and oversaw a partial remodel, implementing new décor and related store fixtures to enhance the sales area. Both the produce and meat cases were replaced, along with the store's front end system, all of which collectively drove an 8 percent sales increase. As Algeri continues to expand her role and operational expertise, plans are in progress for upgrades to the store's deli and bakery this year. As next in line to lead the operation, Algeri already has an eye on growth, and plans to further her family-owned store's expansion in the coming years.

Anna Shaw


Shaw is the type of store manager who isn't satisfied with mediocrity. When she began managing Giant Eagle's store in Latrobe, Pa., it was a "shrink focus" store that had several unsatisfactory inventories. She focused on achieving a team atmosphere and reducing shrink as a whole — and after six periods, the store moved out of "shrink focus." Not only that, but shrink improved by 9 percent. Shaw also has helped increase gross profit by 9 percent, while sales are up about 4 percent. Overall store profitability is up 67 percent over the same six periods last year. The Latrobe store was recognized as the Customer Service Satisfaction top-scoring store in Giant Eagle's East division. In addition, it exceeded the all-time weekly sales record this year. Shaw was recently honored by Giant Eagle with a Presidential Award for the customer service pilot program. In addition, she was selected to take part in several leadership programs, including the Winning Profile program and the Strategic Leadership Series held by Giant Eagle leaders Laura Karet and David Shapira this past spring. The company also tapped her to participate in a store leader council that will work to identify and solve problems that store leaders and team leaders face at store level. Additionally, last year Shaw participated in Giant Eagle's Inclusion & Diversity Mentorship Program.

Latoya Bratton


Bratton began her grocery career as a floral clerk in 1996. Her natural leadership ability catapulted her to the position of floral leader, and within 10 years she ended up being a store leader. One of Bratton's major achievements last year was creating a group of store team members who go out into the community to help with different service activities. Right now, her team is heavily involved with the Westmoreland Food Bank and the Fresh Express food drop that occurs once a month. When working with the Fresh Express food drop, Bratton saw that the volunteers needed safety gear, so she provided them with safety cutters and plastic splitters. Bratton participated in the FMI Leadership Conference last year and also took part in the Duquesne University Women's Leadership course. She is on both the marketing and communications committee and the community services committee for Giant Eagle's Women's Business Resource Group. A busy mom of two, she is also a member of the PTO at her child's school.

Jen Book


Under Book's leadership, Hy-Vee's Altoona, Iowa, store was operating in the black less than a year after opening a brand-new facility. Her store has been voted "No. 1 Grocery Store in Altoona" every year she has been director there. In 2011, the store achieved a sales increase in excess of 9 percent, while profits climbed by nearly 50 percent. The company added a sushi bar and international cheese case, and also expanded the HealthMarket department, which resulted in a 23 percent increase in HealthMarket sales. Book has also helped create a number of free community events, including summer Music on the Plaza parties in the park next to the store, outdoor Movie Nights on a giant screen installed on the side of the store, an Easter Egg Scramble and trick-or-treating (which drew more than 1,000 kids last year), and a Christmas tree lighting ceremony, among others. Book is a graduate of the Altoona Leadership School and was elected to serve a term on Hy-Vee's board of directors for 2012. She serves on the board of directors for Eastern Polk County Regional Development and the Ironwood Homeowners Association. She is also VP of the Altoona Lions Club and chair of the Altoona Palooza committee, among many other community activities.

Lisa Palazzo


Giant Eagle's store #6377 underwent a major remodel in January 2011, and Palazzo was there to see it through. She evaluated all new departments, including health, beauty and wellness; expanded prepared foods; and developed creative work models throughout the store to make the changes successful. For example, she established an innovative three-tier leadership structure in prepared foods to ensure that the addition of 40-plus team members and "sub" departments would include specific leadership roles. Palazzo serves on Giant Eagle's Store Leader Council, and was selected to participate in the 2012 Executive Leadership Program at Carnegie Mellon University. She was also chosen to take part in the Giant Eagle chairman's Strategic Leadership Series. Using her leadership skills, she managed a United Way campaign at store level and coordinated several food deliveries between Giant Eagle and United Way Lake County (Ohio).

Tarci Slaybaugh


Like many Top Women in Grocery, Slaybaugh started working at her company while still in high school. Also like the industry's female leaders, she worked hard over the years, through and beyond college, and regularly moved up the company chain. In her current role as a store director in Omaha, Neb. (the third store director role she's held in the past 20 years), Slaybaugh has applied what she's learned in her tenure at Hy-Vee, leading to increased sales and net profits every year. Even by Slaybaugh's exacting standards, 2011 was a banner year for her store: Under her leadership, the store scored a record profit well in excess of the previous year and earned more than a 10 percent bonus for its employees. In two quarters, there was 14 percent increase in sales. Along the way, the store's expenses were reduced, while the volume per clerk increased. A believer in paying it forward for everyone's betterment, Slaybaugh has also focused on advancement training among employees, and four of her managers have since become store directors. She's just as committed to good causes in her personal time, serving on the board of directors of the College World Series and volunteering for the local ALS Walk.

Tonya Graf


Graff is a store director at a Yankton, S.D., Hy-Vee location that has 91 full-time and 305 part-time employees. The store director role isn't new for her, since she has held that title at different store sites for 16 of her 27 years at Hy-Vee. Still, she continues to find innovative ways to overcome challenges. At the Yankton store, for instance, she succeeded a popular longtime store director who had retired, and instead of being intimidated, she embraced the opportunity to engage store employees and customers. The results speak for themselves: In 2011, her first full year at the store, she set new records for average weekly sales and volume per clerk hour, increased profit and reduced expenses. Thinking outside the box, she was one of the first Hy-Vee store directors to add a professional full-time chef to the store and also broadened community outreach efforts, serving on local boards. Within the Hy-Vee organization, she served a term on the board of directors and was chosen to be a part of the ad and PAC committees. Beyond grocery, she's a board member of a local hospital foundation and local Humane Society and chamber of commerce groups, and expresses her love of horses by teaching horseback riding and judging 4-H horse shows.

Barbara Miller


Last year, Miller achieved numerous successes for her store, including successful sanitation results with an average score of 91, mystery shop scores that were among the top three in the chain for the year, and running a coat drive to benefit the Salvation Army that collected more than 80 coats. During the October 2011 snowstorm, when the store lost power for three days, she rallied her team to salvage good product to minimize loss and then dismantle, sanitize and restock the store to be ready for business in the speediest manner possible. She also motivated the team by rewarding exemplary customer service with free lunch certificates. Other team celebrations included a "make your own sundae" event and a summer barbecue. With such an impressive list of accomplishments, it's no surprise that Miller received a Kings Team Award in 2011.

Terri Gilbert


Over the past year, the store Gilbert manages has seen the following improvements: net profits up $107,000, sales with fuel up $981,374, grocery GP up 0.92 percent, meat GP up 1.18 percent and produce GP up 22.25 percent, combined with a decrease in salaries of 0.52 percent. She was the recipient of the company's ECO (Energy Conservation Objective) award for the third quarter of 2011, and is a member of the company's best practices committee, setting standards for recruiting, interviewing, hiring/orientation and training. Gilbert also chaired the company's mentoring committee in preparation for its internal HOPE Leadership Conference. She worked with the University of Tennessee to implement and organize Move In Day on campus, and also volunteers as a mentor with the Tennessee Scholars. Gilbert currently serves on the board for the Norwood Kiwanis Club, assisting with all fundraising events, and was selected to attend a Dale Carnegie course, as well as being among the company's top 45 executives to attend the 2011 FMI Future Connect Conference.

Carole Bracaglia


Throughout her 31 years in the grocery industry, Bracaglia has worked in stores with varying volumes and customer bases. Her customer-centric focus has made her successful in each location, according to her peers. In addition to her experience running stores, Bracaglia has been involved in store remodels and grand openings. In 2011, she achieved budgeted profits by increasing sales while controlling expenses and shrink at the Midland Park store. Her ability to plan, organize and manage resulted in her selection as the general store manager for a major store remodel in the upcoming fiscal year. Bracaglia volunteers with the Community Food Bank of New Jersey and has served on the board of directors for the Chatham, N.J., Chamber of Commerce.

Connie Deckel


Last year, Deckel exceeded her store sales and profit goals. She also secured a large catering account for an event that occurs four times per year. Working to provide the best customer service possible, Deckel even decided to develop her own in-house secret shopper program. According to her peers, Deckel works to ensure that the Garden City, N.Y., Kings is the local community store. The company's mascot bear — "Kingsly" — is always present at town, chamber of commerce and grammar school events. In May 2011, she was the recipient of the Garden City Chamber of Commerce's first annual President's Award. This award recognizes an individual's exceptional volunteer service to the Garden City community and beyond. When she isn't working or volunteering her time with the community, Deckel enjoys helping with her son's Little League baseball team and Cub Scouts outings.

Kathy Fiduccia


Fiduccia came to Kings in 2008 as a veteran supermarket manager. At Kings' Bedminster, N.J., location, she has led a $3 million total store renovation project, with responsibility for coordinating daily projects with construction teams and ensuring adherence to company standards of operation. Along with her team, Fiduccia created and implemented a plan for maintaining service and sales during the renovation time period. The plan included holding weekly meetings with her department managers and all associates to ensure that everyone had talking points for communicating the progress with customers, in an effort to keep them informed and excited about the project. Her communication efforts, high expectations and attention to detail allowed her to achieve all of the sales projections throughout the remodel while maintaining her customer base. In fact, her sales not only met the budgeted targets, but also exceeded them during the holiday period. At Kings, she has received awards for her team's Legendary Service scores on customer shopping surveys. An active member of her community, she volunteers her time regularly with the Community Food Bank of New Jersey and local Bedminster Township activities. She has also spent time on the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Walk and the Walk for Juvenile Diabetes.

Donna Lewis


In total, Lewis has managed six Kings locations, overseeing the remodeling of two stores and the opening of a brand-new location. She excels in meeting budgets, hitting shrink targets and bringing in positive bottom-line results. In 2011, the holiday merchandising she planned and executed set a sales record. She manages a store in a highly competitive marketplace and has run a positive sales trend, positive profit trend and positive average basket. Last year, she oversaw the launch of personal e-shopping in the company's Bedminster, N.J., location. Lewis is also keenly interested in charitable giving. Last year, she helped to support the New Jersey Foodbank via the "Check Out Hunger" program, and exceeded the company's goal, as well as the prior year's donations by 61 percent. Her store team finished first in the company. Not surprisingly, she volunteers much of her time to causes including the National MS Society, the American Cancer Society, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and Boy Scouts of America.

Maryann Klejmont


Klejmont is being heralded at Kings Super Markets for the impressive financial results she helped her store achieve last year. Under her leadership, the Morristown, N.J., Kings experienced a 7 percent increase in same-store sales,while shrink rates improved 2 percent and contribution to the profit line jumped 32 percent. Klejmont also helped decrease costs in the area of customer slips and falls by 32 percent. Thanks to her experience and diligence, she alerted the company to a group that was "staging" a false claim. Also in 2011, Klejmont came up with a creative internal associate communication program called "Race for Sales" to support the company's strategic plan. The message was delivered through bulletin boards, meetings, and by publishing sales results every week. As a result of those efforts, the store experienced a significant sales increase without any capital investment. Kings recognized her accomplishments by nominating her for FMI's Store Manager of the Year in 2011. An environmental advocate, Klejmont is the liaison to the Mayor's Office of Sustainability and piloted an organic waste recycling program test in 2011 for Morristown. Additionally, she raised more than $10,000 for the Interfaith Food Pantry of Morris County by running a program at Kings' Morris County stores in June 2011 for Hunger Awareness Month.

Amy J. Bauer


Recognizing leadership is pivotal not just in rewarding hard work, but also inspiring future excellence. Bauer understands that concept well: As a store manager in Hebron, Ky., she spent much of last year promoting more than 30 associates from store clerks to store leadership positions. Indeed, associate engagement is a mantra of Bauer, whose store perennially receives scores in Kroger's top 5 percent to 10 percent. Her team also had the company's best sales in the drug/GM department, and sales volume at a store she opened in 2008 has since doubled. A Kroger associate for 33 years and a store manager for the past eight years at four different locations, Bauer currently oversees 270 employees yet still finds time to volunteer in her community, including her local school district and church. Meeting the needs of different generations is top of mind for this mother of three adult children, who has said it's important to appreciate differences to best serve all customer groups. In addition to being named one of this year's Top Women in Grocery, Bauer has received various company honors for her leadership and fostering of leadership in others.

Carla Kogler


Kogler frequently quotes the saying, "When you smile, the world smiles back." That cheerful outlook is complemented by a strong work ethic focused on diligence and teamwork. Managing a team of 170 associates in Kroger's Fry's division, she has been at the forefront of that division's introduction of World Class Customer Service with high-speed checkouts. Kogler had a leadership role in the pilot and helped her store achieve the company goal of 80 percent in the initiative. Her store was one of only two locations to also achieve a company goal of 90 percent adherence to Key Retailing Best Practice Behavior, achieved through frequent meetings, open communications and clear direction on standards and expectations about back-room and department organization and standards.

Along the way, sales at her store rose 7.7 percent and shrink was cut by 1.84 percent. Kogler's results speak to her hard work and communication skills, but also reflect a background that prepared her well for her current role: Before joining the division in 1995 as a backup scanning coordinator, she worked in the vendor community that delivered to Fry's for five years. When asked about her career influences, Kogler cites mentors who have shared candid feedback, expectations and a positive outlook.

Becky Brown


Brown brought together a new team after the opening of a new store and achieved nearly every goal set there by Kroger. That team has led the division in many measurements and established a store environment that celebrates food through unique and exciting selling events, growing sales at nearly 21 percent over the prior year. The winner of numerous company and community awards, Brown was chosen for the Kroger Company Council of Councils, a major initiative for the development and implementation of the company-wide associate engagement initiative. Additionally, for four years, Brown held a position on the Cincinnati division Kroger Cultural Advisory Council.

Deborah Akridge


When your colleagues give you an award, you know you're doing something right. Deborah Akridge, who manages a Kroger store in Hot Springs, Ark., and oversees 130 employees, had the highest employee engagement score in her division last year, based on feedback from a survey sent to every associate. In her 13 years as store manager — and 34 years in service to Kroger — Akridge has received several other accolades, too. For example, she led one of the most profitable stores in Kroger's Delta division, while her store has been among the top locations for best in-stock position. Her long tenure within the organization has served her well in other ways, as she is able to draw on her varied experience; before being named a store manager, she performed roles ranging from clerk to co-manager to deli manager. She is involved in an intra-company way as well, as a member of the District Managers Council, Division Cultural Council and the local store manager focus committee. Meanwhile, Akridge is actively engaged outside the store to help others, through her work with United Way fundraising campaigns, breast cancer awareness campaigns and other activities.

Ericka Ridgway


The 72,000-square-foot store Ridgway manages is one of the fastest-growing stores in Kroger's Central division, and, during the early months of 2012, she led her store to eye-popping sales growth of 7.3 percent, showing her mastery of both merchandising and operations, as well as demonstrating the intangibles of true leadership. Ridgway's unit also scored the highest out of 155 stores on an internal operational auditing process called Key Retailing. In the community of Brownsburg, she's a member of the Rotary Club and an active participant each year in Indiana's March of Dimes Walk. Ridgway also volunteers as a youth basketball coach in the neighboring town of Pittsboro.

Kim Nesser


Kroger's management training program taught Nesser about overcoming challenges and focusing on customers, something she has taken to heart in her role as a store manager in Columbus, Ohio. The store she was assigned wasn't operating at its full potential when she came on board, and morale among employees was low. To turn things around, she used strategies she learned from her management training and from her previous experience within Kroger and improved the location from both an operational and human resources standpoint. Today, the store team is more positive, motivated and involved in the community, while sales, P&G and shrink have all improved. Her tenacity and commitment also helped her as she opened a store in a multicultural neighborhood, a location that has since become the most successful Hispanic pilot store at Kroger. Providing Spanish classes to employees to enable them to communicate more effectively with customers is only one example of the customer-centric mindset that she has honed in her career at Kroger.

Marie Royval


Royval successfully led the 2011 major remodel and grand opening of King Soopers' first Latino pilot store, which includes a tortillerÍa and helado shop, as well as merchandising for the area's demographics and combating any nearby competition. Under Royval's leadership, sales continue to show double-digit increases while still maintaining salary and operational standards. Her extensive experience in merchandising has given her an edge in making the pilot store successful. Among the awards Royval has garnered are numerous 100% Secret Shops, the Great Citizenship Award from her district manager, the Safety Award for her store achieving more than 500 accident-free days, and a district award for not having any out-of-stocks in produce or meat departments. Her free time is spent supporting her two sons in their martial arts and hockey interests, as well as serving as a role model for her nieces and nephews. Royval thrives on showing the children in her life, as well as the younger generation of workers, that they can be anything they want to be.

Sally Weber


Weber's upbringing in California and New York has given her a diverse outlook on life, and she credits her passion for people to this background, which enabled her to lead her team through an extensive remodel and grand reopening in September 2011. Her experience in perimeter departments enables her to teach her associates to take ownership and pride in their results. Weber's store earned top-five rankings for Key Retailing audits in 2011, its Associate Insight score was the best in the district, and The Issaquah Press voted store #821 the "Best of Issaquah Groceries for 2011." Weber achieved 5.5 percent sales growth in fiscal 2011, exceeding the company's goal by 1 percent. The store's perimeter departments are consistently the top performers in District 1. She also sat on the board of QFC Helping Hands and was an active member of Kroger's Women's Excellence Group in 2011.

Norcona Doxey


Starting behind a register with Kroger in 1987, this year Doxey has 145 associates reporting directly to her, and in 2011 led her store team in achieving a year-to-year sales increase of 15.09 percent, reflecting her focus on building strong relationships with both associates and community. Indeed, the Sachse community voted Kroger #461 "Best Place to be Seen" and "Best Fuel Station." Doxey was No. 1 in her district for Receipt Tracker for the year, as well as being No. 1 in total shrink. Her coaching and training skills, honed from her time as one of the Kroger Southwest division's first grocery/drug GM/fuel coordinators, resulted in the promotion of two of her department heads to the management program. Doxey is a member of Kroger's Women's Excellence Group and serves on the Leadership Excellence Team, which focuses on the development of future women leaders in the company. She also serves on the district membership committee, which coaches and trains up-and-coming associates. In the wider community, Doxey is a member of the Sachse Chamber of Commerce, volunteers with the North Texas Food Bank and participates annually with the Susan B. Komen Foundation.

Sarah Stivers


Stivers spends time at Pittsburg State University — home of the PSU Gorillas — during enrollment, talking to students about her store's offerings and job openings, and mentored a student associate who rose to a co-manager position. This passion for associate development has led to an increase in sales every year, as well as the successful opening of a new fuel center and engagement with her customers regarding the fuel rewards program. Stivers is committed to improving the customer shopping experience and creates an atmosphere in the store that fosters the best efforts of associates. She is a member of the Pittsburg Chamber of Commerce, a committee member for the Annual Horn of Plenty and Helping Hands food drive in Pittsburg, and has worked with the Crawford County Farm Bureau in promoting locally grown products.

Sharon Mister


Mister says she was inspired by her grandfather to become a store manager. She has fulfilled that inspiration at the store she manages in Memphis, Tenn., where she has created a harmonious environment in which team members regularly receive positive feedback. Her store, one of the few Fresh Fare stores in Kroger's Delta division, was ranked in the division's top 10 in the category of improved engagement. From an operational standpoint, the store she manages has also done well, growing in profits and improving in perishable shrink. She oversees 154 associates, and builds on her previous roles as a front end cashier, front end supervisor, drug/GM manager, co-manager, associate manager, grocery buyer and drug GM buyer. Just as her grandfather encouraged her, she is also working to encourage and inspire others, both within and beyond the store she manages. Last year, for example, her store team organized a district talent show to raise money for the Helping Hands Fund, which offers assistance to employees facing financial hardship. Mister also supports the company's "Youth Works" program in partnership with the Memphis Urban League, an initiative that trains inner-city youths for job readiness.

Kathy Creech


Exemplifying Piggly Wiggly's 2011 slogan "Feeds Your Life" and 2012 slogan "Local Since Forever" in her relationships with her customers, community, employees and district co-workers, Creech is on a task force for new company programs, and her store outperformed others in her district in online shopping sales. With new grocery competition in Pooler, she met her store's budget for sales, gross profit and wage percentage. Creech also led successful fundraisers for her local Humane Society and elementary school. Additionally, she is Elks Lodge secretary, was awarded the Still Serving America Certificate of Appreciation from the West Chatham American Legion Post 322, received the Richard T. Turner Award from the American Legion Food Drive 2009, and is a parent leader with her son's football and wrestling teams.

Janella Long


Despite a challenging economy, Long increased sales at her store — located in an area that's seen little economic growth so far — by an impressive 21 percent in 2011. Her direct approach helps associates understand what they need to do to get better, and she often shares her story of rising from part-time deli clerk to store manager with employees to help them realize their own potential. Long's leadership and commitment to the community have generated an environment of giving at her store, which raised nearly $200,000 last year for United Way. She also coordinated a successful "Food for Sharing" program.

Kristine Craig


According to her colleagues, the best word to describe Craig is "involved." Whether she's coaching her managers to be the best they can be, or helping out in a store department when needed, she can always be counted on to go the extra mile for associates and customers alike. Craig led her store to achieve outstanding net profits and exceeded her 2011 sales goal by more than 2 percent. Her employee satisfaction survey scores were well above company average; in fact, 21 of the 25 attributes were the best within her district. Also tops in her district were her store's mystery shopper scores. Committed to building a strong team of associates who strive to provide premier service to customers, Craig has promoted many associates to full-timers over the past year. "Involved" also describes her community service activities, which include volunteering at a local elementary school, helping build homes with Habitat for Humanity and participating in the Hillsborough County March of Dimes Walk.

Jenniffer Kras


2011 was a record-breaking year for Kras and her store team, who delivered double-digit sales growth for the third year in a row. She was also instrumental in helping develop future leaders, promoting three outstanding hourly associates to assistant department managers. When Publix began rolling out a new company-wide labor management system, Kras' location was designated a "champion store" to pilot the new system and serve as a role model to other stores. She also started a well-received program this past year in which associates helped load customers' groceries into their cars. Kras volunteers every year to be part of Publix's mentoring program, and her extensive community service includes involvement with Special Olympics; Community Action Stops Abuse (CAS), an abused-women's shelter; and Meals on Wheels, as well as leading her store team's monthly efforts to prepare food for families at the local Ronald McDonald House.

LaShawndra Johnson


Johnson's main achievement in 2011 was the financial performance of her store, which experienced positive sales growth during a tough economic time, despite facing fierce competition. She also boosted the score's scores in Publix's employee satisfaction customer satisfaction surveys, and her mystery shopper scores were higher in the areas of operations and customer service. Johnson has initiated her own in-store mentoring program that pairs strong existing managers with newly promoted or team leaders to aid the latter associates' development. This program has led to improved operations, while associates and managers both gained confidence in their jobs. Beyond the store, Johnson serves as a youth leader and mentor, and devotes time to Habitat for Humanity, March of Dimes and a local elementary school's advisory board.

Leslie Anderson


Presiding over a diverse collection of associates and customers, Anderson relied on dynamic leadership to exceed her sales goal for 2011, triumphing over nearby competition and a weak economy. Her customers were greeted by exciting lobby themes throughout the year, particularly during the holidays and corporate contest periods. Anderson built relationships with her associates through quarterly cookouts during which she fired up the grill and prepared a lunch celebrating her team's accomplishments in sales records, safety improvements and other areas. Her dedication to her associates, for whom she serves as a mentor and inspiration, even extended this year to spending time at the hospital to visit a gravely ill stock clerk and giving the eulogy at his funeral. In addition to her outstanding support of many charitable endeavors at her store, Anderson volunteers at local schools, reading to children and bringing in cakes for students to decorate themselves for a Valentine's Day fundraiser and Mother's Day gifts.

Nancy Colon


Last year, Colon led the successful transition of the closing of one store and the grand opening of her present location. She achieved outstanding sales in the month of July, drastically exceeding yearly sales goals by taking business from the local competition. Colon created a "Wall of Fame" to post customer compliments and instituted a "Carry-out Champion" program to recognize the associate with the most carry-outs each week. The fresh departments participate in a weekly "Food Hero" sales competition, which was directly responsible for Colon's store winning the District Champs trophy on the first week it was introduced. On any given day, she can be found helping out in whichever department needs an extra pair of hands, even learning to decorate cakes in the bakery. She also makes it a priority to be active and visible on the sales floor to build personal relationships with customers. A member of the Goldenrod Chamber of Commerce, where this year she won the membership drive contest, Colon supports local youth and education through a variety of organizations.

Marsha Singh


Not only did Singh's store boost its sales (7.7 percent) and net profit (4.9 percent) in 2011, it also earned outstanding customer and associate satisfaction survey scores. She developed a cross-training program to give associates the opportunity to advance within the store, meeting with associates who expressed an interest in a specific department and then coordinating training within that department. The process has allowed Singh to better manage openings within her store. She's committed to associate recognition as well, taking every opportunity to shine the spotlight on workers who go above and beyond in executing Publix's strategy. This concern applies to each of her customers as well, as in the case of one shopper who recounted Singh's touching gift of flowers, a get-well card and a balloon to cheer up his wife, who was battling cancer and unable to visit the store. Singh has also received much recognition for her community involvement, most recently from the Salvation Army of Brevard County, and she currently serves a board member for Palm Bay Rockets Pop Warner Football.

Tiena Davis


Davis exceeded all financial goals for 2011, finishing the year with sales growth of more than 19 percent. Her location consistently scores higher than the division and chain average in the annual customer and associate surveys and the mystery shopper program. Since opening her current location, Davis has focused on cross-training and developing associates. She now has numerous associates within the store who are capable of filling multiple roles, allowing for flexibility in staffing and reducing overtime. Davis stands out as a manager based on the consistent results that she and her team achieve through a positive environment that encourages achievement and working to solve small issues before they become larger problems. Davis gives back to her community through active involvement in the March of Dimes, serving on the planning committee for Cherokee County, and helping out at her two children's schools and extracurricular activities.

Lois Gasser


As store director of Redner's Warehouse Market #19, Gasser is committed to making her location a part of the local community while maintaining operational excellence. For her hard work toward these worthy goals, she received a top store director award in 2011 (based on 2010's performance) and was recognized at Redner's annual Employee of Year Awards banquet. Gasser has consistently operated a store within a market with significant economic challenges and has demonstrated her ability to achieve budgeted goals. Her spare time is devoted to volunteering at her local fire company and her church.

Marion Bosse


Managing 60 full- and part-time associates, Bosse joined Smart & Final in 1991 as a part-time associate in Santa Barbara, Calif. She rose through the ranks to assistant manager in 1993 and store manager in 1994. Bosse took over a high-volume, smaller, older store and was able to grow comp sales by more than 5 percent and increase store contribution as well. In addition to assisting her district manager with larger projects, Bosse is an active mentor to her senior assistant manager for future promotion to store manager. Bosse, who celebrated 20 years with Smart & Final last year, has worked as a store manager in several stores in Ventura County and led the grand-opening team for the chain's Camarillo, Calif., store.

Monique Ayala


Ayala began her career at Smart & Final's Burbank, Calif., location in 1990. She was promoted to assistant manager and transferred to the San Francisco Bay area in 1994, then to San Diego in 1996. In 1999, she was promoted to store manager in Mira Mesa. Now in Riverside, she manages more than 30 associates. While managing the chain's core store #316, Ayala's merchandising techniques helped create a new shopping experience for customers; by moving her smart-bake tables, she was able to move the store from eighth place to first in district smart-bake sales. Her training was also instrumental in the advancement of her senior assistant manager to temp manager and her assistant manager to temp senior assistant manager.

Vera Agote


Agote joined Smart & Final in 1993 as a part-time associate in the Granada Hills, Calif., store. In 2004, she was promoted to assistant manager; she was promoted to manager in 2010 and now manages more than 60 associates. Smart & Final says Agote "had a phenomenal year financially." She led a comp-store sales increase in her store of almost 10 percent and a profit increase of better than 30 percent. Agote creates a positive store environment while holding all of her associates accountable. She enjoys training associates to adopt a mindset of continuous improvement. She also excels in the merchandising of her store, which is ranked as one of the top in the district (it was nominated as a store of the district last year).

Stephanie Salinas


Salinas was hired in 2006 as a part-time associate in Fresno, Calif. In 2009, she was promoted to assistant manager in Bakersfield and became a manager two years later. Salinas currently manages what Smart & Final calls a "challenging" store, where she oversees 25 full-and part-time associates. She quickly improved store standards and improved the shopping appeal of the store; her comp-store sales rose 6 percent. Salinas also did a great job developing her associates and improved the level of customer service in the store.

Audre Wilde


With 113 associates in her command, Wilde is "a confident and dynamic leader" who coaches and mentors to improve business and processes when the opportunity arises. This past year, she piloted the project development of IT tools that support store directors' ability to engage more on the sales floor, helped lead training initiatives to support the growth of assistant store directors, taught "Person In Charge" classes to upcoming managers, had her location chosen as the rollout store for business transformation, and worked with local growers in her market area to drive an awareness of organics that are available locally.

Cindy Long


Long oversees 95 associates in her current post, the latest in a 36-year grocery career. She is described by her nominator as "one of the most intellectual and talented leaders of our company." At Albertsons, a store director's leadership is guided by the company's 10 Foundational Skills and 5 Success Habit Competencies. Long has excelled in all 15, but has been lauded for particular skill in Communicate & Align, Drive for Results, Focus on the Customer, Organize & Plan, and Trust & Empower. During FY 2012, Long was able to achieve and beat her earnings commitment and prior-year results in sales, shrink, labor, SG&A and profits. She led the area in two major initiatives, shrink reduction and inventory standardization, which saved a significant amount of money and leveraged best practices across her division. She is considered an expert in business transformation tools and leverages her knowledge to her team and peers. Long has been an active partner in the Southern California Store Director Council, a group designed to bring direct feedback to executive leadership about the business from a store perspective. She has earned the company's Superior Performance Award and was one of only two directors able to attain the highest rating for an Albertsons store director in FY 2012.

Gayle Richtsteig


With more than 34 years of grocery operations experience, Richtsteig has held various roles throughout her accomplished career, which reached a new level in 2001 when she was named a store director. This year, Richtsteig, who oversees 176 associates, impressively improved total store shrink alongside facilitating evening workshops to educate associates on customer service best practices during peak shopping hours. Serving as a district leader in assisting her peers with their individual development plans, Richtsteig further reveals her talents by operating a store that generates more than $35 million in annual sales. Renowned for her exceptional community involvement, Richtsteig is a member of Jewel-Osco's prestigious peer-selected Store Director Council, and also volunteers locally with Relay for Life and Together We Care, a local youth-focused community empowerment group.

Debra Heffernan


Heffernan is committed to team building both within her store and the district. Overseeing 200 associates and renowned for her positive energy and seasoned track record of accomplishment, she became a store manager in 1988 and has adeptly managed nine stores through the years, including three of the highest-profile locations in the company. Responsible for the development, training and placement of associates in produce, floral, seafood, deli and the front end, Heffernan is also involved in the selection process of new assistant store managers. Collaborating with the corporate office on an enterprise report standardization project while also developing best practice procedures for pharmacy inventory, she also shines for her mentoring and coaching skills. A member of the company's Store Director Council and MESA (Mentoring, Encouraging, Supporting and Achieving) business resource group, Heffernan is a member of the Cambridge Business Association and is involved in a local organization that creates a safe haven for children with cancer.

Jacqueline Martini


Admired for her tremendous talent for leveraging the needs of the business to meet the needs of the community, Martini joined the company in 1977 and worked in various store-level positions of increasing importance before being promoted to store director in 1986. Serving as a district manager from 1996-2001, Martini next ascended to the rank of market director until 2005, when she became a dual-store director. Well known for her involvement with local food shelters to help raise funds and feed families in need, Martini volunteers regularly — and inspires others to do the same — with different shelters throughout the year, and has taken her talents to new levels this year. She has also played a key role in the professional development of not only her team, but also those of neighboring stores. Presiding over record profit achievements as a district manager, Martini in 2005 earned her food safety certification license and in 2009 received the President's Award. In addition to consistently delivering top customer satisfaction scores, she has served on the Bend Chamber of Commerce since 2010.

Kim Carzoli


Carzoli's accomplished 29-year grocery career spans a variety of roles of increasing importance, culminating in her current post, during which she has shared her skills and talents as a director in eight sister stores. Currently overseeing 181 associates, Carzoli improved FY 2012 sales by 50 basis points over the prior year's food and drug sales, thanks in no small part to leadership resulting in exemplary customer satisfaction scores that rank among the top 20 percent of all Jewel-Osco stores. Carzoli's extensive operational experience further brought forth significant improvements, with department results that yielded gross margin improvements and shrink reduction achievements that met or exceeded budget, alongside exceptional inventory controls that contributed significantly to generating more than $40 million in annual sales. Her confidence, background and ability to use her resources enable her to contribute more to the business by taking on additional responsibilities. A Supervalu Great Store Director award recipient, Carzoli is further widely admired for her remarkable mentoring skill and local community involvement.

Pamela Wagner


Assuming the store director position in 1994 and subsequently leading nine Jewel-Osco stores, Wagner in the past year logged outstanding comparable performance, with a 43 basis-point gain amid a challenging competitive environment. Proof of her energizing skills was also put to the test last year when Wagner led her team through a demanding three-day power outage and successfully prepared her store to serve the community and make a difference for those who matter most: the customers. In light of her outstanding mentoring and leadership skills and extensive operational experience, Wagner's past roles have amply prepared her to helm a high-volume store that generates more than $40 million in annual sales, handily enabling her to earn a Supervalu Great Store Director award. As a district leader in Voice of the Customer, Supervalu's customer service feedback tool, Wagner also finds time to volunteer with a local senior center and church, among other community pursuits.

Shelia Whitiker


With more 20 years of grocery operations experience, Whitiker, store director of the Jewel-Osco store at 443 E. 34th St. in Chicago, oversees 157 associates. She logged an outstanding performance in FY 2012 at a challenging urban store, largely due to her strong leadership skills, which further enabled her to increase standards and expectations and ultimately better serve her store's customers. Her commitment and dedication brought forth a sales increase that generated $33 million in annual sales for FY 2012. Noted for her passion for associate development, Whitiker also played a large role in helping her store's floral program blossom to new heights with improved performance that exceeded expectations. A recipient of one of Supervalu's Great Store Director awards, Whitiker is involved in a variety of community groups, as well as serving as a district leader in niche merchandising, specifically focusing on targeted ethnic products.

Simone Appleton


Appleton's store is adjacent to an Air Force base, which enables her to make great use of her varied talents and exceptional relationship-building skills. For instance, she and her team vigorously supported the activities surrounding a local Medal of Honor recipient, which gained substantial local and national media attention, as well as an "Unsung Heroes" event honoring military children and their parents. Having received a food safety license in 2009, Appleton has completed both CAP and store director training, among other notable accomplishments. She also leads the MESA business resource group, which encourages and supports future women leaders in the company. Named a Supervalu Great Store Director this year, she is an active member of the chamber of commerce and has served as a member of the company's Store Director Council since 2009.

Teena Kelly


A temporary job as a courtesy clerk evolved into a productive and rewarding 24-year career for Kelly, whose customer-focused skills and talents have been put to great use as an experienced leader and talented store director for Supervalu/Albertsons. Renowned for her exceptional passion, drive, dedication and compassion, Kelly was praised by her Top Women in Grocery nominators for her ability "to take time to get to know her team members and make them feel like part of a family." She has mentored numerous assistant managers who have followed in her footsteps to become store directors, as well as facilitating a host of other leadership roles. Having led her store's highly successful Valentine's week floral home delivery, Kelly also serves as a TV spokeswoman for numerous local stations. Additionally, recognizing a need to help feed seniors who have no family nearby, the big-hearted Kelly enlisted the help of eight fellow store directors and 60 local organizations to raise funds during Thanksgiving and Christmas to provide holiday dinners for 850 needy residents. In addition to numerous other local and corporate accolades, Kelly was recognized as one of the top 50 store directors in the company.

Laura Henke


Whole Foods Market's first-ever Top Women in Grocery recipient, Henke, store team leader for the retailer's South Loop location at 1101 S. Canal St. in Chicago, oversees 175 team members. Among her many achievements in the past year was spearheading the "Health Starts Here" program at her store, which was one of a few locations companywide to launch the healthy-eating initiative spanning classes, lectures, demonstrations, tastings and a Supper Club that meets monthly. Aided by the phenomenal launch of a Greens and Grains bar, Henke's store has been an integral part of the success of the program company-wide, and was one of only three locations to win a Top Store Recognition Award. As a Top Shop Gold Award winner in 2011, Henke has enabled her store to exceed weekly sales projections in excess of $1 million. A weekly yoga instructor for the past 10-plus years, Henke has cultivated a devoted following and been featured in local yoga publications for her outstanding teaching abilities.

Talking with...

Mechell Clark

Marketing Manager, Kysor/Warren

Heatcraft Worldwide Refrigeration is the long-standing leader in the world of commercial refrigeration, providing climate-control solutions to customers in more than 70 countries. Heatcraft's state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities in the Georgia cities of Stone Mountain, Columbus and Tifton produce evaporators, condensers, merchandise display cases and other top-quality refrigeration products for six market-leading brands: Bohn, Larkin, Climate Control, Chandler, Kysor/Warren and InterLink.

Progressive Grocer: What are some of your most recently introduced systems, and how will they benefit grocers?

Mechell Clark: Heatcraft has recently introduced SunSource, a solar energy system, designed to integrated directly with its microchannel air-cooled condenser product. The SunSource Energy System is designed to help grocery retailers and other commercial refrigeration users reduce energy consumption during peak demand hours throughout the day resulting in greater energy savings. By pairing a Heatcraft microchannel condenser with a solar energy system, supermarkets can cut their energy bills, lower emissions and reduce refrigerant charge.

PG: What are some of your most recently introduced merchandising cases, and how will they benefit grocers?

MC: Through our Kysor/Warren brand of display cases, we invested the last several years in developing technology to deliver products that maximize energy-efficiency for supermarkets. This research has led to the release of the Stratus Door Case. Estimated to save grocers $4,000 in energy costs over a two-year period with a 60-door line up, the new merchandiser is designed to store a variety of food products. The case comes standard equipped with energy-saving EC motors and feature tall, sleek doors with quick defogging technology which helps maximize the display area making more merchandise visible to shoppers. The product also has the largest cubic capacity on the market, allowing grocery retailers to store more food products while helping reduce restocking frequency.

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