News Briefs


Kowalski’s Taking Over Department Store Space Near Minneapolis

Kowalski's Markets Finds Opportunity in Shopping Malls

Independent food retailer Kowalski’s Market is expanding in the Twin Cities with the planned opening of its 12th location in 2024. The grocer will take over a 34,000-square-foot space, previously vacated by Herberger’s department store, in the Southdale Center mall in Edina, Minn., according to local reports.

[Read more: "Kowalski’s Markets Showcases Private Label Offerings"]

CEO Kris Kowalski Christiansen told the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal that the store will likely open in the spring of 2024 after it was initially stalled by the pandemic.

"Southdale and the communities it serves have a vibrancy and energy that are well-suited for Kowalski's and our customers," said Mike Oase, Kowalski's COO. "We're really looking forward to operating in this lively retail environment." 

It was also confirmed that plans for another store in the Minneapolis suburb of Roseville are no longer moving forward.


Grocery Prices Straining Household Budgets: Report

Grocery Shopper Teaser

More than half of American households believe that grocery pricesare straining their budgets, according to a nationwide survey by marketingresearch company Decision Analyst Inc. The firm recently conducted a study titled “Consumer Foresight: Beyond The Pandemic, Into Economic Uncertainty.” Among the studys areas of focus was the effect of inflated grocery prices on consumers.

Asked how they were dealing with the higher prices, 57% of respondents said that they were buying less food, 52% said that they were buying less expensive store brands, and 48% said that they were buying less expensive national brands. Thirty-seven percent of respondents said that they were shopping at less expensive grocery stores.

[Read more: "Where Are Consumers’ Heads – and Wallets – This Year?"]

When asked about specific shopping strategies, 44% said that they used a stores coupons, and 38% said they shopped at multiple stores to compare the best deals. Thirty-two percent of respondents said that they used manufacturers coupons, and 36% said that they used a loyalty program to get discounted prices.

“In 2022, inflation hit American consumers in a way most had neverexperienced,” said Felicia Rogers, EVP at ArlingtonTexas-based Decision Analyst. “Rising costs had a notable impact on nine in 10 households. Notonly were people forced to take a hard look at their discretionary spending,but about half of households in the U.S. had to make hard decisions aboutessentials like groceries, transportation and health care. There’s noquestion 2022 was a tough year. All eyes will, no doubt, be on the economyand how it impacts consumer spending this year.”

“Consumer Foresight: Beyond The Pandemic, Into Economic Uncertainty” was a nationwide survey conducted six times in 2022, from January to November. Every other month, it surveyed about 1,000 consumers balanced by gender, age and geography.


Albertsons Cos. Seeking Emerging, Specialty Products

Albertsons Costa Mesa Teaser

Albertsons Cos. will hold its inaugural Innovation Launchpad competition during Natural Products Expo West in California on March 8. The retailer is looking for innovative small and independent brands in the food, beverage and pet categories, with a focus on areas including low sugar or low carb, all-natural, plant-based products, functional beverages, global flavors, healthy prepared meals and premium pet items.

Applications for the competition are being accepted now through Jan. 31 via RangeMe, with 60 chosen businesses being given the opportunity to compete live at Expo West. The top three winners will receive prizes valued at $170,000 including cash, services and industry recognition, and will also be considered for distribution in Albertsons banner stores. 

[Read more: "Albertsons Cos. Gets Approval to Pay Out $4B Special Dividend"]

“We envision the Albertsons Innovation Launchpad competition to be a fun and engaging way to connect with up-and-coming entrepreneurs and brands,” said Jen Saenz, EVP and chief merchandising officer at Albertsons. “We’re always looking to provide our customers fresh, innovative products and new meal ideas. Through this process, we are hoping to discover unique items that can be considered for distribution in any one of our banner stores.”

Boise, Idaho-based Albertsons operates more than 2,200 retail stores with 1,700-plus pharmacies, 402 associated fuel centers, 22 dedicated distribution centers and 20 manufacturing facilities. It operates stores across 34 states and the District of Columbia under 24 well-known banners, among them Albertsons, Safeway, Vons, Jewel-Osco, Shaw’s, Acme, Tom Thumb, Randalls, United Supermarkets, Pavilions, Star Market, Haggen, Carrs, Kings Food Markets and Balducci’s Food Lovers Market. Albertsons is No. 9 on The PG 100, Progressive Grocer’s 2022 list of the top food and consumables retailers in North America.


Weis Markets Names Director of GM and HBC

Weis Markets Tonya Woytowich Teaser

Weis Markets has promoted Tonya Woytowich to the position of director of general merchandise (GM) and health and beauty care (HBC), reporting to Mike Gross, VP of center store sales and merchandising. In this position, Woytowich will oversee the Weis’ HBC, GM, seasonal GM, and grocery nonedible (pet and greeting cards) categories.  

Before her promotion, Woytowich was general merchandising category manager, in which role she oversaw the development and launch of various projects, including the GM seasonal program, expanded private-brand nonfood assortments and the enhancement of Weis’ pet accessories program. Prior to joining the company in 2016, she worked at Worcester, Mass.-based Imperial Distributors

Weis also recently promoted Andrea Bauman to the position of director of marketing and Maria Rizzo to the role of VP of advertising and marketing.

Sunbury, Pa.-based Weis operates stores in Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Virginia and West Virginia. The company is No. 61 on The PG 100, Progressive Grocer’s 2022 list of the top food and consumables retailers in North America. PG also named it one of the Top Regionals in 2023. 


Organic Valley Names New CEO

Jeff Frank

Organic Valley has a new CEO. The Midwest dairy farming cooperative revealed that seasoned CPG leader Jeff Frank has been tapped to lead that organization following the retirement of Bob Kirchoff.

Frank joins Organic Valley from Austin, Minn.-based Hormel Foods, where he held a variety of roles during a 25-year career with the company. Most recently, he was Hormel’s group VP of grocery products. He also was also president and CEO of the company’s MegaMex Foods business, credited with helping bolster its supply chain and bringing several products to market.  

Frank earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration and Spanish from the University of Minnesota-Duluth, an MBA from the University of St. Thomas, and an executive certificate from UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. He has also completed the executive education program at Harvard Business School.

“We are happy to welcome Jeff as our next CEO to guide organic food and farming into the future,” said Steve Pierson, president of the Organic Valley board of directors and a dairy farmer from Oregon.  “He shares our values and vision of nourishing people, animals and the earth through ethically sourced organic food from small family farms. He has the skills and experience to navigate the complex challenges facing small organic family farms.”

Added Kirchoff: “I am confident that Jeff will continue to uphold and enhance the reputation and values of Organic Valley. I think it’s the perfect time for new leadership to guide the co-op’s next phase of growth. I’m so proud of the hard work farmers and employees have put in to keep this cooperative moving forward. I am so grateful for having the opportunity the cooperative gave me and the support along the way.”

For his part, Frank said that he admires Organic Valley’s mission and is eager to collaborate to drive future success.  “I look forward to working with the board, the farmer-members and teams across the cooperative and the industry to expand the impact of this revolutionary and independent food lighthouse, while staying true to its values and mission of producing ethically sourced food from organic family farms,” he noted.

Based in La Farge, Wis., Organic Valley was founded in 1988 to save, serve and safeguard small organic farms.


Whole Foods Market Partners With Zappos on ‘Hassle-Free’ Returns

Whole Foods Teaser

Customers can now return shoes and apparel bought on at Whole Foods Market stores nationwide. has launched its newest WOW service – Label Free Box Free Returns – to match parent company Amazons goal of making buying online and returning as easy and hassle-free as possible.

By removing the need for on-hand items, including tape, labels and shipping boxes, and making it possible to combine errands like grocery shopping, Zappos is helping its customers reduce not only packaging time, but travel time as well. The new service comes on top of the companys unique return policy, which allows for return shipping from anywhere in the United States within 365 days of purchase. Returns are always free for Zappos customers.

"With Label Free Box Free Returns, were excited to not only be better serving our customers, but also to have found a natural partner in Whole Foods Market — you might say, its a whole new kind of relationship for us," said Scott Schaefer, CEO of Las Vegas-based

The partnership comes as Whole Foods continues to grow its store footprint across the United States, recently adding its One Wall Street store in New York.

To find out whether a return qualifies to be taken to any Whole Foods store, Zappos customers can log into their account here. If available, the Label Free Box Free option will appear.

The first certified-organic national grocer, Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods has more than 500 stores in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. The company is a wholly owned subsidiary of Seattle-based Amazon, which is No. 2 on The PG 100,  Progressive Grocer’s 2022 list of the top food and consumables retailers in North America.