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10/11/2021

Progressive Grocer Recognizes Industry's Best and Brightest Under Age 40

More change is coming to the grocery industry, and this year’s record number of GenNext winners is ready to take on whatever comes next

Talent has always mattered in retail, but today it matters more than ever and in more ways than ever. Credit the blistering pace of change that has accelerated throughout the world of grocery to the point where words such as “innovation,” “disruption” and “transformation” are now a familiar part of the industry’s vocabulary.

This dynamic environment requires that companies employ talented leaders with diverse skill sets to manage familiar as well as a growing number of new types of challenges. This reality was evidenced by the unprecedented number of submissions that Progressive Grocer received for our annual GenNext Awards program. The large number of nominees is testament to the fact that many individuals distinguished themselves during a year in which the food and consumables industry dealt with ongoing pandemic challenges.

To determine this year’s GenNext recipients, we reached out with a simple ask of the industry: “Do you know an innovator, disruptor or difference-maker having an impact on their organization, the industry and colleagues, someone who possesses that “it” factor that’s hard to describe but that sets them apart as a next-generation industry leader?”

The answer was an enthusiastic “yes” from all quarters, with retailers, suppliers and solution providers sharing inspiring stories that made so many individuals worthy of the GenNext distinction. We ended up recognizing 90 of the industry’s best and brightest under the age of 40 who possess a combination of the following traits:

  • A high level of commitment to a career in the food retailing industry and the communities their companies serve.
  • Innovative thinking and an ability to overcome challenges and capitalize on opportunities to serve shoppers more effectively.
  • An ability to inspire others through actions, accomplishments, leadership and vision.
  • A willingness to make an impact on the world beyond work through various types of community involvement.

The goal was to identify individuals capable of moving their companies, communities and the industry forward in a future of further change and emerging opportunities. That’s why we wanted to understand accomplishments and impact, and asked for examples in which a nominee demonstrated leadership, whether through innovation, interactions with others or by making difficult choices. Further, to gain a sense of the individual’s ability to inspire others, we asked what three words come to mind when thinking about a nominee’s leadership style, defining characteristics and accomplishments.

The words that came to mind for us were “optimistic,” “hopeful” and “encouraging.” Those are all variations on a theme of optimism, but it’s easy to feel good about where grocery is headed after reviewing this year’s GenNext Award winners and imagining their future accomplishments. 

Check out the class of 2021 below, and see whether you agree.

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Matt Schwartz

CEO and Co-Founder, Afresh Technologies

Age: 32

At the ripe old age of 32, Schwartz has brought a fresh dynamic to the produce sector. His company, Afresh Technologies, is paving the way for a better future through a simultaneous push for accessible fresh produce and a substantial reduction in food waste. After shadowing fresh department managers around the country, Schwartz and his co-founders used artificial intelligence to create the first fresh operating system that optimizes the quantity of fresh food delivered to grocery stores. Afresh recently added several new grocery partners, doubled its own employee head count and secured $25 million in Series A funding. Schwartz is no stranger to innovation in the food sector: Before Afresh, he launched the snack food company Statfood and garnered additional experience at The Production Board and clean-label cookie and cracker maker Simple Mills.

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Jordan Clark

Senior Sourcing Manager, Albertsons Cos.

Age: 37

The attributes of humility, insightfulness and tenacity have served Clark well in his role at Albertsons. Since August 2017, he’s led an overhaul of Albertsons’ approach to sourcing and risk management in the dairy space. Clark performs the day-to-day functions of sourcing raw conventional and organic milk products for Albertsons’ seven fluid dairy and two ice cream plants, and is also responsible for the sourcing of fluid milk. In addition, he created supply chain solutions for many of Albertsons Own Brands dairy products. Clark is credited with helping Albertsons save millions of dollars, due to cost efficiency improvements, while ensuring that the retailer’s stores ran at high service levels during the pandemic. Clark also implemented new processes to pay dairy farmers directly.

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Aini Tjan

Senior Sourcing Manager, Albertsons Cos.

Age: 37

Tjan’s leadership was evident throughout the pandemic as she managed a portfolio of nonfood products significantly affected by supply chain challenges and inflationary pressures. She collaborated with core suppliers to develop a demand plan that could meet forecasted sales demand and align with challenging lead times. Tjan also took the lead on identifying supply risks in each category and, where appropriate, onboarding additional suppliers. One particularly challenging area was pet care, where Tjan took the lead for the company’s Own Brands portfolio to work with suppliers to optimize the total tonnage that could be received while demand exceeded supply. She made tough decisions to deprioritize less efficient SKUs to maximize the total tonnage available in each segment. As a result, Albertsons was able to increase available capacity by more than 25% to ensure the availability of top-selling SKUs.

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Lindsay Belfatto

VP of Sales, Ark Foods

Age: 36

There’s sales growth, and then there’s cultivating a category that relies on the growth of actual crops. At Ark Foods, Belfatto has used her innate interest in, and knowledge of, fresh produce to bring unique, nutritious vegetables to stores around the country. She was instrumental in expanding the Clean Label Eats line to include more items with veggie-forward twists on classic dishes, and has inspired her team to continually explore new SKUs. Her own career has taken root at Ark Foods, where she was promoted to VP of sales in 2020 after joining the company in 2017. A new mom, Belfatto is passionate about fostering success through mentorship and has given back as a leader in the company’s efforts to donate surplus vegetables to community members in need.

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Sarah Masters

HR and Communications Specialist, Associated Grocers of New England

Age: 25

As a testament to her rising-star status, Masters has been promoted three times in five years. She is adept at both bringing talent into, and shining the spotlight on, Associated Grocers New England, leading recruitment efforts and serving as the voice of the organization. Masters recently created a new training program for the sales team and led a solar panel project that made Associated Grocers of New England home to the largest rooftop solar panel in New Hampshire. As a result of Masters’ communications efforts, the company was named a Business of the Year in June 2021. The former intern-turned-specialist is an eager and contributing member of several internal groups, including the green, publications, activities, volunteer and food show organizations, and retailer-owned food distributor and associate planning committees.

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Leigh Hamp

VP, Product, Banza

Age: 31

Talk about an impressive pipeline: since 2018, Hamp has spearheaded the launch of two new product lines and 17 unique SKUs, and expanded the product team from one to seven members. Among the introductions under her watch was the first-ever chickpea-based pizza crust in the United States. While identifying and executing innovative products made from chickpeas, this young leader also guided key sensory improvements in existing pasta products. According to her nominator, her belief in listening to customers has proved pivotal, and is evident in such rollouts as a customer-inspired clean-label, plant-based mac and cheese that has become a top-selling item at Whole Foods Market. Hamp is also described as tenacious, thoughtful and optimistic, traits that have catapulted this CPG company into a startup success story. 

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Julia Cohen

Head of Commercial Product and Innovation, Bowery Farming

Age: 33

Cohen is always thinking ahead. With an eye on trends and a keen appreciation for consumer, farmer and retailer interests, she brought to market innovative products for vertical farming company Bowery Farming, including a free-standing branded display of boxed basil, and a Farmer’s Selection line of limited-edition, hard-to-find rotating greens in varieties like Mustard Frills and Green Sorrel. Heeding recent consumer clamor for texture and crispy foods, Cohen helped launch the Crispy Leaf product for Bowery. Her intuition and strategic prowess is matched by her passion for sustainability and a better local food system. A true collaborator, Cohen teamed with scientists to create a sensory lexicon to help the company better understand and describe its product attributes of flavor, aroma, texture and color. 

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Ross Shepard

Head of Field Sales, Bowery Farming

Age: 37

Shepard brings a fresh perspective to produce literally and figuratively. A big believer in visual impact, he strives to bring a center store mentality to produce departments by analyzing shopper traffic flow and devising new horizontal merchandising for Bowery Farming’s products, instead of traditional vertical displays; those new displays were piloted at some Walmart locations. Shepard also has a clear vision for the future of vertically farmed produce, describing the benefits to retailers and helping shape Bowery’s sales team infrastructure. He’s described by colleagues as a problem solver who is grounded and collaborative, as he expanded Bowery’s presence to more than 850 stores and pursues small but impactful improvements like labels that hold up better under retail lighting. Beyond Bowery, he supports organizations that focus on hunger and equality.

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Prince Swaray

National Account Sales Manager, Bowery Farming

Age: 37

Many sales professionals spend time in the field. Swaray finds value in the 21st-century equivalent, bringing retail customers and potential customers to Bowery Farming’s vertical-farming operations. There, they can see firsthand how the company’s produce is created, from seed and germination to packaging, and discover how it tastes. With 15 years of experience in the CPG industry, Swaray is a relationship builder who works closely with customers such as Whole Foods Market, Walmart and Albertsons to help them realize the competitive advantage and long-term benefit of access to sustainably grown greens. He’s also a mentor at Bowery and, as befits a person who grew up in a food desert, a staunch advocate for the democratization of fresh food.

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Morgan Countryman

Senior Manager, Communications and Community Involvement, Brookshire Grocery Co.

Age: 28

As a testament to her skill and dedication to the company, Countryman was given the chance to lead the department where she had worked for the past several years, when the group experienced a staff turnover. Currently, following another promotion to senior manager of communications, she guides a diverse team that she carefully built and now guides to share Brookshire’s messages with internal and external audiences across a variety of platforms. In the past year, she’s played a key role on a cross-functional team to explain the changes and impact of the ever-fluctuating pandemic to customers, who needed updated and understandable information. When asked to describe her leadership and potential in three words, her nominator summed it up as “Get it done!”

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Chase Gilliam

Category Manager, Brookshire Grocery Co.

Age: 35

The role of procurement manager during the great pandemic stock-up of early 2020 was a pivotal one at a precarious time, and Gilliam faced unprecedented challenges head-on to keep inventory flowing to Brookshire’s stores. His more than 15 years of experience across the organization in distribution, logistics and corporate support prepared him well for that role and for his current position as category manager for frozen foods, another area that has picked up steam in recent times. As Gilliam transitions to a different area of business within the company, he is recognized for his eagerness to learn and grow while also serving as mentor to those on both his current and past teams. 

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Casey Hicks

E-Commerce Supervisor, Brookshire Grocery Co.

Age: 39

While some just roll with the changes, Hicks charges right into a new way of doing things. After joining the e-commerce team in pre-pandemic 2018, she has been at the forefront of that part of Brookshire’s business, leading the introduction of the retailer’s curbside service across 138 stores and helping launch Instacart service at 125 locations, as demand for online ordering, pickup and delivery surged. Thanks to Hicks and the small team she’s built, Brookshire’s e-commerce is now a multimillion-dollar annual business. As she’s broadened her company’s reach, she’s recognized that sustenance is a two-way street: Hicks is involved in Brookshire’s team that has raised more than $1 million for nonprofit organizations through races in Texas and Louisiana.

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Matthew Roach

Inventory Control Manager, Brookshire Grocery Co.

Age: 37

To be sure, recent events have underscored the importance of a strong supply chain and agile logistics. To ensure that Brookshire’s stores have the inventory that they – and their customers – need, Roach runs a purchasing team that manages all warehouse inventory and goods not for resale. He recently led a total reworking of the distribution network for store deliveries, introducing an every-other-day delivery schedule for stores to improve stock levels and address demand spikes. Roach learned the ropes well and quickly after joining the company as an intern in the logistics department in 2013, and moving up to roles in systems and traffic. He is as compassionate as he is driven, coordinating service to food banks, hospitals and nursing homes during a damaging storm last winter.

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Tim Brown

COO, Burns’ Family Neighborhood Markets

Age: 38

A jack-of-all-trades background and a career-long devotion to the industry have made Brown a leader with a lot of depth. He began working for the company as a bagger when he was just 14, and went on to work in essentially all positions before being named COO in fall 2020, during a peak pandemic wave. Brown guided the retailer with a steady hand through that and other crises, including a severe flood in one area and civil unrest in another, resulting in an overall 65% increase in nonfood sales, a 75% rise in liquor sales, a 44% leap in floral sales and a 52% spike in seafood sales, along with a doubling of online shopping orders. He remains committed to community improvement, championing such charitable efforts as fundraisers and food recovery programs.

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Ryan Hayward

Manager, Customer Experience, C&S Wholesale Grocers Inc.

Age: 26

Still only in his mid-20s, Hayward has shone at his organization since first joining its leadership development program, where he rotated through different areas of the business to gain a foothold. Later, he racked up experience and was given more responsibility on major accounts to keep supplies moving and customers satisfied. The wheels are in constant motion for Hayward, who literally pulled over during an off-hours car trip to visit family to solve a complex logistics issue by working with the grocer’s partners. That spirit of dedication is evident in the terms used to describe a young leader who balances shoppers’ needs with mindfulness of the company’s budgets and operations: selfless, hardworking and empathetic.

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Joseph Moore

Store Director, Cannata’s Family Market

Age: 33

Having scaled the ladder at Cannata’s Family Market, Moore understands the importance of every rung and the support needed to keep balance. He started at the family-owned retail business as a cashier at age 16 and worked his way up through the ranks to become a store director at a flagship location by age 30 by, among other things, understanding the importance of tradition to local shoppers and respecting and earning the respect of others. Moore has facilitated the adoption of new technologies to meet the needs of today’s consumers, but balances data-driven insights with authentic relationships with shoppers and among his own staff. To that end, he kept the store staffed during the pandemic and brought on new team members during a time of labor shortages. 

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Elisha Gil

Director of Marketing, Celsius

Age: 30

As head of marketing, Gil brings her own unique energy to the energy drink company that has disrupted the beverage category. Working with cross-functional teams, she leads innovation and activation strategies from concept to commercialization across several channels that align with consumer trends and data. One of the most recent launches under Gil’s purview is a new Celsius Vibe line that’s off to a strong start. While driving development and engagement, she also seeks to positively affect the broader community through such efforts as a partnership with the Crossing for Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Gil is credited with motivating company-wide success through a combination of social intelligence, inclusiveness and agility, allowing her to discover and maximize a host of opportunities.

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John Kenny

General Manager, City Center Market 

Age: 32

Kenny had big shoes to fill when he was brought on to replace a retiring general manager who worked at the City Center Market food co-op for almost 20 years. Since he took the helm of the organization that has nearly 4,000 member-owners in a relatively small community, Kenny has used his collaborative nature, sharp communication skills and attention to detail to improve customer service and employee engagement while continually discovering products that resonate with the co-op’s members. He’s credited with keeping shelves stocked during the pandemic and resolving the ensuing supply chain issues, as well as with helping the company achieve a gainsharing bonus for three of the past four quarters a record for City Center Market. This past summer, Kenny oversaw plans to implement a new full employee benefits package.

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Charles Russell

Director, Produce and Floral, Cub Foods/UNFI

Age: 34

A director-level professional described as focused, dedicated and accountable, Russell has made inroads and key changes at Cub Foods, adjusting the retailer’s go-to-market approach to include more consistent and higher-quality products, and revamping in-store merchandising to highlight the freshness and variety of offerings. He’s a big-picture leader who also possesses an eye for detail, as evidenced by his tactic to provide cut melons and tray pack corn for convenience-minded shoppers. Russell fosters productivity in others, too, through efforts like a program incentivizing produce leaders to win a trip to see suppliers’ crops during peak harvest season. This GenNext leader is also quick to jump in with ideas for other parts of the business, aiming to elevate results and better service customers. 

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Dustin Duerr

Category Manager, DSD Grocery, Cub Foods/UNFI

Age: 39

When opportunities arise, Duerr pursues them doggedly and with impactful results. When he was in Cub Foods’ bakery area, for example, he worked with his team and vendors to devise a 10-week fall holiday display plan and a baking book with coupons linked to display activity; the initiative spurred higher incremental sales and profits and, with some modifications, became a yearly plan. After taking over a role in DSD a year and a half ago, he implemented a new strategy for soda and chips that shifted from key holiday weeks to full-year promotions, and collaborated closely with vendors to overcome any hesitations. Duerr isn’t afraid of making hard decisions for the betterment of the company and its vendor partners, and his actions are reflected in continual positive results in his category. 

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Erin Wisecup

Category Director, Fareway Stores Inc.

Age: 32

Wisecup has successfully launched a variety of programs and events, all of which have realized increased sales of 24% and above. Not only has she become an integral part of the buying team at Fareway, but she has also lifted the bottom line in categories she oversees, and serves on various internal committees that give back to the greater community. In 2020, Wisecup launched a bakery pie program that generated an incremental sales increase of 333%. She bested these successful numbers for the program in 2021, realizing an additional 256% increase over the previous year. In the candy category, Wisecup held a Candy Craze event in 2020, an internal store competition that helped drive sales. This resulted in excitement at the retail level and appealing displays.

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Ashley Tyrner

Founder and CEO, Farmbox Direct and FarmboxRx

Age: 38

Tyrner was a single mom on food stamps who created a national brand through which she’s revolutionizing the future of health care. In January 2020, she partnered with Capital Blue Cross and Vibra Health to create a space for food as medicine, and through her company FarmboxRx, insurance members receive produce boxes to help with their chronic and diet-related illnesses. This initiative is not only positively affecting the growth of her company, but it’s also bringing fresh fruits and vegetables directly to the doors of vulnerable populations living in food deserts and suffering from food insecurity. In addition to running a successful business and speaking around the country on health, wellness, food and entrepreneurship as a food-policy advocate, Tyrner found the time to help create partnerships with Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign.

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Josh Domingues

Founder and CEO, Flashfood Inc.

Age: 32

After hearing how food waste negatively affects the environment, Domingues founded Flashfood in 2016. The Flashfood app allows grocers to offer shoppers reduced prices on food that would otherwise go to landfills because of imperfections, impending best-by dates or overstock. Flashfood worked through various iterations of a business model and it’s through Domingues’ approach to partnerships that it’s seen success. With the help of its food retail partners across North America, 20 million-plus pounds of food has been rescued. Stories from users who rely on Flashfood to feed their families fresh food on a budget continue to motivate him to grow the business and keep pushing industry giants to get involved. Domingues has invested his time in building a team that truly cares about people and the planet.

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Kenneth Hausmann

Director of Natural Foods, Foodland Supermarkets

Age: 35

A strong business sense and the willingness to take calculated risks are traits that Kenneth Hausman brought to his former role at Fresh Thyme Farmers Market. He joined the company as dairy category manager, then led frozen and bulk foods before taking on all of category management. As Hausmann, a former Save-A-Lot and Tops Market employee, ascended to leadership positions at Fresh Thyme, he helped navigate the merchant team through the turbulent times of the pandemic while continuing to support innovation and sales growth. Hausmann recently joined the Honolulu-based Foodland Supermarket chain, Hawaii’s largest locally owned and operated grocer, with 32 stores across four of the islands.

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John O’Reilly

Key Account Executive, Retail, Google

Age: 30

At Google, O’Reilly is focused on paving the new future within retail tech by unlocking the unlimited possibilities within cloud and artificial-intelligence/machine-learning applications to solve some of retail's biggest challenges. He currently manages some of the largest grocery retailers in North America, helping spearhead their digital transformations. Beyond solving specific problems for his retail partners, O’Reilly has been an advocate for solving some of the biggest universal challenges within the industry. Whether it be food waste, plastic pollution, or food and health deserts, he’s been at the forefront of bringing together the industry to solve these problems. In regard to food deserts, he connected executives from various retailers to work on approaches to help them better serve their communities. Additionally, in his spare time, O’Reilly volunteers at his local food bank.

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Fiorella McIntyre

Director, Made to Order Buying, Grocery Outlet

Age: 35

McIntyre leads a team of nine buyers and assistant buyers responsible for more than $600 million in annual sales at 400-plus stores. Having purchased across multiple categories throughout her career at Grocery Outlet, she continues to play a pivotal role in creating and maintaining strategic relationships with suppliers that help the company deliver on its value proposition of amazing values and a well-rounded shopping experience. During the past year, McIntyre’s team managed through supply chain disruption and uncertainty, enabling the Made to Order team to support more than 23% sales growth in 2020. Her deep understanding of the Grocery Outlet business model allows her to lead her team to continue to innovate and attract new customers without losing the excitement and treasure-hunt experience offered with the closeout assortment.

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Richele Middlebrooks

Director of Talent Acquisition, Grocery Outlet

Age: 37

Since joining Grocery Outlet in 2018, Middlebrooks has been focused on operational improvements as well as culture and diversity. She led the company’s first formal onboarding process and created a project-based internship program that resulted in a 60% hire rate at the fast-growing company. Middlebrooks serves on Grocery Outlet’s first Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Council and is the chair for diversity recruiting initiatives for the company. Under her leadership, more than 150 corporate employees have been virtually interviewed and hired since the start of the pandemic. Middlebrooks is known for her unconventional hiring methods, which can involve taking “risks” on applicants who may not have all of the skills needed for a particular job, but possess the character and drive that make them a fit for the company’s unique culture.

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Spencer Price

Co-Founder and CEO, Halla

Age: 25

As a sophomore at University of Southern California, Price asked the question we’ve all asked our friends before: “What should we eat?” Given everyone’s growing list of food allergies and preferences, he had no idea that the answer would eventually lead him to leave school to launch his own business. Since then, Price has been CEO of Halla, navigating the company through numerous pivots, from a mobile app competitive to Yelp, to Taste Intelligence, an artificial-intelligence software solution sold to grocers. He’s raised $8.5 million from outside investors and managed to make key connections in supporting Halla’s growth. Price always sets high goals for himself and for the company at large, and inspires others to actually make them happen.

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Rafael Gonzalez

Store Manager, Harris Teeter LLC

Age: 29

With a passion for customer and associate experience, Gonzalez shifted the culture of a store with unfavorable morale and negative operations expectations. His Virginia store significantly improved its operations scores, bringing 40-to-50-range scores up to an 80 for the first quarter in 2021, while the company averaged 67.7%. Gonzalez’s team also averaged a 75 amid the pandemic in 2020, while the company average was 64.9%. Also impressive are his customer service results of 97.5% through calendar year 2021, greater than the company’s 96.6% average. This is a result of Gonzalez’s ability to lead by example and coach in the moment if he encounters less-than-desirable conditions or performance, and his recognition and celebration of high performers. He’s also involved in the Loudoun County Government Center’s program for individuals with special needs.

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Chris Harmon

Workforce Management (WFM) Business Analyst, Harris Teeter LLC

Age: 37

In today’s labor market, it’s a bit of an understatement to note that employee scheduling can be a challenge. Harmon, a WFM business analyst for Harris Teeter, has contended with labor shortages, pandemic-related changes in shopper behavior and store operations, and state governments’ predictive scheduling legislation to roll out a time-saving, cost-efficient solution that accurately forecasts and creates schedules. Working with supply chain provider Blue Yonder, this young leader has helped managers generate schedules up to three weeks in advance and set up systems that allow for nimble adjustments. Harmon, who has spent 17 of his 23 years in the grocery industry with Harris Teeter, is a prolific presenter on WFM and labor issues, and chairs a WFM special-interest group of Blue Yonder customers.

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Jeff Helms

District Manager, Harris Teeter LLC

Age: 36

At each new store opening, Helms ensures that his associates are connected to what it means to be the retailer of choice in a sea of competition. He runs one of Harris Teeter’s highest-volume districts as part of a district encompassing stores in multiple states and marketing areas. Helms continuously builds his team through internal associate growth, and his personal brand of mentoring is reflected in the excellent performance of many market leaders. He also plays an active role in his local community, sitting on the board of directors for the Lowcountry Food Bank, serving as co-chair of Harris Teeter’s Cooper River Bridge Run Committee — a role integral to the company’s business strategy in Charleston, S.C. — and promoting fundraisers for nonprofits throughout South Carolina’s Lowcountry. 

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Danna Robinson

Communications Manager, Harris Teeter LLC

Age: 38

Robinson’s authenticity shines through in her empowerment and advocacy work with Harris Teeter’s Diversity Equity & Inclusion Committee and Women’s Empowerment Group (WEG) — of which she’s a founding member and co-chair. She recently hosted a listening session for senior leaders to hear from women across the company about their experiences and how the company can better support them. Robinson works collaboratively with multiple state retail associations to lobby for proposed legislation affecting the grocery industry. Her leadership in environmental, social and governance work is also instrumental in how Harris Teeter goes to business as a trusted community partner. Additionally, Robinson serves on the board of directors for Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina and on the board of ambassadors for American Cancer Society’s Re-Imagine Charlotte Gala. 

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Justin Coaldrake

Assistant VP, E-Commerce, Hy-Vee Inc.

Age: 30

The impact of Coaldrake’s ability to adapt and lead could be seen at the onset of COVID-19 and the transition of e-commerce operations from fulfillment centers to retail stores. He played a significant role in developing and growing Hy-Vee’s Aisles Online grocery service, and has been a key leader in overseeing the grocer’s e-commerce grocery operations and its more than 10,000 Aisles Online employees. Recently, Coaldrake helped deploy ShopperKit, a new order fulfillment software for Aisles Online employees, across Hy-Vee’s 280-plus stores in only eight weeks. He has also been integral in finding ways to monetize the Hy-Vee Aisles Online platform through search functionality with vendors. Coaldrake has also played a key part in establishing partnerships with third-party services like DoorDash.

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Daira Driftmier

Director, Hy-Vee KidsFit & Fitness, Hy-Vee Inc.

Age: 38

Driftmier is the mastermind behind Hy-Vee KidsFit, an innovative program offering free physical activity programming and games to school-age children. She leads a full-time team of two, as well as several interns, creating content across multiple platforms. Driftmier demonstrated leadership and innovation during the pandemic with the creation of KidsFit at Home, a daily virtual program that provided easy-to-follow activities that could be completed at home while many schools were temporarily closed due to the pandemic. Much of the KidsFit content has received more than 9 million views online. Recently, Driftmier has been overseeing the launch of school wellness clubs to provide resources and quarterly challenges for schools to help get kids excited about nutrition and movement. She’s also increased signups for the KidsFit Club – a free membership program designed to encourage kids and families to make healthy choices – by 271%. 

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Jessica Enos

VP, Training and Education/Employee Engagement, Hy-Vee Inc.

Age: 36

In 2020, Enos helped establish the Hy-Vee Tuition Assistance program in partnership with Bellevue University, offering employees up to $10,500 in annual tuition assistance. She was also responsible for the career path program Aisles of Opportunity, which encourages employees from all levels to explore opportunities available at Hy-Vee. Working with the VP of produce, Enos led the development of a weekly video series, “Produce Bites,” which offers tips and simple how-to’s in short segments for retail produce employees. She recently helped lead a team in implementing a new human resources information system, which will roll out in 2022. Enos’ openness to other ideas has been instrumental in shaping Hy-Vee’s culture to be more inclusive for employees of all backgrounds, races, ages, languages and abilities. 

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Chelsea Kumbera

VP, Marketing Creative Director, Hy-Vee Inc.

Age: 32

Kumbera is integral in elevating internal and external communications. Her strong vision and desire to innovate led to the creation of Hy-Vee’s new Mega Ad, a monthly full-color magazine-style ad highlighting Hy-Vee’s products and services. Meanwhile, Kumbera’s outside-the-box thinking helped in overseeing the conception, development and production of H House, Hy-Vee’s iconic video advertisement. Her team also spearheaded the design of Hy-Vee’s newest app, and she continues to lead branding efforts for the grocer’s new store format and division, Dollar Fresh. Additionally, when faced with an employee turnover that created challenges for the advertising and design teams, Kumbera took responsibility for organizing and hiring a new creative team, building out the organizational chart for it to serve the internal teams that needed graphic design services. 

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Anne Roth

Director, Government Relations, Hy-Vee Inc.

Age: 31

Roth executes Hy-Vee’s government relations-related strategic priorities for the states of Iowa and Nebraska. In Iowa, she helped engage with more than 185 bills that were introduced by the state legislature over the past year on topics related to grocery retail. Roth regularly collaborates with elected leaders to advocate for policies that assist the company’s growth and prosperity. She also administers the Hy-Vee Employees’ Political Action Committee, which helps support the company’s stance on key issues. What’s more, Roth contributed significantly to COVID-19 relief efforts this year. Working with legislators in Iowa, she helped pass legislation that expands pharmacies’ scope of practice, which in turn allows Hy-Vee pharmacists to operate at the top of their licenses to better serve patients. The passing of these bills was integral in positioning Hy-Vee as a major player in the fight against the coronavirus.

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Jody Sandy

SVP, Supply Chain and Transportation, Hy-Vee Inc.

Age: 39

Sandy has successfully transformed Hy-Vee’s three independent transportation fleets into a single organization that can better serve the company’s 280-plus store footprint. As part of that consolidation, she oversaw the rollout of new automatic onboard recording device units, which have the ability to transmit data immediately to authorized safety officials to help keep Hy-Vee drivers safer and more efficient. Sandy embraces change and technological innovations to keep the supply chain in line with the company’s overall growth. As a rare female leader in the supply chain world, she believes that women can help more quickly and easily detect changes and shifts in customer demand, because women supply chain leaders often play unique roles as both subject-matter experts and heads of households who make purchasing decisions.

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Elisa Sloss

VP, HealthMarkets and Dietitians, Hy-Vee Inc.

Age: 36

Thanks to Sloss’ leadership, Hy-Vee HealthMarket departments added extended product lines tailored to customers following specialty diets. At the same time, she and her team launched a partnership that saw GNC vitamin and dietary supplements added to HealthMarket, along with pre-packaged bulk food and CBD products. Hy-Vee’s in-store dietitian programs have also flourished under her guidance, with dietitians annually leading more than 150,000 customers on store tours to help find products to meet shoppers’ specific dietary needs. Additionally, Sloss has overseen dietitians’ media outreach efforts in their local markets, which last year resulted in more than 1,700 media appearances. When COVID-19 hit, she led the implementation of a virtual dietitian services platform that resulted in great engagement and return on investment, and that is expected to continue growing beyond the pandemic. 

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Angela Kinsley

Customer Service Manager, Kinsley’s ShopRite of Brodheadsville, East Stroudsburg, Pa.

Age: 28

Kinsley isn’t just a Progressive Grocer GenNexter, but also a next-gen leader at her company. After starting out as a cashier, she recently completed Wakefern Food Corp.’s Next Gen Leadership Program, which inspired her to return to school to earn an MBA. Kinsley oversees donation requests at her store and works with nonprofits, supporting them in their fundraising efforts. She also organizes a Halloween trick-or-treat event at the store that hosts close to 300 children annually. During the pandemic, Kinsley couldn’t let the children down, so she stood outside the store all day so kids could take part in a “drive-thru” event and still get their bag of treats. She also organized free associate meal days every month. Whether it’s helping kids or employees or serving as a role model, there’s a famous saying at ShopRite: “Angie can help.”

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Chris Blandford

Adult Beverage Field Specialist, The Kroger Co,

Age:38

Blandford is the face of Kroger’s wine and spirits department in the Louisville division. He developed and maintains the Chris’ Picks program, which introduces customers to exciting items through weekly ads and in-store signage. He has made appearances on podcasts, festival stages and TV promoting Kroger and his local picks. Last year, he was the curator and co-founder of The Ultimate Bourbon Auction to End Hunger, which raised more than $280,000 in its first year. Blandford has helped raise $1 million-plus for local charities. Last year, at the beginning of the pandemic as stores were running low on hand sanitizer, he worked with local distilleries to secure it for associates. He also developed and teaches Kroger’s first wine and spirits qualification program, training associates in this category and developing them into experts in the field.

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Sarah Davies

Senior Supply Chain Manager, The Kroger Co.

Age: 39

The ability to drive operational excellence through cross-functional collaboration is a hallmark of how Davies leads high-performing teams. During the recent startup of a new facility in Las Vegas, Davies hired a 20-person team to support 250 front-line associates on a project that prior to her involvement was behind schedule. Near the end of 2020, Davies led an effort to improve market share for Kroger’s Fry’s division. She quickly built a team, evaluated upstream supply chain challenges, and drove process improvements that improved stock levels and shopper satisfaction. When Davies isn’t focused on boosting supply chain efficiency, she makes a difference in the Las Vegas community by collaborating with the Henderson Chamber of Commerce and Feeding America to help support families in need.

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Adam Drahman

Division E-Commerce Manager, The Kroger Co.

Age: 37

Drahman currently manages more than 90 pickup locations, equating to 2,700 associates, including the first-ever Ocado fulfillment center. He has created all standard operating procedures and best practices for the Ocado fulfillment center and store associates. While managing a Kroger pickup-only location, Drahman trained and onboarded more than 700 associates and selected and trained all employees in leadership roles. He also developed a new leadership model, which resulted in the ability to get controllable out-of-stocks to below 50. Over Drahman’s time spent in e-commerce with Kroger, he has gained habits and skills that allow him to anticipate future trends. His visionary thinking resulted in best practices adopted by 3,500-plus stores across the entire company. These best practices have saved the company millions of dollars while improving the overall Kroger customer experience.

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Brittany Foulks

E-Commerce Manager, The Kroger Co./Ralphs

Age: 36

After joining Kroger’s Ralphs division as a part-time courtesy clerk in 2003, Foulks went on to hold a series of store operations and district management roles. That background made her the ideal candidate to tackle a special assignment at the onset of the pandemic to accelerate the rollout of Ralphs’ grocery pickup service. Foulks and her team quickly expanded pickup service from 50 locations to all 187 Ralphs stores in Southern California. Thanks to her efforts, Ralphs’ pickup service showed record sales growth as the number of orders more than tripled. Foulks was recently promoted to her current role, and in that capacity leads a team of five e-commerce professionals.She has also achieved several educational milestones, including completion of various certification programs and the Kroger leadership program.

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Leroy Huckleberry

Store Leader, Kroger, Sterling Heights, Mich., The Kroger Co.

Age: 32

After joining Kroger as an assistant store leader in 2017, Huckleberry was soon elevated to the role of store leader, and he’s been making a difference ever since. He’s been put in charge of higher-volume stores on several occasions, where his passion for people has been highly evident. Since assuming his current role, he’s hired more than 30 people within eight weeks in an area where hiring was traditionally difficult. Thanks to his leadership style, in stores where Huckleberry is in a management role, turnover declines and sales increase. He thinks outside of the box to resolve opportunities, and regularly shares his business card with customers to discuss opportunities with stores, resulting in great conversations. Huckleberry is regarded as someone who leads by example to build a strong foundation of trust among his team members.

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Greg Junk

Regional Category Manager, The Kroger Co.

Age: 31

According to his nominator, Junk deserves a toast for his efforts leading adult beverage categories for Kroger. He has crafted quite a legacy in beer at the retailer, starting with a successful full-strength category conversion at the King Soopers division and continuing through his stints managing the beer category for several divisions. Today, Junk handles the total adult beverage category, accelerating growth with tactics like embracing digital coupons that garner new shoppers and creating a full-year national cross-merchandising calendar that builds baskets with beer and other categories. Junk takes pride in working one on one with CPGs, partnering on innovative offers and pursuing new program opportunities. Outside of work, he’s engaged with the community, volunteering for his church and speaking to MBA classes at a nearby university.

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Brittany Massey

Assistant Human Resources Leader, The Kroger Co.

Age: 33

Massey began her career with the Kroger Delta division in 2007 as a front end associate while earning a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Memphis. Over the past 14 years, she has earned many promotions, including acceptance into the company’s management training program. In 2020, she became a store leader, overseeing day-to-day operations at a location that previously was unprofitable and had issues with consistency in providing Kroger’s Full, Fresh & Friendly shopping experience. During her time as store leader, the location showed increased sales, EBITDA, in-stock levels and Friendly results. This year, she was promoted to assistant human resources leader, supporting and implementing HR strategies for 95 stores and more than 13,000 associates.

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Christina Ohmer

Category Manager, The Kroger Co.

Age: 35

Ohmer has modernized the outdoor floral category. Introducing an advanced benchmark of standards centered on capturing more households, she delivered more than 15 years of sales growth in under two years. Additionally, Ohmer has revitalized strategies for e-commerce growth, display fixtures, crop planning, merchandising services, customer-facing signage and tag programs. Having moved planning to where it’s initiated with the breeders she’s opened the door to precise planning within each region, thereby delivering customers the highest-quality local plant genetics. Furthermore, Ohmer led the launch of national plant trials for new-to-market genetics, laying the foundation for robust regional programs years ahead of the plants’ arrival at retail. Driven by trending colors, textures and patterns, she introduced an exciting seasonal program featuring plant collections that easily translate to consumers’ homes.

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Meranda Reed

Store Leader, Kroger, Watseka, Ill., The Kroger Co.

Age: 33

As the inspirational leader of a high-volume location with more than 150 associates, Reed’s leadership helps ensure that her store consistently ranks high on metrics such as sales, shrink, food safety and culture. Thanks to her leadership, the results of an annual associate insights survey showed that her store outperformed others in its division on 11 of 15 categories evaluated. Heavily invested in Kroger’s culture, Reed is involved with various associate resource groups, including Women’s EDGE and Young Professionals. She actively supports division-wide efforts regarding diversity, equity and inclusion. Reed identifies as part of the LGBTQ+ community and last year volunteered to be featured during Pride month to share her personal growth story. As a high-performing leader, Reed has been a trainer and mentor to associates participating in Kroger’s Store Leader Development Program.

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Nate Sadow

Senior Leader, Leadership Development, The Kroger Co.

Age: 37

Over the past year, the pandemic and social unrest have brought forward a variety of concerns and challenges for Kroger’s associates and leaders, both personally and professionally. Sadow was instrumental in helping design a variety of training tools and assets that were used to help support the company’s new ways of working and return-to-office strategy. His team developed innovative and contemporary training to support a hybrid work environment. Additionally, Sadow led a cross-functional team focusing on mental health and associate well-being, partnering with health care providers and medical professionals to ensure that Kroger provided helpful, relevant and timely training in support of normalizing mental health. Lastly, he stepped forward to lead, design and deploy leadership development to teach 20,000-plus leaders how to lead more inclusive teams.

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Craig Sanders

Division E-Commerce Manager, The Kroger Co.

Age: 33

As a division e-commerce manager, Sanders has worked to establish and maintain a space for smaller, local companies to gain visibility and market experience through leveraging his relationships in the grocery space. His work with partners at Pick Tennessee and Kroger led local-item sales to increase by more than 700%. Sanders committed to attending farmers’ markets and other events to identify suppliers ready for the next step with their businesses, and he also recently established a team of content experts to help lead change and innovation within his region. In addition, Sanders established a system of continuing education for those involved in curbside pickup. Through virtual sessions and peer-to-peer communication, he has established regular content. Sanders is a leader of change and innovation in the world of merchandise execution for Kroger, and has helped to create new processes and standards.

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Brady Smallwood

Senior Director, Strategy, Planning and Operations, Kroger E-Commerce, The Kroger Co.

Age: 37

During Smallwood’s tenure leading Kroger’s e-commerce strategy, the company has opened the first two of many automated fulfillment centers powered by Ocado, navigated multiple waves of COVID-19, piloted innovative methods to digitally serve customers and launched an ambitious strategic initiative to double e-commerce sales over a three-year period. In the early days of the pandemic, as associates were coping with their new work-from-home situations, a major strategic decision was made to merge the brick-and-mortar and e-commerce merchandising divisions into a single omnichannel merchandising organization. Smallwood led a cross-functional team of formerly siloed brick-and-mortar and e-commerce merchandising associates to enable new “omni merchants” to gain visibility into their end-to-end business, make holistic merchandising plans, manage a combined profit and loss, and uncover insights to improve customer outcomes.

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Abigail Sturgill

Senior Manager, Associate Communications and Engagement, The Kroger Co.

Age: 38

Sturgill joined Kroger’s associate communications and engagement team just weeks before the pandemic began, so she had little time to acclimate before being thrown into nonstop crisis communication. With half a million associates across the country who were deemed essential workers, her team was responsible for keeping them informed during the crisis. Sturgill led all associate-facing communication during the pandemic, including a critical focus on safety and well-being. She was the primary writer and editor of the company’s now-famous “Sharing What We’ve Learned: A Blueprint for Businesses,” which provided guidance to other businesses on how to reopen safely. It was shared publicly on TheKrogerCo.com and downloaded thousands of times. Sturgill also launched Associate Alerts, a new technology that sends critical information to employees via text during emergency situations.

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Jake VanWagnen

E-commerce Business Specialist, The Kroger Co.

Age: 36

In an era with a lot of moving parts in e-commerce, VanWagnen is credited with being a lynchpin that holds it all together for Kroger. He’s a young leader who walks the walk – including walking the floors at stores all over the country – to identify areas of opportunity for e-commerce. While he thrives when on the ground and engaging with Kroger team members, he also values technology, helping to launch a new android-based picking system and other labor-saving initiatives to boost online ordering and fulfillment. Described as trustworthy, driven and an out-of-the-box thinker, VanWagnen has a large sphere of influence in his role directly affecting the e-commerce business of more than 2,000 stores and spearheading all processes and enhancements related to that part of the retailer’s operations.

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Bridget Wojciak

Director of Nutrition, Kroger Health, The Kroger Co.

Age: 31

Wojciak crafted an industry-leading nutrition scoring system, OptUP, allowing shoppers to easily identify the health value of foods and nudging them to choose more nutritious, relevant options in a customer-friendly user interface. Conscious of the food insecurity resulting from COVID-19, she led her team in curating and operationalizing the shipment of boxes containing nourishing, shelf-stable meal essentials, funded by health insurance, to the homes of immunocompromised and food-insecure populations nationally. Wojciak worked with the digital merchandising, technology, marketing and content teams to create a digital hub for online nutrition-focused content. She also committed to a years-long collaboration with university researchers on an industry-leading study to test how dietitian care and personalized product recommendations received at a Kroger store can affect heart health and healthy shopping behavior over time.

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Shaan Zaveri

VP-Merchandising Analytics & Strategy, The Kroger Co.

Age: 37

Previously, Zaveri led the space, assortment and stores team at Kroger’s 84.51° division. There, he developed the initial vision for Kroger’s future space and assortment optimization capability, in which customer data is leveraged among additional factors like modality type and environment to drive assortment decisions for Kroger as it rethinks how it connects with consumers. In addition, once the pandemic hit, the work of Zaveri and his team became invaluable as the need grew for additional distanced grocery shopping options. Zaveri, along with a small team from 84.51° and Kroger, developed the concept of a Grocery Pickup Center. In under four weeks, Kroger turned this idea into a successful reality, offering customers a way to fulfill their grocery needs without ever having to enter a store.

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Ronnie Archibeque 

Director of Retail Operations, Laguna Development Corp.

Age: 35

Archibeque has increased revenue and profits by introducing strong processes, control measures, an effective product mix and elite customer service in the retail business of Laguna Development Corp., a company in the Laguna Pueblo of New Mexico. Archibeque has fostered a positive cultural shift internally that has reduced turnover, improved team morale and helped develop staff for career growth. He has also embraced the local tribal government’s emergency health order by adding input, training and staff monitoring to help minimize the impacts and transmission of COVID-19. Further, Archibeque has demonstrated leadership and innovation by coordinating, ordering and distributing large special orders for several local tribal communities. These special orders consisted of necessary supplies and groceries to help aid tribal members during the hard times resulting from the pandemic.

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Megan Hoffmann

Director, Human Resources, Litehouse Foods

Age: 37

In 2018, Hoffmann started out as the senior manager of human resources at her first CPG company, but in a short amount of time she’s not only learned the business, but also become the “employee whisperer” at Litehouse. Hoffmann worked to streamline employee performance evaluations, transitioning the company to an online system. She also implemented structural changes to ensure each of Litehouse’s four manufacturing facilities/plants were compliant with varying state laws and consistent company-wide. When the pandemic began, she implemented another online system to keep track of company data related to COVID-19, which provided better visibility for the executive team and allowed company leadership to make more informed decisions. Hoffmann has also spearheaded hiring campaigns, increased employee engagement, added new positions, improved training and onboarding for new employees, and reduced turnover. 

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Travis Bernath

Store Director, Meijer, Noblesville, Ind., Meijer Inc.

Age: 32

Bernath exemplifies Meijer’s customer focus strategy, racking up customer service scores that are first and second in his market. He accomplished these results by encouraging his staff to work as one team and cross-training all associates to respond to customer needs. During the pandemic, Bernath ensured that his store was prepared to meet rising customer demands, proactively staying ahead of product flow by contacting vendors to obtain high-demand items. He also made use of expedited hiring practices during a labor shortage, quickly hiring 100 people within a three-week period to keep his store fully staffed. What’s more, over the past few years his store has led in supporting local food pantry programs. Bernath has accomplished all of this while facing some significant health challenges, including cancer and multiple sclerosis.

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Michelle Hall

SVP, Human Resources and Chief Human Resources Officer, Meijer

Age: 38

A strategic visionary, Hall can identify a business imperative, define a strategy, design a solution, and execute a plan to achieve results and effect change. For example, when COVID-19 hit, she led teams to think innovatively and respond in ways that focused on team member health, safety and respect. Hall advised against putting strict rules or guardrails in place, but rather encouraged flexibility and empowerment to get work done. She launched a successful coaching program for top talent, primarily focused on diverse candidates, to create sponsorship, advocacy and development opportunities. Hall implemented Meijer Centers of Excellence support for the Fresh Thyme banner, including the deployment of Workday, leadership development, and diversity and inclusion. She also actively lives out Meijer’s company purpose to enrich lives in the communities it serves.

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Brian Pugh

Director, Digital User Experience, Meijer Inc.

Age: 39

Pugh is a leader within the marketing and customer strategy organization at Meijer, and his impact and leadership have delivered many innovations, customer experiences and digital capabilities. Pugh launched the mPerks loyalty program, in which capacity he led the expansion of program experiences, member acquisition and engagement to achieve 50% sales penetration. He directed the evolution of the Meijer app across six versions to support loyalty engagement, marketing communication and, most recently, the adoption of e-commerce, which has grown to more than 1 million customers. He also oversaw the relaunch of Meijer.com, focused on driving the adoption of grocery pickup and home delivery. Finally, Pugh is named as a co-inventor on seven U.S. patents spanning loyalty, digital and store experiences.

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Marlys Roberts

Director of Merchandising-Deli/Bakery/Franchise, Meijer Inc.

Age: 34

In 2020, Roberts was an inaugural member of Meijer’s strategy team and jumped into projects and initiatives that have pushed the grocer to deliver profitable long-term growth. She developed an IT governance prioritization process that defined the structure and criteria for consistent sequencing, workload management and priority alignment across the enterprise. Roberts was also key in influencing the digital fulfillment road map that focuses on long-term strategy for all fulfillment types: in-store, micro-fulfillment center and third-party. On the merchandising side, she’s worked with merchant executives to define long-term strategies across all functional areas. Roberts led one of Meijer’s most important initiatives in foods, focused on the future of foodservice, with the successful architecture, partnership and pilot deployment of a third-party food program that delivers store-made ready-to-heat meals, hot prepared foods and pizzeria options. Performance has increased by 42% in pilot stores.

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Justin Sessink

Director, Digital Shopping, Meijer Inc.

Age: 35

When Meijer was trying to firm up its grocery delivery strategy, Sessink was confident that finding a good e-commerce partner would be the best option for the company. He built confidence in his recommendation by finding a partner that fit well with Meijer’s values and culture, and initiated a pilot program. Sessink then leveraged data analytics to showcase the incremental business opportunity it generated and the extremely positive customer feedback. After sharing those benefits, Sessink was able to bring others along quickly to scale the business partnership, and it’s since become a highly successful business solution. Over his nine years of service, Sessink has been promoted twice and led or been a key member in some incredible digital innovation and transformations at Meijer.

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Erin Walton

Director of Direct Store Delivery (DSD) and Alcohol, Meijer Inc.

Age: 38

Walton is the first woman to lead DSD and alcohol, which is the largest business within Meijer’s merchandising organization. In 2020, the business saw tremendous growth in top-line sales (up 17%) and continues to drive high household penetration for Meijer, in no small part thanks to Walton. Last year, she led an initiative to develop and launch the first Meijer Alcohol Holiday Gift Guide, a new way to drive digital engagement with customers and promote expansive holiday gifting. The guide drove an increase of 8% in new customers to the alcohol department and an incremental 13% in sales on items featured versus the rest of the department, and has resulted in subsequent seasonal guides. This year,, she executed a complete alcohol department refresh both in-store and online. Additionally in her down time, Walton developed and wrote the case study for the 2021 NRF Next Generation Scholarship.

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Praveena Sundarraj

Brand Manager of Innovation, Milo’s Tea Co.

Age: 36

Sundarraj implemented a product and brand development process that includes an extensive internal and external sensory process as well as the development of production, marketing and go-to-market strategy planning. She made Milo’s innovation efforts data first by collaborating with the analytics team and implementing programs to identify market opportunities, understand consumer needs and develop target audiences. Sundarraj also worked with the procurement team to develop a co-packer qualification process and with communications to augment Milo’s ingredient-based sustainability story. She found quick solutions to navigate the pandemic, maintain Milo’s timeline, launch a successful brand and add items to the company’s product line. Sundarraj circulated data creatively, including the creation of internal and external sustainability reports, to help the company understand how data-first initiatives will drive innovation and efficacy across Milo’s.

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Delanie Beeson

Global Science and Sustainability Manager, Mission Produce

Age: 25

Beeson led the creation of Mission Produce’s inaugural environmental, sustainability and governance (ESG) report in April and is passionate about elevating the importance of sustainability at the leading global avocado supplier. She’s responsible for formalizing the reporting of all ESG matters, connecting with global teams to investigate, gather complex data and implement processes. Another of Beeson’s roles is to help guide and educate Mission’s leadership on the most impactful ways to do good. She has pushed the needle forward for sustainability to become a key consideration in major business decisions and extended that philosophy to Mission’s entire supply chain. Because of the information she’s gathered, Mission is able to inform consumers about why selecting its avocados is a good choice for people and the planet.

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Matthew Ellis

SVP of Business Development-Retail Analytics, NielsenIQ

Age: 34

Media is one of the fastest-growing areas of retail, and Ellis eats, drinks and sleeps retail media. In his previous role leading the North American retail media consulting practice for dunnhumby, he leveraged his past experience in grocery and discount retailers to bring a practical and actionable perspective to retail media. He was also integral in establishing new retail media businesses by working with multiple grocery retailers across the United States and Canada. As a natural problem-solver, Ellis’ primary focus was the design and deployment of customer-led retail media networks, which resulted in the delivery of an innovative blueprint describing how to launch a new media business or make changes to existing operations.

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Aaron Johnson

Owner, Oasis Fresh Market

Age: 30

Johnson is a difference-maker who took action this year to address a food desert situation in Tulsa, Okla. He opened the Oasis Fresh Market in an area that had been lacking fresh food for more than a decade, creating jobs for more than 40 people. It wasn’t the first time that the Tulsa native, motivational speaker and former college football player at the University of Tulsa had made a difference in his hometown: Johnson was previously executive director of the Tulsa Dream Center, a faith-based nonprofit that provides food, education and health programming for families. During the pandemic, the center fed more than 13 million meals to those in need. Johnson is also the administrative pastor of the Victory Church in Tulsa. He’s described as a passionate, persistent powerhouse.

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Andrew Hoeft

CEO, Pinpoint Software Inc.

Age: 29

Starting his grocery career at 14 at Festival Foods, Hoeft founded Pinpoint Software & Date Check Pro at 18. What began as a proof of concept in Excel now helps 700-plus stores across North America track and prevent expired food, including partnerships with Southeastern Grocers, Raley’s and Price Chopper. As of April 2021, Pinpoint has prevented the sale of nearly 14 million expired products, branched out to manage expiration dates on medical supplies, and collaborated with some customers to launch a second grocery solution, Taskle, a mobile task management and auditing tool. From early on, Hoeft also led his team to provide free resources to the industry via blog posts and quarterly e-books featuring new research, process guides, and collaborations with other top industry providers such as Agilence and Itasca.

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Maria Palacio

Founder/CEO, Progeny Coffee

Age: 34

Palacio started Progeny to lift coffee farmers out of poverty, having witnessed firsthand their struggle to maintain a living. When she moved to the United States and saw that coffee shops sold a cup for more than $5, she knew that someone had to do something to help her community back home. Palacio has since built a flourishing company, overcoming various small-business obstacles in a crowded market. Progeny now provides coffee farmers with free education, as well as technical agricultural support for new techniques to improve their methods and processes. When farmers sell their coffee to Progeny, instead of relying on market prices that unfairly fluctuate, they receive a set price per score. The exponentially growing company has currently doubled the income of more than 25 farmers.

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Andy Butler

Senior Director, Product Supply, Procter & Gamble

Age: 37

Responsible for the end-to-end supply chain and in-stocks at national grocers, Butler worked with retailers to meet their unique needs during 2020’s demand surge, leveraging new digital tools, supply network design transformations and innovative work processes to systemically deliver improvements. Butler is now teaming with grocers to position the supply chain as a growth accelerator through more integrated partnerships across supply, merchandising and operations, and by ramping up innovation in P&G’s supply chain. He also leads the company’s joint efforts on equality and inclusion at his retail partners, which has led to such initiatives as the Multicultural Entrepreneurship Development program in P&G’s hometown of Cincinnati. Featuring Kroger and local business accelerator MORTAR, the program brought together 11 multicultural entrepreneurs to learn from P&G and Kroger executives.

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Martin Sanchez

Director, Category Growth Analyst, Procter & Gamble

Age: 31

A strategist at his core, Sanchez created a vision to grow P&G’s business by focusing on shopper needs and involving his retailer partner in winning strategies that delivered on those needs. He leveraged shopper research, category growth targets and retailer strategies to develop plans for top- and bottom-line growth. As he created his strategy for business growth, he saw the immediate application of this thinking to the whole organization, sharing how the strategy, when implemented broadly, would deliver significant results across the total company. He codified his process for using multiple databases, created a step-by-step approach to discussing it with the customer, and then created an outline to teach it to five of his fellow category development managers; this leadership enabled his team to deliver better all-around results.

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Lauren Schiavone

Senior Director, Innovation and Online Grocery, Procter & Gamble

Age: 36

Viewed as a driver of creativity and change, Schiavone leads P&G’s innovation pillar and is focused on new go-to-market capabilities, including the company’s online grocery/last-mile partners achieving P&G’s highest sales in this area in the company’s history and urban innovation. She also heads executive-level joint business plans with key industry partners. When a major opportunity arose to upskill the entire organization in omni/digital commerce, Schiavone took it upon herself to create an employee capability plan focused on this area, creating monthly training seminars and becoming personally involved in P&G’s largest customer opportunities. She also led the Culture Team, resulting in the company’s best-ever employee results, despite some challenging work environments because of COVID. What’s more, Schiavone is a mentor to numerous future leaders.

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Jasmine LaMontagne

Asset Protection Analyst, Retail Business Services

Age: 26

LaMontagne has proved her ability to manage a large volume of work while completing such career development initiatives as earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees. She’s currently in a loss prevention certification course, for which she’ll take the exam in the coming months. Further, in summer 2020, LaMontagne expressed her goal to expand her career path and lead in a new role as an investigations specialist, which requires an extensive and rigorous training process. She has remained focused on this goal with the utmost determination, efficiently balancing her current job as an analyst while pursuing this professional opportunity. Additionally, out of care for her colleagues and the organization, LaMontagne took on the responsibility of Fun Committee chair to increase associate engagement and improve the overall experience of employees at RBS.

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Julia Tiede

Center Store Manager, River Market Community Co-op

Age: 30

Brought in to manage River Market Community Co-op’s center store, where day-to-day operations were running decently, but systems and long-range planning needed to be created and implemented, Tiede hit the ground running, maintaining vital operations while developing systems for even greater efficiency and simultaneously managing future planning. By using data and a scientific approach, she moved out slower items and replaced them with more compelling, desirable options. Not afraid to take a chance on a new product or to implement needed change, Tiede was able to achieve financial results as impressive as her performance: a 3.7% increase in gross profit in the center store. She also worked to cultivate arguably the strongest culture of any department in the store, with depth, low turnover and excellent morale.

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Michael Ryzewic

Co-Founder and CIO, Rosie

Age: 38

Since grocery e-commerce provider Rosie began in 2013, Ryzewic has grown a two-person team to 80-plus employees overseeing four key departments, with 28 staffers responsible for the technology supporting hundreds of stores and thousands of shoppers nationwide. Not only has he built a company in a highly competitive space, but he also led efforts to secure $10 billion in Series A funding that enabled faster iteration of feature building in regard to digital merchandising; the functionality of Cater, a platform to place online orders for catered food; and SNAP online. The company that he helped found has forever changed the lives of local grocers, their shoppers and those who work under his guidance. Ryzewic also leads efforts to make Rosie’s data accessible to benefit the company and its customers.

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Haley Sammis

Head of Account Management, Rosie

Age: 27

Rosie’s youngest senior leader, Sammis, the company’s sixth employee  spearheads the national expansion of its retailer partnerships to hundreds of stores in more than 40 states. In the past year, Sammis has created different strategies focused on training retailers and building their knowledge of how they can improve their e-commerce businesses. She has led various monthly Fireside Chats on topics that help retailers find success with their online programs. These events have proved a great way for retailer panelists to share their experiences with one another. Recently, Sammis started a new program, Rosie Retailer & Product Roadshows, to help bring the company’s technology team closer to retailers. This initiative has been instrumental in communicating the new features that Rosie is building and how they will affect retailers’ businesses.

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Megan Kreutzman

Division Manager, Schnuck Markets

Age: 38

An innovative mindset applied to complex challenges helped Kreutzman advance from store manager and other key roles at Schnucks to her current position as a senior leader overseeing an entire division. Her business acumen and ability to think strategically and operationally has contributed to positive financial performance. Some of her work includes improving customer engagement among store teams, creating a Google-based tool kit for in-store leaders, and building a training team and programs that balanced hard and soft skills. Those skills were useful when Schnucks acquired several new store locations and Kreutzman was involved in onboarding new leaders with varied backgrounds. She also helped develop, staff and run a COVID-19 resource line for teammates, all while raising a family, pursuing a master’s degree and contributing to the community.

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Adrian Salazar

Senior Manager, Store Operations Support, Schnuck Markets

Age: 34

Salazar has led several new initiatives and worked in various areas of the business over the past three years, continually leveraging data and analytics to create new tools for the business. He has developed numerous dashboards/reporting using data and analytics that output operational KPI reporting that can be employed down to the individual store and roll up to be as broad as the total company. Salazar is certified in Alteryx, a data science and analytics software that he taught himself to use and leverages to create innovations in reporting for operational execution and excellence. His transformation of data and development into actionable initiatives was instrumental during the COVID-19 pandemic. Salazar also led the transition to a secondary supplier and is currently heading a company-wide standardization and simplification initiative.

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Rachel Steele

VP of Supply Chain, Schnuck Markets

Age: 39

Steele is responsible for the efficient, safe and timely distribution of products from suppliers to warehouses to stores, but also oversees center store buying, inbound and outbound transportation, fleet maintenance, warehouse management, and vendor compliance. It’s a big job and she oversees a 500-person team. Steele’s job was especially demanding during the pandemic, when supply chain disruptions required quick action. She led the cross-departmental team that included merchants and operators that found alternative suppliers and products, adjusted merchandise flows, procured alternative carriers, and hired 100 outside personnel from all over the country to staff warehouses. These accomplishments are even more impressive considering  that just four years earlier, Steele left Schnucks’ legal department for a supply chain career.

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Jena Good

General Manager, Shelton’s Grocery/Walters Hometown Grocery

Age: 31

Good is a third-generation grocer focused on serving the Oklahoma communities in which her family’s two stores are located while also acting as an advocate for independent grocers. She took those efforts to a new level during the past year while in charge of community outreach in her area’s Shop Local programs, participating in Family Meals month and through social media projects, including the debut of her own blog at www.thegrocerygal.blog. Good’s leadership is also evident through her participation in FMI’s Day at the Capitol and in virtual meetings with state representatives and the Oklahoma Grocers Association. The Grocery Gal blog provides an outlet for Good’s passion for the industry and is a place where she bridges the gap between grocery retailer knowledge and the consumer by tackling such issues as meat pricing, supply chain disruptions and the importance of shopping local.

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Ryan Simmons

Director of E-Commerce, ShopRite Supermarkets Inc.

Age: 31

After joining ShopRite Supermarkets in 2006 as a cashier, Simmons was steadily promoted before finding his current role in 2014 as head of ShopRite’s digital strategy. He has since improved customers’ omnichannel experience by driving operational efficiency through innovation. Simmons sought out and implemented new technology such as Kardex, a space-savvy grocery automation storage system. He has also made tremendous progress on overall productivity and efficiencies in the stores’ 28 ShopRite From Home departments, decreasing order selection time by 30 minutes to help e-commerce sales more than double in five years, with more than 30 million items now delivered annually. This growth has come as Simmons continuously enhanced the customer experience through new technology and process improvements such as upgraded pickup areas and text-on-arrival technology that decreased wait times.

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Karen Ho

Co-Founder, VP, Mobile Client Engineering, Swiftly Systems

Age: 34

Ho worked her way up through the engineering and technology industry to co-found the startup Swiftly Systems, a digital platform to help retailers grow sales and build loyalty while enabling brands to reach shoppers through retail media networks. Ho leads a team of engineers at the Seattle-based company to make Swiftly an increasingly sleek, elegant and functional retail solution. One of Ho’s greatest accomplishments is building a team of 14 developers with iOS and Android experience that exceeds her own to continue advancing Swiftly’s capabilities. In addition to building a successful startup, she has taught programming at the Hackbright Academy, an engineering school designed to help women achieve careers in technology, by sharing how she’s been able to overcome obstacles in the technology world.

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Aaron Payne

Director of Advertising, Tops Markets LLC

Age: 38

Amid pandemic-induced supply chain challenges, which complicated promotional efforts for all retailers, Payne demonstrated agility and perseverance to overcome these unprecedented circumstances. He led brainstorming and best-practice learning sessions on key seasonal opportunities, which were in-person as well as internet-based, with more than 25 key marketing and advertising colleagues. Another major project involved Payne leading the creation of an innovative and compelling campaign, Smile for Summer, which brought together a number of key company initiatives and reinforced to customers why they should feel good about their shopping choices. Another of Payne’s accomplishments involved Tops being the first retail partner in the country to move onto the Starbucks Connect mobile platform at a new café location inside its store in Hamburg, N.Y.

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David Berube

Digital Product Manager, United Natural Foods Inc. (UNFI)

Age: 39

Merger integrations are always challenging, but after UNFI joined forces with Supervalu, Berube brought together several teams and quickly aligned them around the concept of customer-centricity and user experience. That required agile new ways of working and a focus away from the established methods of creating digital applications through typical business requirements to an IT provider partnering with the business to focus on working collaboratively on customer problems. Berube’s team was able to do rapid prototyping that led to consistently delivering value directly to customers through frequent application updates. Through prototyping with UNFI customers, the process of iterating to deliver better solutions is happening faster than ever. The result for UNFI customers is improved efficiencies, thanks to modern digital applications that are faster and smarter.

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Adam Sinley

Director, Product Development, Quality Assurance, Regulatory, United Natural Foods (UNFI) Inc.

Age: 38

Sinley leads a team responsible for a portfolio of private brands that encompasses 5,000 SKUs, including 100 new item launches annually, across 18 brands. He is regarded as a strategic thinker who has created a culture of innovation and trust, especially when it comes to regulatory compliance. Sinley works with team members to champion risk mitigation, balancing regulatory and business threats, including extensive partnership with suppliers regarding foreign supplier verification programs, co-packer support and customer communications. He successfully led work with TraceONE to improve the Global Data Synchronization Network (GDSN) and the integrity of information. By communicating and listening effectively, Sinley inspires creative thinking, and grows talent at UNFI.

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Meghan Shookman

Senior Director of Innovation, Vital Farms

Age: 38

As Vital Farms first hire dedicated to product innovation, Shookman tackles big challenges and thrives in ambiguous situations. She leads the identification of consumer needs and opportunities in the marketplace to scale Vital Farms beyond its shell egg business as the company looks to become a leader in ethical food. Shookman headed a team to bring Egg Bites, Vital Farms’ first ready-to-eat product, to market in August 2020, and most recently launched Breakfast Bars, a first-to-market egg-based refrigerated snack bar line inspired by traditional comfort-food dishes. In just six weeks, she managed an R&D team in a design sprint from concept to prototype, with consumer validation and a successful sell-in to Whole Foods Market nationally, all while navigating ingredient challenges and supply chain disruptions.

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Brandon Hill

CEO, Vori

Age: 28

Hill and two others co-founded Vori with the goal of bringing advanced technological capabilities to the operations of independent retailers, food distributors and suppliers. His parents spent more than 40 years in the CPG industry, which gave Hill a unique perspective on the industry’s operational challenges, including replenishment ordering. He helped develop a solution designed to replace error-prone manual processes with automation that allows for the simultaneous placement of multiple orders with multiple suppliers. Beyond upgrading the ordering process, Vori is tackling other longstanding challenges such as digital invoicing, receiving, payments and order tracking. Under Hill’s leadership, Vori has grown to more than 17 employees.

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Lauren Biondi

Manager of Social Media, Wakefern Food Corp.

Age: 33

The reach of Wakefern’s marketing programs has increased exponentially under the leadership of Biondi, enabling the grocer to attract a new, younger customer to the ShopRite brand. As manager of social media, Biondi led development of a robust program that allowed Wakefern’s individual operators to communicate and engage with their local customers at the store level. She also spearheaded partnerships with influencers and content creators that helped ShopRite achieve the No. 1 branded content video on Facebook multiple times. Biondi played a key role during the onset of the pandemic, when she led the team leveraging Wakefern’s social media platforms to quickly inform customers of changes in hours, policies, safety procedures and product availability, establishing the ShopRite banner as a local leader in retailer transparency.

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Lee Jeyes

Head of Corporate Innovation, Walmart Canada

Age: 31

Jeyes joined Walmart Canada eight years ago as a store co-manager, and following a series of promotions, he joined the store innovation team in 2019. Over the past two years, Jeyes drove roughly $500 million in business value for Walmart Canada, taking into account sales growth and savings. Prior to his innovation role, he was part of the group that supported the launch of Walmart’s online grocery business in Canada. Jeyes has since been involved in building training material and rolling out new tools to create efficiencies within the process at store level. His accomplishments are not only about generating total business value for Walmart Canada, but also about looking at how the end-to-end process will affect store associates and the customer experience. Jeyes was promoted to his current role as head of innovation in June of this year.

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