PG 1023

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Sustainability, functionality, convenience shape packaging design


Offerings high in this attribute are available across the store

DRINK AND BE WELL Milk and juice ght to retain their healthy halos

Super Regionals: Publix, H-E-B and Meijer thrive with hyper-local strategies
October 2023 Volume 102, Number 10 HERE COMES TOMORROW
on a new class of emerging grocery industry leaders 2023 GenNext Award Winner: Rebecca Robinson PCC Community Markets POWERED BY
The spotlight shines
we grow together Scan to discover what makes Chiquita better Meet us at the IFPA Global Floral & Produce Show in Anaheim, CA October 19th – 21st
Contents 10.23 Volume 102 Issue 10 MINTEL GLOBAL NEW PRODUCTS Departments 12 ALL’S WELLNESS Shopping for Mental Well-Being and Mindfulness 74 AHEAD OF WHAT’S NEXT Plant-Based Evolution 6 EDITOR’S NOTE Your Time to Shine 8 IN-STORE EVENTS CALENDAR December 2023 10 NIELSEN’S SHELF STOPPERS Frozen Foods COVER STORY Here Comes Tomorrow PG spotlights a new class of emerging grocery industry leaders. 14 PROGRESSIVE GROCER October 2023 3 12
2023 GenNext Award Winner: Wesley Yang Ahold Delhaize USA

Protein Power

Liquid Assets


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4 40 FEATURE Winners in a Crowded Market Publix, H-E-B and Meijer are standing out and thriving with hyper-local strategies.  54 TECHNOLOGY Top of Mind A closer look at how grocers can keep their replenishment operations robust amid lingering issues. 56 SPECIAL REPORT Plenty to Unpack Trends relating not just to sustainability, but also functionality and convenience, are influencing the latest packaging solutions. 64 SOLUTIONS
offerings expand well beyond the meat case into a variety of categories. 72 BEVERAGES
for you. Contents 10.23 Volume 102 Issue 10
attempts to dislodge their healthy halos, milk and juice are coming on strong with new offerings that highlight why these venerable beverages are good
56 72
Crispy. Savory. Authentic. Your snack lovers are sure to enjoy Chicharrones – Pork Rinds and Pork Cracklin’s from GOYA® ! Stock up and let them crunch away on this zero-carb, Keto-friendly snack that’s as authentic as it is craveable. Contact your GOYA representative or email | ©2023 Goya Foods, Inc. Learn More!

Your Time to Shine


t’s the most wonderful time of the year, and no, I’m not talking about the holidays.

Progressive Grocer is getting ready to host hundreds of leaders from across the grocery industry in November at Grocery Impact, our annual gathering where everyone can put aside worries about labor shortages, macroeconomic conditions and consumer behavior, and spend some time exchanging ideas, celebrating successes and building relationships.

Unlike other industry events that seem overwhelmingly large, impersonal and focused on exhibit halls, Grocery Impact aims to be a beacon of light: an event where grocery leaders have a chance to inspire, guide, empower and bring hope to others who are passionate about this essential industry.

Grocery Impact (previously named Grocery Industry Week) will be held Nov. 7-9, at the gorgeous Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress Resort, in Orlando, Fla., and I invite you to attend our celebration of achievement, empowerment and community impact in grocery.

“We are passionate about the grocery community. That’s why we have reimagined our annual event to be bigger and better than ever, with an amazing roster of must-attend sessions and activities,” says Paula Lashinsky, SVP-group publisher for the U.S. Grocery & Convenience Group at EnsembleIQ, PG’s parent company. “With the theme ‘The Power of People,’ the event focuses on new leadership strategies for an industry undergoing tremendous transformation.”

This year, PG has a stellar slate of disruptors, innovators, pacesetters and leaders in grocery scheduled to attend and speak at Grocery Impact, including:

John Ruane, president of The Giant Co.

Hanneke Faber, president of the food business at Unilever

Tammy DeBoer, president of Harris Teeter

Brad Brookshire, CEO of Brookshire Grocery Co.

Russel Zwanka, food marketing program chief at Western Michigan University

Tim Massa, chief people of cer at Kroger

LaTonya King, DEI chief atFood Lion

Jason Buechel, CEO of Whole Foods Market

Claire Wyatt, VP of business strategy/marketing at Albertsons Media Collective

Donna Tweeten, president of Hy-Vee

Suzanne Long, chief sustainability of cer at Albertsons

Tim Lowe, president of Lowes Foods

Mindy Sherwood, head of the Walmart business at Procter & Gamble

And so many more speakers from Kroger, Meijer, Lidl, Giant Eagle and others.

First-day sessions will focus on innovation and how to feed, nurture and grow the next generation of leaders in the grocery industry. Second-day

sessions will focus on hot topics such as technology, retail media and automation, and how some companies are redesigning their business models through purpose-driven initiatives that create value for customers and associates. Third-day sessions will feature top diverse leaders of the industry discussing talent sustainability, mobility, career growth, pay equity, and new drivers of culture, engagement and retention across the grocery industry.

Plus, the Top Women in Grocery (TWIG) celebration, now in its 17th year, will bring more than 400 winners together to discuss the important issues facing women in the industry, and the Top Women in Grocery Awards Gala during Grocery Impact is the most prestigious honor for female leaders in the grocery industry. Top Women in Grocery award recipients represent all levels of the industry in the retailer and supplier communities. Grocery Impact will also include the GenNext Awards celebration, featuring under-40 innovators, disruptors and difference-makers who are positively influencing their colleagues, their organizations and the industry as a whole.

Be a beacon of light in this vital industry. Be part of an invitation-only group of grocery’s top decision-makers and request an invitation to Grocery Impact today.

Scan the QR Code for more information and to registration to the Grocery Impact event.
Grocery Impact aims to be a beacon of light: an event where grocery leaders have a chance to inspire, guide, empower and bring hope to others who are passionate about this essential industry.

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3 Coats and Toys for Kids Day. Get your charitable initiatives of these kinds going ahead of the winter holidays.

4 Wear Brown Shoes Day. Or don’t. But know that you can.

5 International Volunteer Day. Salute your associates who give back to various good causes when they’re off the clock.

Month of Giving National Eggnog Month Made in America Month National Fruitcake Month

National Stress-Free Family Holiday Month Root Vegetables and Exotic Fruits Month

1 National Peppermint Bark Day

2 International Sweater Vestival. The customer with snazziest example of this article of clothing wins a 5-minute shopping spree.

10 Emily Dickinson was born on this day in 1830, so perhaps a little supermarket-themed poetry is in order.

11 National App Day. This is a good time to promote yours, if you have one.

12 National 12-Hour Fresh Breath Day. Your oral care section has products that can help with this worthy goal.

6 Mitten Tree Day. They actually keep your hands warmer than gloves, so pay that warmth forward by donating a pair to the needy.


U.S. National Guard Birthday. Give a discount – and your heartfelt thanks –to all who serve.

7 Hanukkah starts at sundown and lasts for eight crazy nights.

8 National Blue Collar Day. Recognize all of your colleagues who engage in physical labor as part of their jobs.

9 National Pastry Day

17 Wright Brothers Day. Let your imagination soar in creative in-store displays as you mark the first successful airplane flights.

24 Last-Minute Shopper’s Day. Suggest items that gifting procrastinators can buy at your store(s).

18  Bake Cookies Day 19 National Hard Candy Day. It’s not just what your grandma carries around in her purse.

20 Games Day. Encourage families to break out the Scrabble or Monopoly board for marathon sessions, accompanied by your recommended snacks and drinks.

14 National Energy Conservation Day. What is your business doing in this allimportant area? Make sure your customers know all about it.

21 Winter Solstice


National Cupcake Day


Barbie and Barney Backlash Day. Mattel’s venerable fashion doll is now cool again, thanks to the recent hit movie, but the goofy purple dinosaur’s still fair game.

25 Christmas Day 26 Junkanoo. For this pan-Caribbean celebration that takes the form of colorful parades, showcase a range of West Indian cuisines.

27 Visit the Zoo Day 28 Pledge of Allegiance Day

22 National Short Person Day. It’s time for the vertically challenged to stand small and take their rightful place up front, where they can finally see.

29 International Cello Day

23 National Roots Day. Encourage your associates to share aspects of their respective heritages, especially their families’ culinary traditions.

30 Falling Needles Family Fest Day. Instruct shoppers how and where they can recycle their Christmas trees.

31 New Year’s Eve

S M T W T F S IN-STORE EVENTS Calendar 12.23 8
10 FRONT END Shelf Stoppers Frozen Foods Latest 52 Wks - W/E 08/26/23 Latest 52 WksW/E 08/26/23 Latest 52 Wks YAW/E 08/27/22 Latest 52 Wks YAW/E 08/27/22 Latest 52 Wks 2YAW/E 08/28/21 Latest 52 Wks 2YAW/E 08/28/21 Basket Facts How much is the average American household spending per trip on various frozen products versus the year-ago period? Source: Nielsen, Total U.S. (All outlets combined) – includes grocery stores, drug stores, mass merchandisers, select dollar stores, select warehouse clubs and military commissaries (DeCA) for the 52 weeks ending Aug. 28, 2023 Source: Nielsen Homescan, Total U.S., 52 weeks ending July 29, 2023 Ice Cream Chicken Frozen Novelties Complete Meals Multiserve Total Department Performance Top Frozen Food Categories by Dollar Sales $74,098,198,597 69,709,626,068 $65,329,935,650 Frozen Foods Generational Snapshot Which cohort is spending, on average, the most per trip on complete meals? Millennials $10.00 Gen Xers $10.41 Boomers $9.64 The Greatest Generation $9.20 Source: Nielsen Homescan, Total U.S., 52 weeks ending July 29, 2023 $14.43 on all frozen items, up 9.4% compared with a year ago $6.89 on ice cream, up 10.1% compared with a year ago $9.71 on complete meals, up 9.5% compared with a year ago $13.24 on chicken, up 9.9% compared with a year ago Cross-Merch Candidates Frozen Dessert Toppings Pain Relief Pet Food Batteries and Accessories Dairy Dessert Toppings Oils, Butter and Margarine Spreads and Substitutes Medical Accessories Gastrointestinal Care Dairy Desserts Olives and Pickled and Marinated Vegetables $8,000,000,000 7,000,000,000 6,000,000,000 5,000,000,000 4,000,000,000 3,000,000,000 2,000,000,000 1,000,000,000 0

Pasta and Noodles

Market Overview

Recent economic concerns led to continued at-home eating occasions and growth for pasta.

Hybrid working conditions provide opportunities for pasta, whether freshly prepared or as part of the leftover renaissance, to serve a role in a greater variety of usage occasions, be it lunch or even heartier snacks.

Further development of flavor-enhanced and even better-for-you pastas potentially drive even greater numbers of Millennials as they seek cost-effective and convenient solutions that enhance their “foodie” reputation, but on a budget.

Key Issues

While the past few years have been a boon for pasta, 40% of pasta eaters still believe that pasta is too indulgent to eat regularly, thanks to the perception of its being less than healthy, especially among younger adults.

Just slightly more than a third of pasta eaters cite brand as important to their product choice, falling short of price and ease; while price isn’t necessarily an issue, it is currently the primary differentiator for brand choice.

Pasta fans need a nudge from brands both to find new ways to enjoy pasta and to expand occasions when they reach for it; for instance, two-thirds of snackers agree that anything can be a snack, creating boundless opportunities for pasta marketers to connect with consumers, even those who have limited product repertoires.

What Consumers Want, and Why

PROGRESSIVE GROCER October 2023 11 Success from
a greater variety of “healthier” plantforward ingredient bases, like chickpeas, lentils and legumes,
vegetable-based alternatives indicates that the fundamental draw
pasta is there, if adapted; expanded
are one way
needs. Brands
take it one step further with
ingredients like vitamins/ minerals, whole grains, fiber and protein.
MINTEL CATEGORY INSIGHTS Global New Products Database
Although healthy features are somewhat secondary to other benchmarks, such as price and convenience, conveying the right combination of betterfor-you features can be a strong
in targeting young audiences.

Shopping for Mental Well-Being and Mindfulness

any consumers today are keenly interested in relieving stress and achieving mental well-being and mindfulness through lifestyle measures like diet, as well as meditation and physical practices like yoga and tai chi.

The concepts are complex, but briefly, mental well-being is feeling happy and contented with life, and that life has meaning. Mindfulness is paying attention to the present moment with acceptance and without judgement to decrease stress and anxiety and improve mental health.

Retailers are uniquely positioned to offer consumers one-stop shopping for the solutions and tools they seek.

Shoppers Believe in the Food-Mood Connection

Early research suggests that certain eating patterns, foods and food components (e.g., the Mediterranean diet, leafy greens, nuts, omega-3 fatty acids and many more) are linked to mental well-being by helping to reduce anxiety and depression, and to promote brain health. But most Americans are already convinced about a two-way connection between what they eat and how they feel.

Three-quarters of Americans (74%) believe that the food and beverages they consume significantly or moderately impact their overall mental and emotional well-being, according to the 2023 Food and Health Survey from the International Food Information Council (IFIC). Conversely, about six in 10 (61%) also believe that their overall mental and emotional well-being significantly or moderately impact their food and beverages choices.

Another six in 10 (60%) Americans report being very or somewhat stressed over the past six months, with half (51%) of them saying that their stress level negatively impacts the healthfulness of their food and beverage choices.

Retail dietitians can inform shoppers about relationships between food and mood, and provide practical, science-based advice. A few examples are managing caffeine consumption to soothe anxiety and promote healthy sleep, eating to avoid energy-sapping blood sugar swings, and choosing foods to relieve stress-related digestive problems.

Some shoppers look to vitamins, herbs, supplements and foods with special ingredients to boost mood and relieve anxiety, depression and insomnia. Retail dietitians and pharmacists can advise shoppers on the safety and effectiveness of these products, potential interactions with medications, and risks when used by those with certain health conditions.

Mindfulness at Retail

The surging popularity of mindfulness-based practices like meditation, yoga and tai chi (a gentle form of martial arts) gives retailers an opportunity to offer classes and how-to information online, on-site, at community events or in partnership with a nearby fitness center.

Some retailers have taken a broader approach. In 2021, Whole Foods Market and the meditation app Headspace offered tools to help promote shoppers’ overall well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic. Tools included a social media-based recipe series called Food for Mood; meditations focused on mindful shopping, cooking and eating; and a one-month free trial of the Headspace Plus app.

Further, workplace programs that address stress management and mindfulness benefit employees and help retailers attract and retain good workers — eight in 10 (81%) said that they’ll look for workplaces that support mental health in the future, according to the 2022 Work and Well-being Survey by the American Psychological Association.

Walmart and Sam’s Club support their associates’ mental wellness through free counseling sessions, training for leaders to help struggling associates, proactive outreach from mental health professionals, and support through web- and app-based tools via videos, articles, exercises and meditations.

12 ALL’S
Diane Quagliani, MBA, RDN, LDN, specializes in nutrition communications for consumer and health professional audiences. She has assisted national retailers and CPGs with nutrition strategy, web content development, trade show exhibiting, and the creation and implementation of shelf tag programs.
Retailers are uniquely positioned to offer consumers one-stop shopping for the well-being and mindfulness solutions and tools they seek.

2023 Awards


PG spotlights a new class of emerging grocery industry leaders.

We all know that innovation is the lifeblood of any industry — including the grocery business — so where better to discover new ideas, policies and practices than among the crop of younger leaders currently rising through the ranks at their respective organizations?

Progressive Grocer’s GenNext Awards recognizes those under 40 who are already having a significant impact on their colleagues, companies and communities, and seem destined for even greater things in the years to come. Our 94 2023 honorees range in age from a tender 23 to a seasoned 39, but all have proved their worth in the various roles they hold — not just at all levels of grocery retail, but also at suppliers, distributors/wholesalers and other solution providers.

Anyone who reads about the current GenNext class can’t fail to be impressed by their passion, dedication, talent, ability to spot trends, perseverance, ingenuity and, perhaps most crucially, outstanding leadership qualities, all of which have enabled them to achieve so much so early in their careers. Another heartening observation is how many of them are paying their expertise and positivity forward by actively mentoring and developing the generation of potential leaders that will eventually succeed them.

Join Progressive Grocer in celebrating this year’s GenNext Award honorees profiled in the following pages. With upcoming leaders of this caliber, the future success of the grocery industry is assured.

EDITORS’ NOTE: This year, three of our GenNext honorees were also chosen as 2023 Top Women in Grocery, so PG would like to honor Brittany DellPryor, store director at Harris Teeter; Meghan Barton, category at The Kroger Co.; and Liz Bleakley, head of PR and communications at St Pierre Group, for this notable double distinction. Both Top Women in Grocery and GenNexters will be recognized at PG’s upcoming Grocery Impact event in Orlando, Fla., which will take place Nov. 7-9.


SVP Digital Commerce, Acosta Group

Age: 36

In less than two years with Acosta Group, Beatty has led the digital commercial business unit to become the fastest-growing segment in the company and tripled the size of his team. He played an important role in supporting the integration of four new businesses at Acosta and oversaw the training and certification of more than 1,500 retail sales associates. Not afraid of change, Beatty recommended shuttering the strategic advisors business unit and refocusing efforts on high-demand services like digital commerce revenue growth management and category leadership. Many associates followed, helping to build the next chapter of Acosta Group.


Labor Planning, ADUSA Distribution LLC

Age: 32

Managing the entire distribution and transportation workforce at ADUSA Distribution, Radic deployed new tools and processes to enhance reporting capabilities and reduce turnover by 15%. Through a new productivity tool and other initiatives, she helped the company save more than $5 million compared with the previous year. Radic continues to identify prospective focal areas regarding the standardization of daily labor balancing. Passionate about women’s development, she chairs programming and events for the women’s business resource group and was instrumental in planning a 2023 International Women’s Day panel. Radic is described as determined, empathetic and successful in dealing with ambiguity.


Competitive Intelligence Analyst, Ahold Delhaize USA

Age: 32

The words are in his title: Yang demonstrates intelligence and positive competitiveness in his role, in which capacity he improved the department’s technology capabilities and streamlined processes through a more proactive data warehouse. He also developed a new dashboard for executive-level insights and standardized competitive intelligence reporting across all Ahold Delhaize USA (ADUSA) brands to include real-time access. A problem solver who won’t stop until he has a workable solution, Yang has also proved to be a key partner with ADUSA brands. Patience is another virtue for this analyst, who is also seen by peers and superiors as visionary and innovative.


Senior Manager, Sustainability, Albertsons Cos.

Age: 31

Kral played an important role in launching Recipe for Change, Albertsons’ strategic environmental, social and governance (ESG) framework. Among other accomplishments, she led workstreams to elevate the company’s approach to external reporting — including the expansion of the annual sustainability report from a single-page flyer to a more-than-50page document — and developed ways to engage both employees and customers in the grocer’s ESG journey. Her nominators note that her programs have resulted in millions of organic customer engagements and the creation of new opportunities across store departments and categories. As the team expanded, she took on even more responsibilities, too, applying her systems-thinking approach and powerful insight.


2023 Awards


Director, Retail Technology Services and Programs, Associated Grocers of New England (AGNE)

Age: 37

Button made his mark early as a programmer in AGNE’s IT department when a customer personally called the CEO to point out his strong customer-facing skills. Since then, he has continued to impress, launching the retail technology department, implementing the inaugural First Data Contract and supporting 600 retailers with their various tech needs. Button is now one of the youngest directors in the company’s history and also serves on its retailer advisory council. He is passionate about supporting independent grocers and received an award for integrity from an AGNE business partner at the National Grocers Association conference.


Key Holder, Associate Grocers Supermarkets Vermont

Age: 23

One of the youngest GenNext winners, Green is hardly green in his approach and experience. He joined the company as a teenager and proved invaluable during the pandemic at a store in Jericho. Within the customer service function, Green is viewed as a leader and recently introduced a store director training program, creating a base training model broken down by department, with goals and timelines. That model has been put into action as he meets with senior leadership to provide updates on his progress. Described as dynamic and perceptive, Green regularly applies his skills to facilitate the success of the overall business.


Commercial Sales Director, West, Blue Cloud Distribution

Age: 31

LaPointe is a sales leader with a track record of exceeding quotas and being a top 1% performer. Her devotion to the industry is reflected in a grocery video series she launched for her previous company, Upside, called “Quick 5 with Upside” and featuring short interviews with female industry executives. LaPointe is a committee chair with the nonprofit Illuminators group and an active member of Women Grocers of America. In April 2023, she co-hosted the group’s Spring Executive Female Leaders Network conference. “Striving for greatness” is the term that most aptly defines her as a professional who loves a good challenge.


Category Manager-Bakery, Brookshire Grocery Co.

Age: 38

Carmon actually does take the cake when it comes to category management in the bakery department. During his two-year tenure in that area, the department experienced a lift across many fronts. Cakes and cupcakes have been redesigned to compete with local bakeries and competitors, while financial results have improved through his emphasis on controlling displays and actively listening and engaging with partners across the company. Carmon has completed the Future Leaders eXperiene program with FMI, which helped him coach employees and foster strong relationships. He’s credited with encouraging creativity and constantly learning more about consumer needs and industry dynamics.


Multimedia Communications Manager, Brookshire Grocery Co. (BCG)

Age: 27

Hull started her career at BCG as an intern and went on to lead several key projects in the communications department, such as the rollout of an internal employee app and an external hiring website. For her efforts, she was recently promoted to a manager role. Hull’s mantra of always wanting to do more was exemplified in her work on a cross-functional team tasked with integrating Reasor’s stores into the company’s systems; she became a leader on that team and worked countless hours to ensure that communications were accurate and current. Quick to share knowledge, Hull is also appreciative of mentorship.


Senior Manager, Procurement, C&S Wholesale Grocers

Age: 32

Managing a procurement decision science team and a national demand-planning department, Deyo serves chain and independent operators around the country. He proved especially valuable during the pandemic — a time that required a reimagined approach to demand planning — by collaborating with multiple departments and developing tools for greater efficiencies. Several process improvements have been made under his watch, and he continues to positively change the status quo through efforts like a multiyear system integration and ongoing development of talent at all levels. Deyo is known for helping and listening while also holding his team and peers accountable for meeting expectations.


Senior Manager, Business Continuity, C&S Wholesale Grocers

Age: 38

In a pivotal role, Murphy shines. She has led responses to 21 business disruption events ranging from hurricanes to volcanic eruptions, minimizing company impacts and continuing to serve customers. As the company has evolved, so has Murphy, who adapts the business continuity program to meet different needs while simultaneously minimizing costs. Her sphere of influence encompasses her strong relationships with company leaders and food safety experts; as a food resilience advocate, she presented at a FEMA session to officials in top urban areas and spoke at the National Homeland Security Conference. Additionally, Murphy pays it forward by mentoring interns.


VP, Marketing and E-Commerce, Chomps

Age: 34

After joining Chomps two years ago as a digital media buyer, Harnett was promoted to her current position overseeing brand and consumer development innovation strategy and revenue growth in e-commerce. She helped drive a whopping 291% increase in e-commerce sales from 2019 to 2021 and generated 787 million media impressions this year alone. Harnett doesn’t shy away from tough decisions, whether temporarily pausing direct-to-consumer sales, guiding the company through inventory challenges or pursuing new avenues for brand growth. Her nominators laud her calm, cool and collected leadership style and genuine love of e-comm and the CPG world.


the future is bright.

Meijer congratulates this year’s GenNext honorees, including our own.

Ron Lovelace • Krystal Sheerer • Emily Gundersen • Mark McIntosh • Jared Love

Alex Ross • Kristina Nabors

Nathan Vock

Kevin Wieringa • Mitch Cook

Congrats Chase Leonard and Andrew Hollis



Producer Relations Manager, Clover Sonoma

Age: 33

Stefenoni’s journey in environmental stewardship began on her family’s dairy farm in California. She was inspired to be a changemaker when dairy producers — including her own family — had to cease operations. At the legacy dairy brand Clover Sonoma, she’s a leading advocate for the company’s sustainability efforts, helping to minimize impacts on the environment while maximizing positive outcomes for farmers. Stefenoni used lessons that she learned as a doctoral candidate to feed red seaweed to cows, thereby lowering methane emissions, and to foster regenerative agricultural practices. She’s also a key liaison with the company’s network of 30 family-owned dairy partners.


VP of Customer Solutions and Success, Divert

Age: 32

A champion in the fight to reduce food waste, Kuethe has cultivated strong relationships between Divert and large retailers such as Kroger, Ahold Delhaize, Albertsons and Target. Under his leadership, Divert’s retail customer base grew from 600 retail stores to nearly 5,400 nationwide. He leads from within the organization, too, as part of the team that built the first food waste anaerobic digestion facility in New England, and as the facilitator of food donations totaling more than 11.5 million pounds to people in need. Among his other leadership characteristics, Kuethe is known for breaking down complex problems using a pragmatic yet innovative approach.

Cousins, co-workers, and co-hosts of the Stew Leonard’s LegenDAIRY Podcast and now Progressive Grocer GenNext Winners!

Plus, a big congratulations to the next generation of future grocery leaders. Nice job.


Category Director, Dairy, Fareway Stores Inc.

Age: 35

A hands-on team player, Elthon develops cross-promotions and market recommendations to boost category sales growth. He has established pricing, sourcing and merchandising standards for a variety of items, and leverages data to make product mix improvements. Using his experience in different roles at Fareway, he deftly balances challenges from both corporate and store teams. Colleagues refer to him as a selfless leadership guru, as evidenced by his volunteerism with the local school board and Rotary International, as well as by his in-store dedication; last year, he filled in for a team member during the holidays and worked tirelessly to maintain operations during an ensuing blizzard.


Senior Food Scientist, Farmer Focus

Age: 28

At Farmer Focus, Peirce has diversified the company’s portfolio, launching a seven-SKU pre-seasoned line and developing its first further-processed product, a ground chicken offering. An ambassador for the brand and its products at trade shows and customer visits, she was active in the creation of the ground chicken, leading to the formation of the new further-processing team. Peirce was recently tapped to design a new test kitchen that will enable Farmer Focus to ramp up its production innovations even more. She’s described as eminently resourceful, as well as responsive to team members at every level of the organization.

Awards FARM FRESH FOODS Connecticut • New York • New Jersey


VP of Operations, Farmer Focus Age: 35

In only a matter of months since joining the company, Young overhauled all aspects of Farmer Focus’ operations. The move to strategically expand capacity and empower team members to contribute at higher levels allowed the company to pursue its mission of protecting and promoting family farms. To further improve efficiencies, Young created the role of senior continuous improvement manager, and, to enhance the product portfolio, he worked with the R&D team to roll out a new ground chicken product. Young, who earned a Bronze Star in the U.S. Army, brings great focus, approachability and accountability to his work.


Store Manager, The Fresh Market Age: 35

She’s considered a region leader in guest satisfaction and operational areas such as wage management and sanitation, but Brewer doesn’t rest on her laurels as manager of The Fresh Market in Fayetteville, N.C. Continual improvement is a hallmark of her work: Brewer’s store was selected as a test location for new company programs and has been featured as a “show store” for the area, where executives, managers and department leaders come to see how a successful location is run. Brewer also serves as training store manager and is a member of The Fresh Market President’s Council.


Category Manager-Produce Merchandising, The Fresh Market Age: 33

Passionate about produce, Hart oversees several fruit and vegetable categories and manages the sustainable purchasing program and overall supply chain for produce across four distribution centers. She has improved her categories by 10% year over year, revamped the packaged salad selection with new vendors for a 5% lift and established an improved request for proposal for the department. A member of the Southeast Produce Council, Hart was chosen for that group’s inaugural class of the Next Generation Leadership Academy. Her peers and leaders see her as informative, available and direct in a compassionate way.


E-Commerce Marketing Manager, The Fresh Market Age: 37

Mabe achieved double-digit e-commerce revenue growth in her first 18 months with the company — primarily driven by an increase in new digital users from The Fresh Market’s target Millennial audience — and until recently has been doing this as an individual contributor. Using the video commerce platform Firework, she created more than 600 short shoppable videos in 2022, and by August, The Fresh Market surpassed 365 days of total watch time. These videos enhance the company’s storytelling and allow consumers to click a “shop now” button and be directed to that item on its e-comm site where they can complete their purchase, enhancing the retailer’s omnichannel marketing approach.


proud to recognize these winners of Progressive Grocer’s GenNext Awards and congratulate all of this year’s honorees.
MEGAN BREWER Store Manager HEATHER HART Category Manager - Produce CASSIE MABE eCommerce Marketing Manager JESSE RANDALL Store Manager
grocery store • bakery • deli


Store Manager, The Fresh Market Age: 39

Randall is a leader not just for the region, but also for the entire company. She served on the President’s Council and the Company Store Manager Committee; is a mentor to young and new leaders, as well as a member of several business resource groups; and has been awarded President’s Club honors twice. After starting several initiatives, Randall has become a trailblazer in operational areas such as shrink, organizational metrics and sanitation. She hosted the region’s show store, with her location serving as an example of how every department operates seamlessly and above company standards. Besides her regular duties, Randall is a trainer for new store management, acting as a continual resource.


Transportation Operations Manager, The Giant Co. Age: 36

Bonner’s passion for people and operational excellence has added immense value to The Giant Co.’s distribution channels. He has created streamlined processes to manage overtime and monitor bids for expedited scheduling. By establishing clear communication channels among stores, the distribution center and transportation teams, Bonner has fostered greater efficiencies across the business — decreasing store turnaround times and increasing on-time deliveries while promoting team member safety. He’s also led efforts to revitalize the company’s vendor inbound compliance program, which has grown program revenue by nearly 195% year over year.


Manager, PR, The Giant Co. Age: 39

Flower helped create Top Guac, a celebrity guacamole-making contest benefiting a local food bank. The event was a huge success in terms of media impressions and raising awareness of the food bank and the need for produce. Top Guac has since become a hallmark event. Additionally, when the company’s bees were stolen from headquarters, Flower hosted local media to talk about the issue of bee colony theft and the consequences to the food supply chain. This resulted in 260-plus media placements internationally and 15 million media impressions in a matter of days. Flower also single-handedly developed and executed the company’s Small Business Emergency Grant Program.


Human Resource and Total Rewards Manager, The Giant Co. Age: 37

Kalberer led efforts to introduce benefits from day one, a new policy that ensures all team members are eligible for health benefits on their first day of employment. She was selected to be part of the company’s special taskforce to create its well-being strategy. She also launched a training series with insurance partners to support mental health and physical well-being. Kalberer’s efforts have been critical to the company’s retention and attraction of top talent by offering equitable and competitive compensation rates and total rewards packages. Additionally, she’s a pillar lead for the company’s CARE business resource group for fellow working caretakers.

Congratulates Amy Schrank

Mitch Cook

Emily Gunderson-Brzezinski

Jared Love

Ron Lovelace

Mark McIntosh

Kristina Nabors

Alex Ross

Krystal Sheerer

Nathan Vock

Kevin Wieringa

Benjamin Deyo Katie Murphy 2023 Award Winner Reggie Carmon Allison Hull Josh Button ...And our Topco Member award winners


TO OUR 2023






Proudly recognizing your talent, determination and innovation!

2023 Awards


Regional Center Store

Merchandising Manager, The Giant Co.

Age: 33

When needs for dairy and kitchen team member leads arose in stores, Patton helped guide the promise initiative activation to bring together store, category management and HR teams to create new roles. Under his leadership, new in-store roles were created brand-wide by adding dairy/ frozen and kitchen leads. Patton and his team redesigned the structure of center store roles and key responsibilities for data integrity lead and department manager roles. He also joined a special labor management project to improve labor forecasting, planning and execution. Patton helped develop tactical solutions to address workforce challenges, and he was critical in leading the review of labor standards in all departments and defining productivity opportunities and base needs.


Brand Strategy Manager, The Giant Co.

Age: 38

Salinger spearheaded the company’s reinvented competitive strategy, building a cross-functional team to redesign ways of working to maximize a competitive intrusion defense. The team developed an inclusive operational process to adapt to the unique needs of markets through customer and competitor insights, creating a playbook to prepare for new competitor intrusions. He also led the democratizing store-clustering evolution, leveraging internal and external data to strengthen economic, brand and customer insights. Additionally, he guided internal teams to develop an inclusive holiday playbook to integrate with the commercial holiday calendar for stores. Additionally, as founding officer of the THRIVE business resource group, Salinger provides professional development opportunities.


Communications and Community Relations Manager, Giant Food Age: 30

Arons goes beyond supporting his marketing team and the organization. He serves on the Giant Food PRIDE business resource group (BRG) executive board as finance chair, responsible for managing the BRG’s budget and fundraising for nonprofit partners. He raised more than $35,000 in monetary and gift card donations to SMYAL, an organization dedicated to meeting the needs of LGBTQ youth. He helped increase 2021 volunteer hours from 250 to 1,300-plus in 2022 through his leadership and passion for his work. In addition to doubling the amount of sustainability volunteer events in 2022, Arons implemented a new roundup program that raised more than $1.2 million for 11 organizations.


Director of Brand Strategy and Creative, Giant Food Age: 37

Kowalzik helped to reshape Giant’s brand identity, de-aging the brand and strengthening its position as the market leader in a highly competitive trading area. She has shepherded several key initiatives as a leader of cross-functional project teams, including new meal solution programs, value promotions and local partner programs. Kowalzik led efforts to bring local vendor stories to life through video and social vignettes, and evolved Giant’s messaging platform to tell its own local story through associate and community-focused videos. These engaging video series contribute to better media performance, improved brand health for Giant, growth of the primary customer base, and increased engagement from target customers.


CTO, Halla Age: 27

Michaelson’s visionary leadership led the way in spearheading the development of Halla’s MVP, an AI-powered grocery recommendation product that has revolutionized the shopping experience. He diligently supervised the creation and release of two mobile apps, further solidifying Halla’s position as a tech-driven industry leader. With Michaelson at the helm, Halla’s innovative solutions have been seamlessly integrated with the operations of numerous top-ranking grocery retailers and thousands of storefronts. A member of the Forbes 30 Under 30 list, Class of 2023, he is frequently a guest of trade publications and industry podcasts, where he shares his insights on AI and retail innovation.


Co-manager, Harris Teeter

Age: 38

When Bell was placed in the fresh food department, she pushed the team to strive for success in all areas and made a big impact within the department. She was able to get fresh food sales growth to outpace store sales growth by developing processes to maintain sales floor conditions and go after sales. In addition, her location, Store #357, continuously has some of the highest — if not the highest — numbers of dinners sold from the event station, thanks to Bell’s involvement in planning and ordering. Under her leadership, Store #357 has achieved some of the highest sales growth and customer growth in the company.


Associate Relations Specialist, Harris Teeter

Age: 38

As co-chair for the Young Professionals resource group, Brown assisted in revamping the Harris Teeter Hero program, which recognizes top performers in stores, at the corporate level and in distribution centers. As a member of the Thrive resource group, which helps to educate associates and create an inclusive environment, she organized autism, MS and mental health awareness events. Brown led improvements in culture and retention by driving associate engagement initiatives: She introduced and helped develop the WOW (Week of Welcome) program for the distribution business, enabling the company to provide consistent and easily accessible information for new hires and existing associates. Brown has also taken the lead in facilitating classes for the distribution center management team.


Distribution Systems Manager, Harris Teeter

Age: 31

Crews implemented an equipment-tracking and inventory program that uncovered opportunities to reallocate equipment, avoiding the need for new purchases. He led projects to create the Store Delivery Arrival Time web page and online load sheets, providing instant delivery visibility to stores. Crews has captured more than $1 million in savings through engineered labor standard audits and enhancements. Since overseeing salvage dock operations, he maximized schedules to provide 24/7 coverage and created streamlined procedures for trailer movement and processing. These innovations reduced pending salvage trailers by more than 75%. Crews is also a member of the company’s Young Professionals associate resource group.



Store Director, Harris Teeter

Age: 34

Dell-Pryor’s energetic personality directly affects store performance. Thanks to her guidance and passion, customer service scores quickly improved, increasing multiple percentage points with each quarter. She has also enhanced all other store metrics, including store audits, out-of-stocks and food safety. When she’s talking with associates, Dell-Pryor is constantly seeking their potential and how they might affect the company’s overall success. As such, she’s always prepared to help coach part-time associates to become co-managers. As a member of the Young Professionals associate resource group, Dell-Pryor understands that the next generation will be the future leaders of the company.


Store Director, Harris Teeter

Age: 35

Before Farrugia took over Store #279, it had a “Needs Improvement” notation on its store scorecard, having failed to meet the minimum goal of “Meets Expectations” on all measurable categories.

During the first six months under his guidance, Store #279 overcame all of its deficits and became a leader in out-of-stock scans and asset protection — without changing any department managers. The store earned a perfect 100% on an asset protection audit and maintained a 99% average for the year. By the end of the year, Farrugia had led his team to an “Exceeds Expectations” designation on its overall store scorecard. He has also pioneered shortage programs for all of the stores he’s managed, discovering more than $350,000 in warehouse shortages.


Operations Support Specialist, Harris Teeter

Age: 33

Kleinsteuber worked on developing a way for stores to monitor their key performance indicators to combat theft. She and her team partnered with asset protection to develop some key metrics that would address potential theft/training opportunities in stores. Kleinsteuber has also helped the company relaunch the mystery shop process and roll the program out to stores; this has provided greater intentional insight to improve overall store service. Among her other achievements are the orchestrated grocery delivery services for Martin Marietta associates attending the Heritage golf tournament in Hilton Head Island, S.C. This endeavor produced more than $15,000 in additional sales and 2,200 items for Store #423 over a three-day span.


Category Manager, Harris Teeter

Age: 39

Mastromichalis drove growth in the berry category by developing ways to promote super-high-flavor and -sugar varietals of items. His strategic plan incorporated negotiating for fruit and developing a high-visibility area to execute. He initiated shelf talker cards and special signage and talking points for the internal team, and redeveloped the berry-handling standard to ensure freshness. Subsequently, berry sales increased 8.14%, while units rose 3.69%. Premium berry sales were 15% of traditional sales, with no share or dollars lost in traditional items. Mastromichalis led communications with the warehouse team to forecast front-page and high-volume expectations. He also led a produce perception strategic initiative and the Young Professionals associate resource group.


Co-Manager, Harris Teeter

Age: 37

Because of her commitment to Harris Teeter and to getting better every day, Pellum was chosen by senior management to represent the entire company, including her fellow salaried managers, in roundtable discussions with the company’s senior leadership to be an agent of change and facilitate productive conversations on how to improve day-to-day company operations. She helped Store #96 achieve more than $3.8 million in operating profit and a 0.28% wage percentage below the budgeted number. The total customer service composite score was 97.1% for the year, putting Pellum’s store in the top 25 of the company. She also received top results in store waste, food safety and controllable out-ofstock averages.


Co-manager, Harris Teeter Age: 34

Pike is known as a team player who goes above and beyond to ensure success within her company. She has trained five department leadership training candidates and mentored four department managers, and in addition to her job as co-manager, she helps ensure sales and labor forecasts are correct for her operating district on a weekly basis and assists other stores with nonperishable inventory preparations. Further, she has helped improve sales from previous years, increased item count, improved waste results and enhanced service expectations at every store where she has worked.


Store Director, Harris Teeter

Age: 36

Since becoming a store director, Redman has made a significant impact at every Harris Teeter location to which he’s been assigned, including such accomplishments as increasing store sales each year by an average of 10%. He has personally identified and developed two internal candidates for the company’s leadership development program and trained several other internal and external candidates for management roles. Not only is Redman known for establishing a culture of high energy and morale in associates, but he also reached the coveted $3 Million Dollar Club this year in sales profit.


Director of Agile, Cloud Engineering, Invafresh

Age: 35

Recognizing the need for increased efficiency and adaptability in the face of a rapidly changing industry, Seoud championed the implementation of Agile project management methodologies. This transformation revolutionized the way Invafresh operates, enabling teams to collaborate more effectively, respond quickly to market demands, and deliver high-quality products and services to customers. Seoud is an innovative thinker who spearheaded the implementation of Scrum methodologies to enable his team to break down complex projects into manageable sprints and to visualize workflow to optimize productivity. He’s also considered an inspiring leader who empowers his colleagues to think outside the box, encouraging them to explore new avenues for growth and development.


Cheers to the top women in grocery!

Thank you for dedicating your expertise, time and care to making our customers shine.

Chelsea de Leon VP, Customer Management

Coca-Cola Consolidated SENIOR-LEVEL EXEC

Shannon Durham VP, Customer Management

Coca-Cola Consolidated SENIOR-LEVEL EXEC

Katie DelSignore Director, Ahold Delhaize The Coca-Cola Company RISING STAR

Lauren Manekshaw

Category Analytics and Insights Manager, Walmart HQ The Coca-Cola Company


Morgan Hamel Director of Customer Development, E-Commerce

Coca-Cola Consolidated RISING STAR

Kelly Weaver

Senior Director, National Accounts, Fairlife RISING STAR

©2023 Th e Coc a-Col a Co m p a ny


Head of Digital Merchandising, The Kroger Co.

Age: 35

Alfonso is responsible for how Kroger does business online, including how promotions come to life digitally, how merchandising principles play a part in Kroger’s online search and site experience, and how the company improves its operational effectiveness. He has reimagined the entire business process for digital and what digital merchandising team action from a day-to-day perspective should be, which has led to monumental growth for the organization, including more than 15% growth in digital in Q1 2023. Alfonso is known to be approachable and willing to roll up his sleeves and get into the details of a problem to help find a solution.



Category Manager, The Kroger Co.

Age: 32

Armed with strategic planning and a visionary mindset, Barton leads merchandising for 16 frozen food categories, supporting 2,700 Kroger stores across the country. She contributed numerous ideas outside her scope of responsibility to influence Kroger’s go-to-market strategy and enhance the customer experience, is a daily mentor to her peers, and does an outstanding job supporting their growth while seeking her own development to continue building her leadership mindset. Additionally, her frozen meatless strategy resulted in a positive 2022 fiscal year for the category for the first time in five years.


Project Manager, The Kroger Co.

Age: 34

Cecil is known as someone who can take something wildly complex and distill it in ways that leaders can easily comprehend and filter, positively affecting the decisions they make for the business, their associates and customers. He has transformed how data reporting is done, allowing reports to be automatically updated in an effort to give project leaders more time to implement programs that will improve the retail experience instead of tediously poring over spreadsheets. Cecil is also passionate about helping others succeed in both their jobs and their careers, often sharing his own skills with others, identifying what skills others have and coordinating the information exchange.


Senior Product Designer Manager, The Kroger Co. Age: 29

In 2022, Halle worked alongside her team to develop a vision and strategy for hybrid shoppers, identifying key opportunities in that space. She informed many of the organizational decisions that resulted in the formation of the omnichannel experience team, which she now leads. In this role, Halle artfully weaves together the digital and physical shopping experiences to best serve hybrid shoppers. Her data-driven perspective allows her to identify success measures early in the design process, and she’s known to be fearless in the pursuit of trying something new and learning from the experience.




Senior Compliance Program

Manager, The Kroger Co.

Age: 35

According to his employer, Logronio’s impact on Kroger general merchandise has been revolutionary. He has led the development of a system that automates monitoring and reporting product compliance status against Kroger’s product safety and integrity standards, which not only minimizes potential errors associated with manual management, but also significantly improves productivity and traceability throughout the supply chain. Additionally, Logronio led a product testing optimization program that resulted in annual savings of at least $500,000, and developed a manufacturing control program for children’s products that was approved by the state of Oregon.


Category Manager II, The Kroger Co.

Age: 35

Roberts is known to approach her work through the lens of the customer and what decisions will have the most positive impact for Kroger’s shoppers. She’s always looking to lead change and innovation in the categories she works on, continually seeking out opportunities for Kroger to be first to market with creative brands or products. For example, she partnered with Pearl Rock on launching an exclusive natural food brand, which is now Pearl Rock’s No. 1 brand for total households. Roberts also enjoys being a part of the Women’s EDGE associate resource group at Kroger and the NextUp Cincinnati events committee.


Manager of Training and Development, The Kroger Co.

Age: 32

Smith is a leader on the training team, championing compliance and other critical learning curricula that Kroger’s teams need to serve its customers. In her tenure at Kroger, Smith’s initiatives have transformed the associate learning program, with one of her many accomplishments being the introduction of mobile learning in the flow of work, enabling front-line associates to access their training in short, interactive modules. As a visionary, Smith possesses an ability to anticipate industry trends, identify emerging opportunities, listen to key business stakeholders and guide the organization toward a future-oriented mindset.


SVP of Research Science, The Kroger Co./84.51°

Age: 35

Cron helped rebuild 84.51° and Kroger’s research and development capabilities, structuring the innovation groups to operate as risk-adjusted portfolios accountable for delivering a targeted return. In his first year in this role, his teams delivered an 11-fold return on investment. Cron works closely with emerging leaders and consistently presents opportunities for them to be challenged and grow. He also serves as a board member with Last Mile Food Rescue and has helped the organization navigate technology partner engagement hurdles to find the best way to achieve its goal of solving hunger in Cincinnati.

Josh began his journey at AGNE as an IT Programmer 15 years ago. In this time, he’s not only established AG’s Retail Technology department, but also earned the admiration of our customers with his expertise and service. His strategic brilliance, attention to detail, and commitment to supporting independent grocers have made him a highly respected figure in the industry.

Thank you for all of your hard work,
and your continued
to excellence!
Evan’s positive attitude and practical mindset have been vital in maintaining Jericho Market’s reputation and keeping its loyal customers happy. His devotion, energy, and insightful training methods positively contribute to AGS Vermont’s continued growth and success.
Congratulations Josh & Evan On your recent GenNext awards Evan Green Josh
Key Holder, AGS Vermont
Retail Technology Services & Programs Supermarkets, Inc. Vermont


Store Leader, The Kroger Co./ Central Division

Age: 27

Downin leads her team by example, embraces mentorship and helps her associates grow to reach their respective career goals. She’s a strong proponent of open communication with her associates and of honesty as a core value. Downin and her team achieved all five metrics of Full, Fresh and Friendly — Kroger priorities to drive the best customer experience — and merchandising standards have improved so much that her store has hosted standards walks for the first time in years. She makes it a point to arrive at work every day with a positive attitude for herself, her associates and her customers.


Store Leader, The Kroger Co./ Central Division

Age: 33

Powell began her Kroger career in 2012 and has been a team member at nine Central division stores, playing a key role at each. Her contributions were evident early on in her Kroger career, and she quickly earned the reputation of someone who gets things done. Powell sees the value in providing associates with the tools, resources and knowledge to get results, and she takes the time to make this training and management style a priority. Additionally, Powell believes in giving back to local communities and offers her support to Kroger’s ongoing Zero Hunger | Zero Waste mission.


Division Fuel Manager, The Kroger Co./Cincinnati Division

Age: 35

Benefield’s special assignment as an Our Promise and Purpose facilitator was especially significant to her and the division, as she was responsible for teaching thousands of associates about Kroger’s core tenets. As fuel manager, Benefield strives to cultivate an atmosphere that differentiates Kroger from the competition, and is highly conscientious about how fuel centers are presented to customers. She continuously provides her people with opportunities to excel and gives them the tools they need to be successful, whether in her department or an area that’s not under her direct jurisdiction.


Store Leader, The Kroger Co./ Columbus Division

Age: 30

In addition to his store leader role, Buck is both a store leader development program trainer and a store-leader-in-waiting trainer. He is known to lead with a consistent goal to improve, which is always at the forefront of everything he does in his various roles. Buck strives to elevate himself and others around him by using a calm-intensity method, and he believes in leading with high expectations to empower his associates to find quick solutions to opportunities. Additionally, Buck helps cultivate a culture of pride and consistency, and makes it his duty to ensure that every associate feels valued, included and confident.

2023 Awards


Store Leader, The Kroger Co./ Dillons Division

Age: 34

As a store leader in 2022, McAfee exceeded his sales goal and achieved an increase in identical sales versus last year while reducing his store turnover by 16.3%. When it came to company metrics, he achieved a five out of five across the board for everything Full, Fresh and Friendly while improving his controllable costs and shrink throughout the store. Additionally, he continually seeks opportunities to improve, reach out and make a difference, whether it’s in his store, his district, the company or the community he serves.


Store Leader, The Kroger Co./ Food 4 Less Division

Age: 30

After working as an assistant store leader, Pelayo Funez moved into the newly developed grocery specialist role, in which capacity she was able to pass on her knowledge and experiences throughout several stores in the division. She supported each store and assisted with improving their overall sales, and also guided store teams on proper merchandising, ordering and overall execution of the merchandising plan. Pelayo Funez was promoted to store leader in March 2023.


Store Leader, The Kroger Co./ Fry’s Division

Age: 39

After starting out as an assistant overnight grocery manager and spending nearly 15 years with Fry’s, Alden is now known as one of the company’s most inspiring young leaders. He became a store leader in 2020 and has used his forward-thinking, innovative approach and vision to connect with people and transform the stores he leads. Alden creates “retail-tainment” events to generate in-store excitement in regard to the NBA finals, the Super Bowl and the World Baseball Classic, and works with local vendors to provide food sampling, live music and an art show featuring the work of local artists.


Division Produce/Floral Merchandiser, The Kroger Co./ King Soopers Division

Age: 38

Carleton’s impressive journey began with his nomination as a top 25 produce leader early in his career. Over the past couple of years, he has excelled as a high-performing leader in one of Kroger’s highest-volume divisions. He takes pride in mentoring and teaching individuals who have gone on to hold greater responsibilities and positively influence their communities, customers and team members. Further, his expertise in technology, feedback utilization and strategic implementation has consistently delivered multimillion-dollar increases in profitability, sales and market share across multiple departments.


Ahold Delhaize USA congratulates Wesley for earning the GenNext Award. His innovative and transformative work in data reporting elevated the company’s technology capabilities to unimagined levels. He is a true example of the importance of next-generation leaders to the grocery industry’s growth and success.
Wesley Yang
Competitive Intelligence Analyst

2023 Awards


Store Leader, The Kroger Co./ King Soopers Division Age: 36

Mead has played a key role in exceeding sales goals and reducing shrink. He was instrumental in improving pickup sales, resulting in an impressive increase compared with the previous year. Mead goes above and beyond to support his colleagues and develop associates. His location serves as a SLDP (Store Leadership Development Program) training store, demonstrating his commitment to nurturing and training future leaders. Additionally, Mead’s active participation on the King Soopers/City Market President’s Council showcases his recognition as a high-potential leader who shares valuable insights and honest thoughts about the company with the division president.


Clinical Operations Manager, The Kroger Co./Kroger Health Age: 36

After completing a two-year residency with the University of Cincinnati, Barnes was promoted to pharmacy manager in July 2016. The following year, she relocated to Texas to join the Dallas team and establish her career in field work as a coordinator. In her current role, Barnes works tirelessly to integrate quality clinical interventions into the daily workflow of community practice. She helps simplify pharmacist interventions to support patients at a higher level through adherence programs, comprehensive medication reviews and other clinical services such as developing new trainings and simplifying the associate experience in the new clinical workflow.


Senior Strategic Programs Leader, The Kroger Co./Kroger Health Age: 38

Martini started her career with Kroger in 2009 as a customer service and documentation specialist. After working in other roles and earning a degree in business administration from Penn State University, she was promoted to the role of Kroger Health’s innovation coordinator and project manager for the Healthcare Modernization Team, in which position, she led the discovery, vendor selection, contracting and implementation of same-day prescription delivery at 1,800 pharmacies nationwide, and designed and coordinated the implementation of telehealth services across nine states and 211 retail clinics. In her current role, she continues to be innovative and customer-oriented in her work to execute with excellence on Kroger Health’s strategic initiatives.


Senior Product Designer Manager, The Kroger Co./ Kroger Technology

Age: 30

Since her first day at Kroger, Richter has driven change and innovation through her own work and influenced those around her. Instead of simply doing things because of tradition or precedent, she tries different approaches and methodologies. When facing a challenge or seemingly impossible task, she wants to overcome it even more. As a product designer, Richter delivers value through continuous-discovery practices and strong cross-functional collaboration. She and her team built a new digital shoppable weekly ad from the ground up, a high-visibility project involving many stakeholders and touching multiple business units. With a growth mindset, Richter always encourages her associates to strive for what’s possible.


Store Leader, The Kroger Co./ Louisville Division

Age: 36

Foreman has been a store leader at seven locations in his 10 years with Kroger, growing the associate experience and solving problems for the customer each step of the way. Since being promoted to store leader at the Louisville division’s flagship store, Foreman has broken every sales record at the location, growing associate engagement by 10% while decreasing turnover. He serves as a district trainer for the Store Leadership Development Program and helps grow and promote talent throughout the metro area. Foreman is an active member of his local chamber of commerce and has created robust partnerships with several community organizations.


Corporate Affairs Manager, The Kroger Co./Michigan Division

Age: 32

Positive, creative and communicator are the three words that come to mind when describing Barrett, who has made a big impact on Kroger and his community in multiple ways. He launched a new associate recognition program and led the development of associate insight towers, which communicate the company’s vision and mission, goals, associate benefits, updates on store metrics, and well-being resources. For the community, Barrett leads the execution of an in-store program that has diverted more than 3.75 million pounds of rescued food to local food banks and community partners. He also oversees the company’s community rewards platform, which supports more than 4,300 nonprofits across the state of Michigan.


Division Associate Relations Manager, The Kroger Co./ Mid-Atlantic Division Age: 36

In his 15 years at Kroger, Smith has built a reputation as a people champion over the course of nine roles, including assistant store leader, store leader, district HR leader and his current position of division associate relations manager. His most important role, however, has been improving employee engagement and creating positive labor and associate relations: He has quickly become the subject-matter expert for his division and is a key player in advancing store operations through union and labor relations. Smith helped create a year-round multichannel initiative to improve participation in Kroger’s annual Associate Insights Survey, which led to a 15% increase in participation year over year.


District HR Specialist, The Kroger Co./Nashville Division Age: 38

Tapp has always focused on making a positive and lasting impact on each role he’s held throughout his career. Recently, Tapp helped develop the technical methods behind new-hire onboarding, which will help streamline the process for both candidates and the hiring team by embracing new technology. He was also selected to partner with another division to observe best practices and learn about processes and tools that could be implemented in the Nashville division. Currently Tapp is a lead trainer for Every Customer, Every Time, a program that teaches store teams best practices for the overall customer experience. He’s also playing a key role in the next-phase rollout of Kroger’s new integrated HR system, MyInfo.



Center Aisle Takes Center Stage

Customers may come into your store for quick trip incidentals, but they are also looking to their local convenience stores for more than pharmaceutical and paper products to keep the number of trips to a minimum. Adding high-margin housewares to your shelves can exponentially increase the profitability of an individual sale and help your store stand out from the competition.

Attend The Inspired Home Show ¨ 2024 to discover new, trend-forward home + housewares products that will set your store apart from the competition, surprise and delight your customers, and inspire return visits.

MARCH 17-19, ,

Register today at
© 2023 International Housewares Association. All Rights Reserved.


District Manager, The Kroger Co./ Roundy’s Division

Age: 36

Carreno is a confident and transformational leader who quickly adapts to change. In addition to logging exceptional front end metrics, he has prioritized shrink reduction by making processes an essential part of how District 6 stores do business each day. This has brought a sense of pride and ownership to store managers and teams, with a goal to stay at No. 1 throughout the year. Carreno motivates and inspires District 6 associates to raise the bar on everything they do. He uses his past experiences to help drive himself and the district, creating a sales-driven mindset among his store teams.



Store Director, The Kroger Co./ Roundy’s Division

Age: 38

Joining Mariano’s in 2020 from the restaurant industry, Hummel applied her knowledge of customer care, food safety standards, training and SOP processes to her work and raised operational standards at the beloved grocery chain. In 2021, Hummel was promoted to north region operations specialist, in which capacity she improved operational and financial results across 22 stores. Last year, she was promoted to her current role at Store #507. She maintains excellent results in the categories of Full, Fresh and Friendly (FFF) as head of a leading store in District 12; motivates her team to follow FFF practices; and encourages teamwork as a “community who serves a community.”


Assistant Process Change Manager, The Kroger Co./ Supply Chain

Age: 28

Over the past year, Faltas has led efforts to optimize inbound deliveries at Kroger distribution centers. Working directly with suppliers, distribution centers and replenishment planning teams, he has built enhanced tools and processes to drive improvement and accountability across the business. These efforts have been instrumental in supporting Kroger’s efforts to provide customers with the products they want. Faltas is inquisitive and innovative: When faced with a challenge, he attempts to clarify the true problem, and then uses data to work toward a solution. He also embraces new solutions and is never afraid to try.


Supply Chain Process Change Manager, The Kroger Co./ Supply Chain

Age: 29

Troutman has developed tools and processes that have helped automate store ordering and reduced workloads for store associates, especially during holidays and events. The development of these tools helped modernize Kroger’s supply chain analytics practices and led to a significant reduction in out-ofstocks, increased forecast accuracy and an improved customer shopping experience. Through inclusive leadership, Troutman successfully developed a process focused on the unique needs of the division and the consumer base. The team was impressed with his initiative to learn new analytical methods to overcome data limitations.

Congratulations 2023
GenNext Honorees
Allison Hull Multimedia Communications Manager Reggie Carmon Category Manager Bakery


Store Director, Meijer

Age: 35

Cook started at Meijer in October 2018 as a fresh line leader. By February 2019, he was the regional trainer for fresh rotation, teaching leads how to manage fresh departments. Then he became a store director and successfully opened the pilot Capital City Market store, in downtown Lansing, Mich. Less than a year later, Cook took over another concept store, Bridge Street Market, in Grand Rapids, Mich., where he successfully piloted and adopted new devices for the entire company. Additionally, as a board member of the Meijer YoPro team member resource group, he facilitated events for young Meijer professionals. Cook is currently rolling out a new computer-generated ordering system.


Director, Marketing Operations, Meijer

Age: 38

Gundersen leads the project management, ad development, and broadcast and photo operations teams. She’s focused on achieving operational excellence, and her scope of influence is corporate-wide, with a sigificant impact on Meijer’s financial success, growth and reputation. Gundersen led the implementation of Agile for Meijer’s marketing team, guiding 150-plus team members to a new way of thinking, working and organizing. During the pandemic, she quickly and seamlessly pivoted the Agile experience to virtual, and then, in 2022, to a hybrid approach. Gundersen’s efforts have led to a more collaborative and empathetic team.


Manager, Financial Planning and Reporting, Meijer Age: 31

Love is passionate about his work and always looking for ways to improve the company, stores and finance department processes. He has demonstrated this through his implementation of a faster and more accurate forecasting cadence, which allows leadership to make decisions in advance of final results. Love is also supportive of his colleagues and strives to create an environment in which everyone can thrive. He has demonstrated this through his mentorship of fellow team members, his leadership of volunteer efforts at Meijer, and his partnership with mDAAG (Meijer Disability Awareness & Advocate Group).

RON LOVELACE Director of Produce, Meijer Age: 38

In Lovelace’s 17 years at Meijer, his career has spanned store leadership, center store buying and the produce division. In 2021-22, he took on the challenge of reinventing a marquee merchandising division in Meijer stores: produce. In one year, Lovelace championed and helped lead and facilitate a full department upgrade and remodel — something not done in decades. He leveraged his merchandising experience and jumped in with both feet. The end result: continued year-over-year sales and profitability growth, including customer penetration gains in existing and new markets. This change has helped inspire other areas to shift the shopping experience and continues to receive praise from customers and team members.

Business Continuity C&S Congratulates Our GenNext WINNERS
BENJAMIN DEYO Senior Manager, Procurement
Senior Manager,


Senior Manager of Design, Real Estate and Store Development, Meijer Age: 39

McIntosh started out as a product designer for Meijer’s own-brand home, hardlines and consumables. He took on the creative development of Meijer’s first small-market format, Bridge Street Market, in Grand Rapids, Mich., which resulted in his transition to store design. From there, he led the creative development of the next iteration of Meijer’s interior design package for the retailer’s supercenters, and the creation of the Meijer Express brand name. In 2020, McIntosh led the Meijer design team on two large initiatives: the evolution of the supercenter layout and design of the new-format Meijer Grocery. Through it all, he’s stayed on top of trends and translated Meijer’s brand ethos into impressive designs.


Store Director, Meijer Age: 35

Living up to the pronunciation of her surname, Nabors has made an impact in both her company and the wider community: She began a clothing drive to collect business attire to help women advance in the workplace. Nabors also cultivated a partnership between the product departments and the curbside pickup area to lower the number of items marked out of stock during the picking process, and her store was the first to institute a new inventory management system for product flow. Most importantly, Nabors espouses a culture where associates can be their authentic selves through events enabling them to share their diverse backgrounds.


Store Director, Meijer Age: 37

Approaching each day and individual with a positive attitude, Ross challenges team members, leadership and community partners to assess any situation from all angles to provide the most positive outcome. At his current store, in Jackson, Mich., he has dramatically improved culture survey results, customer satisfaction, same-store sales and in-stocks, as well as connecting with multiple community partners. While working in Flint, Mich., a city plagued by an ongoing water crisis, poverty and socioeconomic disparities, he was able to create a positive setting for his team. The three words most associate with Ross’ leadership style are inclusion, engagement and growth.


Director Specialty Pharmacy Services and Industry Relations, Meijer Age: 36

Sheerer has guided the specialty pharmacy business to 25% yearover-year growth, but her collaborative, agile and adaptable leadership extends far beyond financial success, as she has focused on simplifying the complexities of the specialty pharmacy journey for patients. Through the adoption of innovative strategies and technology, Sheerer has ensured that both patients and the team that serves them benefit from the initiatives. She also played a pivotal role in establishing an acclaimed partnership with a health care system to provide collaborative blood pressure management, breaking down access to care barriers and paving the way for an expanded scope of pharmacy practice.



Store Director, Meijer Age: 39

Vock increased sales by 8.59% at his store in less than eight month by bringing in authentic Hispanic and Asian items that weren’t previously offered at the location. He also reduced food waste by double digits through such programs as Flashfood. Vock took previously undeveloped space in the store and created a local college shop, which has attracted new customers to the location, aided back-to-school move-in efforts and supported local schools during athletic events. He has also partnered with area community leaders to generate interest in the development of the land around the store to draw even more customer traffic.


Capital Construction Program Manager, Meijer

Age: 33

Following a pandemic-related pause on many construction projects, Wieringa helped lead the team of project managers to complete a number of projects nearly double what was seen in previous years, despite the new complexities of remote work and an ever-changing supply chain. He managed this increase in project workload by recognizing the strengths of each team member and enabling them to work as efficiently as possible while also being exposed to development opportunities. Wieringa also worked to identify opportunities to streamline project workflows. Beyond that, he led the effort to modernize Meijer Real Estate and Store Development’s project management software.

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Quality Standards Manager, PCC Community Markets

Age: 35

Robinson oversees the development and management of product standards at PCC while developing educational resources for suppliers and staff. Her leadership in this field has established the Pacific Northwest grocery cooperative as an industry leader. Working collaboratively with merchandisers and stakeholders, Robinson ensures that all standards are reasonable, achievable and science-backed, and also provides support for PCC’s advocacy work, using her expertise to help the co-op make needle-moving policy recommendations. In particular, she demonstrated collaboration, innovation and leadership in co-authoring PCC’s Inclusive Trade Program standard.


Senior Director of Sales, Procter & Gamble

Age: 33

Ferlauto collaborates with major retailers on plans that significantly improve category growth. She developed and led the launches of Downy Light scent beads and Bounce Pet, both of which were top category new item launches. As the household needs sales leader for P&G’s Kroger team, Ferlauto delivered breakthrough category growth that accelerated the segment, delighted consumers, and drove retailer sales and profitability to record highs. Additionally, her passion to elevate women in business is evident in her leadership of the Greater Ohio Sales Women’s Network, the Cincinnati Sales P&G New Hire Network, and the Washington University recruiting team for P&G.


Sales Director, Family Care Kroger Team, Procter & Gamble

Age: 39

Modlin operates with a growth mindset, demonstrating solutions-focused thinking and seeking new and breakthrough ways to achieve results. She embodies a multidisciplinary approach, with her strength in consumer knowledge giving her a strong understanding and connection to consumers of all income levels and demographics. For instance, Modlin’s work with Kroger includes business plans that serve multicultural consumers and individuals with chronic health conditions or constrained incomes. She’s also a leader in the P&G Sales Women’s Network and owns its NextUp Pillar, improving the accessibility and engagement of NextUp content to the network.


Director, Last Mile Marketplaces

Commercial Leader, Procter & Gamble

Age: 39

Smock plays an instrumental role in developing tools, playbooks and scale for a broader P&G impact. For instance, she translated deep consumer insights into a simple framework that’s considered the best-in-class approach to driving urban/multicultural activation for North America. Earlier in her career, Smock worked with a key online retailer as it was growing in the digital space, pioneering P&G’s overall effort to drive online fundamentals without an established infrastructure by leveraging her expertise in shopper psychology, digital shopper-based design, customer relationship building and executional excellence.

Congratulations to our 2023 GenNext Award Winners


2023 Awards
Maura Kalberer Manager, Human Resource & Total Rewards Ashley Flower Manager, Public Relations Mark Salinger Manager, Brand Strategy Bill Patton Manager, Regional Center Store Merchandising Lance Bonner Manager, Transportation Operations
your team at


Legal Counsel, Commercial Litigation and Regulatory Compliance, Retail Business Services

Age: 39

Cutler successfully resolves difficult disputes; implements new, efficient ways of working; and supports business goals while reducing legal risk — and saving business partners time and money. Since January 2023, her work for the companies of Ahold Delhaize USA has led to $1 million-plus in savings and about $500,000 in revenue/collections. Beyond these responsibilities, Cutler is the insights and innovation chair for the Pride + Allies business resource group, where she has shared her journey to becoming a better ally. Her leadership style is described as collaborative and innovative.


Safety Manager, Retail Business Services

Age: 37

Hosmer supports safety for ADUSA Distribution and ADUSA Transportation, developing programs focused on injury prevention and providing training, tools and knowledge to ensure that associates are safe at work. He took on a critical role as subject-matter expert in the design of a virtual-reality program created to improve training for warehouse selectors and to reduce their risk of serious injuries, and also helped develop and deliver a presentation for the company’s risk management team about the importance of sleep to enhance performance. Committed to developing his knowledge and skills on an ongoing basis, Hosmer recently earned the Associate Safety Professional credential.


RBS Safety Manager Supporting Stop & Shop, Retail Business Services

Age: 37

A trusted operations and support partner with 20 years of experience, Montesantos has seen incredible success in the three years that he’s led retail safety efforts for Ahold Delhaize USA’s Stop & Shop banner, including the launch of key systems that resulted in a 10% average reduction in worker injury rates. He also chairs the 100-member Next + Allies business resource group, which is committed to building connections and providing cross-generational support and resources to help associates realize their full career potential. Montesantos additionally supports Stop & Shop community events and is a board member of his local parish church.


Head of PR and Communications, St Pierre Groupe

Age: 34

Bleakley has reduced company outgoings to agencies by more than £215,000 (USD $268,000) and generated savings of more than £100,000 (USD $125,000) on media rate cards to secure exposure for St Pierre Groupe’s three brands and the business. She demonstrated strong leadership skills during the company’s acquisition, leading the communications strategy and reporting to high-profile senior stakeholders from multiple businesses. To secure the best results for St Pierre, Bleakley had to challenge existing policies and in doing so, demonstrated tenacity, a strategic approach and persuasion skills to ensure positive media coverage for the acquisition and appointment of a new CEO.


Amanda Cutler Legal Counsel, Commercial Litigation & Regulatory Compliance James Montesantos Safety Manager Caroline Radic Director, Channel Management, ADUSA Procurement Greg Hosmer Safety Manager
Retail-Business-Services @retailbusinessservices_
Your many contributions are a testament to the power of dedication and creativity in sparking transformation. You are an inspiration to us and other next-generation leaders.

2023 Awards


Customer Development Director, U.S., St Pierre Groupe

Age: 39

Ellett was instrumental in the growth of the St Pierre brand and branded sales in the United States, bringing the branded business to Walmart for the first time in company history. He grew the brand’s presence with the retailer in two separate categories — breakfast foods and commercial bread — and the five SKUs now account for almost 20% of the brand value in the United States. As a result, the brand’s all-commodity volume across America has nearly doubled and store count has increased by almost 50%. Ellett’s thorough, deeply strategic approach to management has had a significant impact on the business.


Grocery Manager, Stew Leonard’s in Yonkers and Senior Photo/Video Producer, Stew Leonard’s Ages: 31 and 32

It’s appropriate to feature these colleagues and cousins together, since the two launched the first-ever Stew Leonard’s podcast, “LegenDAIRY,” this year, serving as writers, producers, editors and co-anchors. Each episode explores their family business’ growth from a small dairy store to a nearly $600 million company with seven locations in three states. Apart from the podcast, Hollis oversees $20 million-plus in sales every year as grocery manager at the Yonkers, N.Y., location, while Leonard creates engaging video content and still images, works with the creative team on private label packaging design, and is involved in various innovative project launches.


Senior Manager, Customer Insights, SymphonyAI Retail CPG

Age: 38

Having started his working life as a teenage courtesy clerk who then worked his way through college with stints in the front end, general merchandise and center store, Bargholz now builds actionable insights for clients through deep data analysis matched with extensive grocery industry knowledge. He also takes on analytics projects outside of his area of responsibility to share his experience and raise the bar of the collective team. A coach at heart, Bargholz leads hour-long grass-roots Teach Back sessions. These knowledge-sharing sessions, held every other week, enable team members to ask questions, showcase projects and approaches, and present ideas.


Project Manager, Center Store Operations, Topco Associates LLC

Age: 36

As a project manager, Schrank oversees and supports the implementation of and compliance with National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard requirements for Topco Own Brands, as well as providing support for members’ own-brand products. Her skillful engagement, navigation of complex business needs and focused effort on continuous improvement have enabled the amazing success of this endeavor, which resulted in an industry-leading digital solution that engages shoppers in learning more about the products and their attributes of interest. No wonder that knowledge, perseverance and communication are the three words that come to mind when colleagues are asked to describe Schrank’s leadership style.


Community Engagement Manager, TPSS Co-op

Age: 25

Responsible for all of TPSS’ consumer relations, Thompson has used her position to expand the grocery co-op’s community throughout the region. Her passion for cooperative enterprise has created a strong network of grocery co-ops in Maryland and Pennsylvania able to rely on one other to boost store membership and advance a solidarity economy. Thompson’s vital vision for the future of grocery co-ops includes operating influential store-run social media platforms and growing membership. An intentional, expansive and people-focused leader, she is always seeking new ways for TPSS to make an impact and remain relevant in the lives of the co-op’s members.


Senior Manager, Data Governance, United Natural Foods Inc. (UNFI)

Age: 36

Messier leads the data governance practice at UNFI, in which capacity he collaborates with company leadership to develop data hierarchies encompassing all of UNFI’s lines of business on a path to a single UNFI experience. He was also responsible for leading the standup, implementation and use of UNFI’s show/event ordering application. Prior ordering was done on paper forms, but leveraging a third-party partner, Messier transitioned UNFI show stakeholders to using a tablet-based app and web portals to better enable customers and suppliers to negotiate, view products and order. He’s described by colleagues as collaborative, devoted and innovative in his approach.


Business Process Manager, Walgreens

Age: 32

Eagan manages internal and external testers for feedback on application designs to enhance the usability of current and future applications, a position in which he works with cross-functional teams to help them understand new systems and how to work with them. In addition, he’s heavily involved in Walgreens’ Transitional Work Group program, which offers training and job opportunities for people with disabilities. In this role, Eagan goes above and beyond his job, venturing out into the community to make grass-roots connections with families and nonprofi ts to help recruit program candidates, and working to make Walgreens’ tools and programs more accessible.

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It has always been said that competition and margins in the grocery industry are brutal, but this year feels especially hard.

For many traditional operators, pandemic-era sales boosts are long gone. Discounters are aggressively expanding at a time when the consumer is finding their value propositions more irresistible than ever. Recruiting and retaining employees continue to be top challenges. Costs are still up across the business, and consolidation is accelerating, with everyone waiting to see what happens with the proposed mergers of Kroger and Albertsons, and ALDI and Southeastern Grocers.

As larger food retailers enhance their offerings and gobble up competitors and market share, it has become harder for regional grocers to compete, unless you’re a regional grocer such as Publix, H-E-B or Meijer. These retailers are outsmarting the big players and growing by offering a hyper-local customer experience that’s highly differentiated.

Publix, H-E-B and Meijer have customer value propositions that can’t be ordered from Amazon, nor can they be found at a discounter. Each of these chains offers an experience and an assortment that are uniquely curated for the communities they serve, whether it’s drive-thru barbecue from H-E-B, or pressed Cuban sandwiches from the Publix deli, or one-stop shopping at Meijer.

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$54.5 billion in 2022 revenue, 1,351 stores

Alot of the chatter in the industry this year has been focused on the Albertsons-Kroger merger, so it might have been easy to miss the fact that Lakeland, Fla.based Publix Super Markets has opened 51 stores since 2022. No other traditional supermarket operator is growing profits and expanding its footprint like Publix is. The country’s largest employee-owned company, with more than 250,000 associates, is quietly becoming the dominant traditional grocery operator in the Southeast.

In 2022, the company, with annual revenue of $54.5 billion (a 13.5% increase from 2021), broke ground on its first store in its eighth state, Kentucky — another quiet milestone for a grocery chain that’s on an aggressive, more national expansion push.

This summer, the company opened 11 locations throughout Florida and Georgia and revealed a forthcoming second location in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia in early 2025, with a 48,387-square-foot store planned for the city of Chesapeake. Additional stores in the cities of Suffolk and Virginia Beach are currently in the pipeline.

In addition, Publix confirmed in late April that it has leased property for a new store in Carolina Shores, N.C. The approximately 45,000-square-foot location will have all of the usual Publix amenities and will mark the company’s third location in Brunswick County, with others operating in Oak Island and Ocean Isle Beach.

The company’s supermarkets vary in size, but prototypes range from 28,000 to 55,000 square feet. Stores are often located in shopping centers where the company is the anchor tenant (the majority of the company’s supermarkets are leased). The company supplies its supermarkets from nine primary distribution centers located in Lakeland, Miami, Jacksonville, Sarasota, Orlando, Deerfield Beach and Boynton Beach, Fla.; Lawrenceville, Ga.; and McCalla, Ala. A new distribution center is currently under construction in Greensboro, N.C., which could fuel yet more expansion for the chain.

Yet store count isn’t the only aspect of the Publix business that keeps growing.

In August the company reported another impressive period of earnings, with $14.1 billion in sales, an 8.9% year-over-year increase, in the second quarter. Same-store sales for the three months ended July 1 increased 6.2%, and net sales increased 74.7% to $1.1 billion, compared with $628 million in 2022.

Earnings per share for the quarter increased to 33 cents per share, up from 18 cents per share in 2022. The company’s sales for the six months ended July 1 were $28.4 billion, an 8.6% increase from $26.2 billion in 2022. Same-store sales for the six months ended July 1 increased 6.3%.

Last year at the groundbreaking in Kentucky, CEO Todd Jones said: “More than 90 years later, we’ve kept true to our values, including supporting the communities in which we live and work. We look forward to sharing the Publix difference

Super Regionals
The "Publix difference" is resonating with consumers across the Southeast who want a great shopping experience from a retailer that prioritizes customer service, technology and sustainability.
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Super Regionals

The “Publix difference” is clearly resonating with consumers across the Southeast who want a great shopping experience from a retailer that prioritizes customer service, technology and sustainability.

In August, Publix was named to Newsweek’s 2024 America’s Best Customer Service list, ranking No. 1 in the supermarket category for the sixth year in a row.

Also in August, the retailer made public its plans to build a $50 million technology campus near its headquarters in downtown Lakeland as it looks to ramp up its focus on omnichannel options for customers.

Additionally, in February, Publix hosted a Hunger Summit at its headquarters, where Jones explained the company’s focus on feeding the hungry. He said that food insecurity is “continuing to grow. More and more people in our country, in our backyard, right here in Lakeland, are having more difficult times putting meals on the table. ... Food insecurity is a really big priority for us.”

Jones added that fighting food insecurity and giving back to communities is one of the six pillars the company was built on.

“The first pillar is customer value,” he said. “I was asked earlier: ‘What are you doing to help with inflation?’ Well, being passionately focused on customer value means being more efficient. It means taking information that we have, like we’re

working with our business partners, and sharing how can we complement each other so that we can add more value to the communities that we serve, the customers that we serve.”

The second pillar, Jones said, is to be intolerant of waste, while the third is “to be dedicated to the dignity, the value and employment security of our associates. ... It’s what Mr. George [Jenkins] founded the company on. It’s their company. They’re the owners. It’s their opportunity to grow with the company, and we need to continue to be dedicated to that employment security,” he noted.

“The next pillar is to be devoted to the highest standard of stewardship for our stockholders,” Jones continued, with the last pillar being responsible citizens in Publix’s communities, “whether it is working on environmental issues or helping people who have home insecurities,” as he put it. “We’re involved with Habitat for Humanity to make sure that we can help where people don’t have shelter. And then lastly, of course, food insecurity.”

Jones became emotional talking about this last but most important topic. “I’ve never not had a meal,” he explained. “I’ve had to trade off a lot of other things in my life, but there was always a roof over our head, and there was always food there to eat. A wonderful guiding principle from my parents helped me understand the importance of that. And with little means, it was amazing what my parents always did to sacrifice personally to do for others that have even a lot less than what we have. Publix founder Mr. George came from that, and he had very humble beginnings, and he knew the importance of it. So it’s just important for us to continue that legacy.”

Publix was named to Newsweek's 2024 America's Best Customer Service list, ranking No. 1 in the supermarket category for the sixth year in a row.

“I’ve never not had a meal. I’ve had to trade o a lot of other things in my life, but there was always a roof over our head, and there was always food there to eat. A wonderful guiding principle from my parents helped me understand the importance of that. And with little means, it was amazing what my parents always did to sacrifice personally to do for others that have even a lot less than what we have. Publix founder Mr. George came from that, and he had very humble beginnings, and he knew the importance of it. So it’s just important for us to continue that legacy.” — Publix CEO Todd Jones




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$38.9 billion in 2022 revenue, 425 stores

When shoppers walk into an H-E-B store, there’s no mistaking the location for any other food retailer. That’s because pure Texas character oozes from every corner of the company’s 425 stores. Shoppers love the San Antonio-based grocer for its hyper-local fixation on all things Texas, from housemade butter tortillas to Lone Star State-themed home décor to a huge selection of locally grown citrus and other produce.

In July, the retailer, which also operates various banners in Texas and Mexico and has annual revenue of $38.9 billion (a 14% increase from 2021), opened a 118,000-square-foot store in McKinney, Texas, the company’s third in the Dallas-Fort Worth region. Filled with state-of-the-art amenities and innovations that H-E-B is known for, the McKinney store has such distinctive features as a True Texas BBQ; a full-service H-E-B Pharmacy with a drive-thru; a fuel station and car wash; and a Home by H-E-B home décor department featuring furniture, woven textiles, and accent pieces from the Haven + Key and Texas Proud collections.

At a time when other grocers are paring down their square footage, H-E-B keeps sticking to its “Everything Is Bigger in Texas” strategy of opening large physical locations. The McKinney store also offers H-E-B Curbside and Home Delivery, two offerings that H-E-B continues to accelerate.

In September, H-E-B opened a new e-commerce fulfillment center (EFC) in Katy, a project that aims to expand the retailer’s commitment to integrate innovative technologies that drive omnichannel growth and provide a more convenient and better shopping experience for Texans. At more than 100,000 square feet in size, the facility is the largest e-com-

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merce fulfillment center for the company, coming in at twice the size of previous facilities.

H-E-B’s first stand-alone location, at 2102 Elrod Road, the Katy EFC will support H-E-B Curbside and Home Delivery orders. According to the company, the EFCs stock goods found in stores and are used to satisfy Curbside and Home Delivery orders. These facilities allow for more capacity, greater efficiency, less aisle congestion for the in-store shopper and better product availability. To help streamline the process and boost productivity, the facilities use various forms of automation to help employees — or, as H-E-B calls them, “Partners” — throughout the order process. With these centers, H-E-B has grown its Curbside and Home Delivery services, which are available at more than 270 stores in Texas.

“We’re excited to utilize this facility to support the Houston area, one of the largest markets for our company,” said Kedar Patel, H-E-B group VP of e-commerce, when the Katy EFC opened. “Across our business, we are adopting innovative technologies that give our Partners the tools they

At a time when other grocers are paring down their square footage, H-E-B keeps sticking to its "Everything Is Bigger in Texas" strategy of opening large physical locations.


Super Regionals

In addition to plenty of crowdpleasing amenities, H-E-B offers many opportunities for its customers to save money.

The grocer teamed up with award-winning filmmakers to release a series of documentary films highlighting stories of dedicated Texans and organizations conserving wildlife habitats, landscapes and parks across the state. The five-part docuseries aims to bring attention to important work being done across the state to protect delicate wildlife habitats, threatened animal species, and the wonder and splendor of the Texas outdoors.

need to provide great service and a top-quality shopping experience for our customers.”

The Katy facility marks H-E-B’s seventh EFC that the company has opened since 2018. By the end of next year, H-E-B says that it plans to open additional facilities across the state to help support the retailer’s expansion throughout Texas.

And, as if it weren’t enough to leverage hyper-local curation and technology, this year H-E-B also got into the movie business.



billion in 2022 revenue, 500-plus stores

Meijer is a Super Regional that built its reputation and loyal following as a supercenter, but the privately owned, family-operated retailer is also looking to its smaller-scale origins as it charts a course for the future.

One notable example is the addition of the Meijer Grocery banner to the considerable stable of Meijer stores. The first two of these moderate-footprint stores opened this past January in Lake Orion and Macomb Township, Mich., featuring in-house meat cutters and cake decorators, grab-and-go prepared foods, a drive-thru pharmacy, and wider aisles for easy navigation, among other amenities. The stores occupy a space between 75,000 and 90,000 square feet, compared with the 150,000- to 250,000-square-foot span of the chain’s supercenters.

“I’m so excited to bring a neighborhood shopping experience here, whether a customer needs to come

“H-E-B has a deep commitment to support all Texans, and that includes helping to protect, conserve and beautify our great state for people to enjoy now and for generations to come,” said Leslie Sweet, managing director of sustainability and environmental affairs, when the docuseries debuted in late August. “We’re excited to support these passionate filmmakers and their mission to tell important stories that we hope will inspire people to celebrate and protect the diverse habitats, unique wildlife and beautiful landscapes across Texas.”

because they forgot three or four items or they need to do an entire week’s shopping trip — we are just the right size to accommodate those,” Mary Kimbrough, store director for the Lake Orion location, told Progressive Grocer at the grand opening.

Executive Chairman Hank Meijer — whose father, Frederik, and grandfather, Hendrik, founded the business in 1934 — noted at the time of the unveiling that the retailer is covering all kinds of

Meijer continues to enhance its mPerks loyalty program and accompanying app.

For Domestic Violence Victims and Their Pets, We Aren’t Backing Down

More than 70 percent of women in do m estic violence s h el ters repor t that their abuser used their pet(s) as a m ea ns o f manip u l a tion a nd control . W h en su rvivors a re rea dy to make th e terri f ying c h oice to leave, many fa ce a cr u el rea li t y that only 17 percent o f do m estic violence s h el ters a ccep t pe t s , leaving th e m w i th a n i m possi b le c h oice – s tay a nd end u re abu se or leave th eir pe t b e hind I t is no wonder that nea rly ha l f o f do m estic abu se su rvivors del ay leaving th ese tr auma tic , d a ngero u s si tua tions to pro tec t a b eloved pe t wh o may very well b e th eir main so u rce o f u nconditiona l love a nd co m p a nions hip

I t ’s u na ccep tab le And sever a l yea rs a go, Pu rina co mmi tt ed to doing so m e thing ab o ut i t. O u r core b elie f that pe t s a nd people a re b e tt er toge th er isn’t si m ply a “ f eel-good” idea. In this ins ta nce, i t c a n m ea n th e difference b e tween li f e a nd death.

In 201 9, th e Pu rple Lea s h Projec t wa s b orn We p a r tnered w i th Red Rover, a na tiona l nonprofi t f oc u sed on this issu e, to r aise awa reness a nd increa se th e numb er o f pe t- f riendly do m estic violence s h el ters in th e Uni ted States , a nd we q u ic k ly go t to wor k, a dvoc a ting f or su rvivors w i th pe t s a nd providing reso u rces to make a difference. Since th e Pu rple Lea s h Projec t wa s created, Pu rina ha s:

• Helped 46 do m estic violence s h el ters b eco m e pe t- f riendly

• Donated m ore tha n $1. 2 million to th e Pu rple Lea s h Projec t fu nd, offering gr a nt s f or s h el ter u pgr a des

• Created th e PAWS Ac t Co a lition in support of the Pets and Women S af e t y (PAWS) Ac t to a dvoc ate f or f eder a l reso u rces

• Rea c h ed o u r initi a l go a l o f ensu ring th ere is a pe t- f riendly do m estic violence s h el ter in a ll 50 s tates

B ut we a ren’t s topping th ere. We’ve u pd ated a nd e xtended o u r go a l . By th e end o f 2025, we wa nt to h elp ensu re that at lea s t 25 percent o f do m estic violence s h el ters offer pe t- f riendly services Bec au se we fiercely b elieve no su rvivor s h o u ld have to c h oose b e tween th eir ow n s af e t y a nd th e s af e t y o f th eir pe t, we want to continu e to fu nd am enta lly c ha nge th e l a ndsc a pe o f do m estic violence services f or su rvivors w i th pe t s

We c a nno t create this fu nd am enta l c ha nge a lone. I t req u ires a ddition a l awa reness , su ppor t a nd a dvoc a cy – a ll o f whic h yo u c a n pl ay a role in a s a re tailer Wa nt to keep i t si m ple? Finis h this a rticle a nd i mm edi ately s ha re inf or ma tion ab o ut this progr am w i th yo u r soci a l m edi a co mmu nities , u sing #Pu rpleLea s h Projec t; or visi t Pu rpleLea s h Projec m to sign u p f or ongoing u pd ates a nd ways to b eco m e a n a dvoc ate

Interes ted in pl aying a b igger role? Drive att ention a nd awa reness w i th Pu rple Lea s h Projec t m erc ha ndising s hipper u ni t s , av ail ab le th ro u g h yo u r Pu rina s a les rep. Yo u r s a les rep c a n a lso provide yo u w i th inf or ma tion on speci a lly mar ked Pu rina prod u c t s , dona tions , ro u nd- u p progr am s a nd m ore Yo u c a n even e x plore i f do m estic violence s h el ters in yo u r co mmu ni t y a re pe t- f riendly at Do m esticS h el ters .org.

Fina lly, to th e ma ny pe t ind u s try re tail p a r tners wh o have a lrea dy e mb r a ced th e Pu rple Lea s h Projec t, we e xtend o u r deepes t tha n k s , especia lly a s we mar k Do m estic Violence Awa reness Month this Oc to b er. Yo u a re p a r t o f h ow we c a n create m ea ning fu l, long- ter m c ha nge f or do m estic violence su rvivors a nd th eir pe t s

Purina tr ademark s are owned by Société des Produit s Nes tlé S A Any other mark s are proper t y of their respective owners


ground in response to today’s consumer lifestyles.

“As a company, we’ve opened more than 500 supercenters, neighborhood markets and Meijer Express locations, and that feeling of excitement and anticipation as you welcome customers in for the first time never gets old,” he said. “But opening the doors of these stores feels particularly special because of the unique need they’ll fulfill in our customers’ everyday lives.”

To Hank Meijer’s point, the Grand Rapids, Mich.-based company is pursuing growth across multiple avenues. Even as Meijer Grocery stores were welcoming their first shoppers, the retailer also opened new supercenters in Warren and Wooster, Ohio, and Elkhart, Ind., this year.

Diversification extends to assortments, too. As consumers seek value without sacrificing enjoyment in the current climate, the company’s private label line, Frederik by Meijer, has thrived. Earlier this year, Meijer revealed that it’s seeking elevated food products from manufacturers around the world in a bid to add more global flavors and variety to the portfolio.

The retailer is broadening its pipeline of vendors in other ways as well, dovetailing with its environmental, social and governance (ESG) efforts. A oneday Black Business Month Summit at the corporate office over the summer drew several Black business owners who demonstrated the quality and value of their products directly to buyers. Meanwhile, a virtual summit slated for October was created to connect Meijer merchants with suppliers that produce sustainable items across several categories.

More vendors, more banners and more products, along with a decided shift in shopper behaviors, are leading Meijer to invest more heavily in grocery technology. The new Meijer Grocery stores, for example, offer a Shop & Scan option

that allows customers to scan barcodes via the Meijer app and bag items as they go. The company’s mPerks loyalty program and accompanying app continue to be enhanced, too.

As the private company continues on a multipath journey to growth across its footprint in the Midwest states of Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky and Wisconsin, its leaders continue to follow its founders’ community-centric mindset and heed Hank Meijer’s proclamation: “It’s not enough just to make a big gift to a great cause — it’s also the willingness to be a part of it.”

Meijer’s Simply Give program is a testament to that, from the annual Meijer LPGA Classic to regular donation drives. This year’s golf tournament in June drew 25% more attendees and raised $1.25 million for Simply Give, with the help of hundreds of company volunteers. Additionally, in early 2023, Meijer became the first retailer to accept Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits through the Flashfood app, which enables shoppers to buy close-to-end-date food at a deep discount.

To be a good neighbor and business leader, Meijer has invested $1.5 million since 2022 to help clean up the Great Lakes through a partnership with the Council of the Great Lakes Region. Those donations helped fund robot and drone litter-capture technologies, and many Meijer team members took part in beach cleanups.

This wide lens of growth is paying off at Meijer: According to the annual PG 100 list of the top food and consumables retailers in North America, sales rose 9.51% during the company’s last fiscal year.

Super Regionals
This year, Meijer became the first retailer to accept SNAP benefits throught the Flashfood app, which enables shoppers to buy close-to-end-date food at a deep discount. More vendors, more banners and more products, along with a shift in shopper behaviors, are leading Meijer to invest more heavily in grocery technology.

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Top of Mind


onsumers spent decades relatively unaware of how the modern grocery supply chain works, but thanks to a series of unfortunate events over the past several years, they’re more conscious than ever about how products get from Point A to Point B — or how they don’t. Seeing products on shelves and having the right mix of items are still essential to any shopper, which makes proper replenishment strategies paramount for both top-line revenue and bottom-line profitability.

Today’s Automated Solutions

While some lingering supply chain issues still exist, a bevy of automated data-driven solutions is being rolled out to help food retailers keep their operations and replenishment in perfect sync. Johanna Småros, co-founder of Finland-based RELEX Solutions, believes that automation radically reduces the time spent on routine tasks in store replenishment planning and can even give supply chain analysts the upper hand.

“When store replenishment is automated and replenishment planning centralized to a knowledgeable team, your planning experts can make a visible difference in hundreds of stores, almost immediately, simply by fine-tuning replenishment settings,” Småros writes.

Specific examples of automated replenishment solutions include:

AI-Based Demand Forecasting: According to Mississauga, Ontario-based Invafresh, while traditional demand-planning approaches in food retail have typ ically been reactive, proactive strategies based on artificial-intelligence (AI) fore casting can leverage real-time data and advanced analytics to do everything

from optimizing inventory management to improving customer satisfaction.

Invafresh’s AI-enhanced forecast engine can anticipate future demand and considers the unique elements of fresh food retail, including time sensitivity, shelf-life considerations, promotions, seasonal activity and cannibalization.

Internet of Things (IoT) Sensor Technology: IoT — that invisible network of connected devices that facilitates communication between devices and the cloud — has proved to be a force for good when it comes to product traceability, visibility and even replenishment. Caesarea, Ill.-based Wiliot's ambient IoT Pixels help food retailers do everything from getting a real-time view of where a particular product case has been and where it’s going, to seeing other attributes like source, temperature history, critical tracking events and carbon footprint.

Most importantly, IoT Pixel users can see a real-time view of their shelf-level inventory, enabling improved on-shelf availability, merchandising, reducing overstock and out-of-stock, and omnichannel fulfillment.

Digital Shelf Cameras: Shelf-mounted cameras that can scan the vicinity every hour, like those from San Francisco-based Focal Systems, use state-of-the-art deep learning and Al to accurately detect ins, outs, lows, planogram noncompliance, restock events and spoiled produce. This ultimately helps optimize ordering, inventory management, merchandising and in-store labor. Springfield, N.J.-based Village Super Market Inc. will roll out the Focal Systems Operating System (FocalOS) chainwide at its ShopRite and Fairway Market banner stores.

Grocers of all sizes can employ technology solutions to ensure that their shelf replenishment is firing on all cylinders.

Replenishment Strategies
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Plenty to Unpack


n response to consumer concerns about the environment, suppliers and retailers are adopting more earth-friendly packaging options. According to research from global management consulting company McKinsey & Co., 43% of consumers believe that environmental impact is an extremely or very important packaging characteristic when making purchasing decisions, so the move to sustainable packaging makes sense.

First, though, it may be helpful to define the term, “as there are many different ways to be ‘sustainable,’” observes packaging business expert David Marinac. “Using less packaging; using a different type of material, such as biodegradable or 100% recyclable; and the most common attempt — companies using ‘refills,’ [meaning they] sell a rigid container once, and then sell refills using flexible packaging.”

In regard to that last solution type, “We’re seeing a lot of brands giving thought to how packaging can be designed to be reused, repurposed or even made into a collectable item, so it stays in someone’s home,” notes Michael Duffy, global creative director at Equator Design, a global packaging design agency with its headquarters in the U.K. city of Manchester.

An example Duffy gives is that of West Palm Beach, Fla.-based ASR Group, which “reduced the use of plastic in their Easy Baking Tub by 28% for their Domino Sugar and C&H Sugar brands by moving from a round to a square package. The tub is recyclable and reusable, so shoppers are encouraged to refill the package once it’s empty, using the Domino Sugar or C&H Sugar sold

in bags. As well as adding the How2Recycle label to the pack, ASR Group are collaborating with influencers and using social media to get the word out about the containers’ reusability.”

Duffy also sees the potential for retailers to tout their eco-friendly bona fides through packaging. “At a store level, retailers can make use of creative POS displays to ensure their sustainability credentials are conveyed effectively,” he suggests. “Point of sale can be one of the most valuable touchpoints for communicating values, and shoppers are looking for retailers that share theirs. It’s all about increasing visibility. Or, like ASR Group, they could engage in social media campaigns and influencer marketing to get sustainability messaging out there. Creating product transparency and traceability is also important, and packaging can be used to convey this.”

“Overall, consumers are looking for more sustainable options at the shelf,” affirms Alexis Guetzlaff, director of marketing-food and NAB, AMN at Perrysburg, Ill.-based Owens-Illinois (O-I), a glass container manufacturing company. “This might be anything from looking for ingredients that are grown responsibly to packaging with lower negative impact on the environment.”

Not surprisingly, O-I recommends glass as an optimal packaging solution in this regard. Guetzlaff points out that it’s “made from natural ingredients — including recycled glass — and infinitely recyclable.  With this

Key Takeaways

Despite challenges related to production, cost and other factors, consumers continue to demand sustainable packaging, and suppliers and retailers are working to provide it.

However sustainable it is, packaging must still perform well and make life simpler, so functionality and convenience are also must-haves.

Expect new packaging designs already in use in other countries to come to the United States, while e-commerce is giving rise to new packaging approaches.

56 SPECIAL REPORT Packaging Innovations

Let’s transform food systems around the world.

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Together towards secure, resilient and sustainable food systems

Shelf-stable carton packages keep essential food such as milk and juice safer for longer, increasing food access while helping to reduce food waste. To help transform food systems,1 we are collaborating with stakeholders to increase access to safe food, reduce food loss and waste, and build sustainable food value chains. Let’s not settle for what we can achieve today. Let’s go further together. Go nature. Go carton.

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1. OECD. (2019). Accelerating Climate Action. OECD iLibrary.
Pri t Pr mi m El t b nd c t n. G 100% G fl fl fl #chooseglass


Founded in 1903, O-I has grown to become a leading global producer of glass bottles and jars, including those for the food and beverage industry. Progressive Grocer asked Alexis Guetzlaff, Director of Marketing, to discuss how the company’s innovative glass packaging can help grocery retailers elevate their private label products so they can successfully compete with national brands.

Progressive Grocer: How does O-I’s glass packaging expertise translate to the retail grocery industry?

Alexis Guetzlaff: I think it’s important to talk about the benefits that glass packaging delivers to brands and shoppers. Glass naturally protects the flavor and integrity of the food or beverage inside; without linings or harmful chemicals, products taste the way they were intended to. With glass, textures and colors show through — customers see what’s inside, so they’re confident about what they’re buying. Glass is impermeable, which makes it the best choice for preserving products on their journey from the plant to the store to consumers’ tables. And because glass packages are easily resealed, consumers can eat or drink the contents on their own timetable without worrying about the product spoiling quickly.

Those are just some reasons shoppers view glass-packaged items as being of higher quality than products in other packaging.

Grocery retailers are working hard to make sure their own brands can successfully compete with national brands. O-I’s expertise enables retailers to offer private label products in the kind of quality glass packaging large national brands use. Glass packaging makes those store brands look as amazing as they taste so they stand out on-shelf to shoppers seeking high-quality products.

PG: Does glass packaging really have an impact on sales and profits?

AG: Most companies recognize that packaging tells their brand story through the colors, labels and messaging on the package. But they often forget to consider what that package is made of. Before thinking about the visual design elements, consider the message a skinny can or PET bottle sends about the product inside, then compare that to the quality message a glass bottle conveys. Consumers will pay more for products packaged in glass — which means prioritizing those products can help grocers generate as much revenue as possible from the limited amount of shelf space they have.


• Two brands in the sparkling water category that currently offer both glass and plastic SKUs show a 2x higher $/TDP* than the same brand in plastic.

• The same holds true for Private Label SKUs: Sparkling water in glass drives 1.9x more$/TDP than plastic, and 1.4x more than cans.”

—Source: Nielson, L52W ending 7.15.23

*Total Distribution Points

PG: How does O-I work with grocery retailers?

AG: It depends on each retailer’s needs. Often our relationship is with the co-packer. That works well when executing existing ideas, and when both sides feel standard bottles and jars are the only options. However, we believe a partnership that includes O-I, the retailer, and the filler helps activate new ideas that will provide a competitive advantage. Instead of choosing existing packaging, O-I can help grocery retailers rethink their options, consider brand family cohesiveness, and position themselves as innovators. And if a retailer wants to bring a new product to market, we can find co-packers with fill capability, too.

PG: What makes O-I different from other glass packaging companies?

AG: We offer value-added opportunities that are integrated into our manufacturing process — things like internal concept design, market intelligence, and consumer research services. We can find white space and product positioning and drive concept design for our retail partners. Having this expertise in-house, and being well-connected with our engineering teams, results in products that are eye-catching at the shelf and capable of being produced on a manufacturing line and run through our partner’s fill line. We also have consumertested stock items grocery retailers can easily commercialize, so they can hit the ground running.

Instead of just selling the container, we support the retailer’s product from idea to shelf, enabling them to leverage the benefits of glass packaging. At the end of the day, we are making it easy to say yes to glass.


Packaging Innovations

strong sustainability story, glass is a great substrate choice for products that would like to show up sustainably at the shelf.”

Produce Packaging Problems

For one industry, though, sustainability is particularly difficult to attain.

“It’s hard to avoid hearing the roar of the sustainability train,” admits Teri Gibson, director of marketing at Yerington, Nev.-based Peri & Sons Farms, a grower, packer and shipper of premium white, yellow, red, sweet and organic onions. “Get onboard or get run over. I think all of us in the produce industry are climbing aboard as fast as we can, but the onboarding process is riddled with challenges.”

Those challenges include “how to package our line of fresh onions sustainably, without compromising the sustainability of our farming business,” notes Gibson. “After all, if there’s no profi t, then there’s no taking care of people and planet. Solutions need to be sustainable.” She also cites affordability, no clear eco standards in the United States, and a lack of raw sustainable materials worldwide as barriers preventing produce companies from easily transitioning to earth-friendly non-plastic packaging.

“Decades of producing oil-based packaging materials has created economies of scale that are highly productive, efficient and profitable,” Gibson points out. “This massive infrastructure is entrenched and not easily moved. It will be a while before companies can efficiently produce competitively priced non-plastic packaging materials.”

Meanwhile, she observes that “[o]ur packaging team is diligently exploring and testing new sustainable packaging options. For us, any new options must work with the packaging equipment we’re already invested in; keep the product fresh; be strong enough to withstand packing, shipping and merchandising; provide food safety; be visually appealing; be either plastic free, single-stream recyclable, biodegradable and/or compostable; and … must be affordable.”

Despite the obstacles, Peri & Sons has seen success with Earthpak, an all-paper eco-friendly package solution from Sev-Rend. “It’s 100% plastic-free [and] biodegradable/compostable,” explains Gibson. “This product is being well received, and we hope that retailers will continue to see the value of paying and charging a little more for this option. We have also been able to produce biodegradable clamshells with Warren Packaging for our organic shallots, cipollinis and shallots. It’s a small-scale program, but organic specialty products like these have a better chance of recouping the added cost at retail.”

She adds: “While we look for more sustainable packaging options, we are still making process improvements, such as eliminating fingerholds along the edge of a consumer onion package, that reduce the amount of material being used. Every minute we produce these packages, we’re saving 36 square feet of material. That’s over 33,000 square feet per day of waste. That’s a

little change making a big difference.”

Even with such challenges for produce and other categories, “I think overall we will continue to see innovation related to improved sustainability of packaging,” predicts O-I’s Guetzlaff. “Packaging that keeps food from spoiling and avoids waste is a key component in a sustainable food and beverage system. So, to keep improving our products and reducing the impact packaging has on the environment will be key to success.”

In Duffy’s opinion, carbon labeling, which can help shoppers quantify the environmental impact of their purchases, “will be an interesting one to watch. It often comes under criticism because there isn’t a standardized system of quantification, rating or labeling yet, but it’s thought that the widespread adoption of carbon labeling could lead to the eventual harmonization of criteria and an agreed standard for how this information is displayed on pack.”

a yet, adoption agreed

He also expects “more transparency on the ‘nonrecyclability’ of packaging, noting the components of packs that are not widely recyclable, [and so] alleviating confusion and ensuring waste streams are clean.”

Don’t Forget Functionality and Convenience

However sustainable it is, packaging must still perform well and make life simpler — no one wants a leaky or hard-to-open carton.

“When it comes to functionality, I think one of the most interesting trends is the growth of universal design — designing inclusively and with the needs of people/ users with a disability front of mind,” says Equator Design’s Duffy. “What’s great about this is, when you approach packaging design — or any type of design — this way, you often end up creating an end product that benefits everyone. Easyopen packaging is a great example: It doesn’t have any plastic wrapping or twist ties. Instead, it has elements like loops that can be pulled with one hand to pop the packaging open. Not only have you forfeited plastic in this instance, you’ve created something that’s a dream to open, whether you’re disabled or not.”

Duffy goes on to mention the NaviLens code and app, which he describes as “an absolute game-changer for blind consumer inclusivity.

Kellogg’s has utilized this transformational technology on its cereal boxes, which can be detected significant distances away in a fraction of the time, not only

“It’s hard to avoid hearing the roar of the sustainability train. Get onboard or get run over.”
—Teri Gibson, Peri & Sons Farms

Packaging Innovations

Deciphering the QR Code

One interesting packaging trend that Michael Duffy, global creative director at Equator Design, a global packaging design agency with its headquarters in the U.K. city of Manchester, has noted is the increasing use of QR codes.

helping the consumer locate the item itself, but [also] get key information, such as allergy warnings or recycling instructions, in spoken form. It can also pick up product information that is blurred or presented at acute angles, which is truly incredible. NaviLens is an exceptional example of how brands can put accessibility at the forefront of design and packaging decisions to become a true catalyst for change.”

One trending feature of packaging facilitates preparation of the product inside.

“‘Cook-in’ or ‘crisping’ trays are not only innovative ways to crisp, steam or bake products in a microwave or conventional oven, they’re also the primary packaging at shelf,” notes Peter Boosalis, VP of business development at Sussex, Wis.-based global marketing experience company Quad. “They’re based on the same theory as steam bags for vegetables, which, as the primary package, not only market the product on the frozen shelf, but also serve as a convenient vehicle for cooking the food in the microwave. Embedding crisping substrates and designing in steam-release venting enhance functionality because they mean the primary packaging itself improves cooked-product performance.”

Continues Boosalis: “There are a lot of innovations in this space. Think about products, like pre-seasoned proteins, that you prepare in the same wrapper that they come in, or snack bowls for onthe-go or hand-held pizza items, which use a crisping barrier in the microwavable primary packaging. These package designs are highly convenient for cooking, and the user can simply recycle or throw away the cooking vehicle, which is also the primary packaging. There’s little to no mess, and no dishes to wash.”

Although he concedes that “of course, there are concerns about sustainability” with these types of solutions, he’s also quick to point out

“Brands are increasingly taking it upon themselves to educate and assist customers on how to properly dispose of packaging,” observes Duffy. “The use of labels and symbols is growing, creating an increasingly noisy landscape and potentially confusing people, so the best approach for brands is to provide actionable end-of-use information via a QR code with a clear call to action alongside it. … [I]n the U.S., there is a vast array of labels, consisting of a mix of third-party and brand-/retailer-owned initiatives, perhaps owing to a lack of regulation, which leads to ambivalence and confusion. It’s far more convenient to use a clear instruction next to an easily scannable code.”

Going forward, he believes that “QR codes are likely to feature not just on front of packs, but also within the pack itself, allowing brands/ retailers to tap into local programs, including disposal information that is accurate for all consumer demographics.”

For his part, packaging business expert David Marinac points out that “QR codes can not only be personalized (with a personalized message or story of why the product is so great), but more important, [they] can have important details about the date of manufacture, the lot number, who the operator was that made it, etc. — all critical details for food safety and retail compliance.”

that “often, there are fewer materials needed for these food packages, and many of the substrates are recyclable.”

When asked about future developments in the functionality and convenience space — including forthcoming solutions’ eco-friendliness — Boosalis replies: “Look for even more innovation where the packaging makes preparing food in the microwave, oven or stovetop an experience that’s clean, quick and easy. Recycling will continue to improve, alongside more and more options for sustainable packaging, including using less material for smart food prep. The U.S. tends to look to the U.K. for package and food prep innovations, so watch our friends in Europe for the latest in quick, easy and high-quality food prep concepts.”

ASR Group reduced the amount of plastic in its Domino Sugar and C&H Sugar packaging by switching from a round to a square container that it encourages consumers to reuse and recycle.

Packaging business expert Marinac also weighs in on that last point, noting that “many packaging styles and materials have been in use successfully in the U.K., Australia and New Zealand for five years or more before the U.S. market has even noticed.”

Additionally, e-commerce is giving rise to new conceptual approaches.

“The continued charge of online shopping is putting new demands on packaging and, as a result, pack design will need to be specifically tailored to it,” observes Duffy. “Unboxing at home will become more prevalent, so brands and retailers need to get an effective grip on this to support the customer experience and their engagement with the product when consumers are not purchasing in a physical store.”

“Look for even more innovation where the packaging makes preparing food in the microwave, oven or stovetop an experience that’s clean, quick and easy.”
—Peter Boosalis, Quad

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Protein Power


f protein is the building block of the diet, it seems that the market for protein-rich offerings is getting more stacked. Consumers’ push for protein is reflected across grocery categories and in offerings that span dayparts and formats.

According to Innova Market Insights, there was a 10% bump in the combined annual growth rate of new product launches with protein claims from 2017 to 2022. This year’s Food and Health Survey from the International Food Information Council (IFIC) found that for the 52% of Americans who follow a specific eating pattern, a high-protein diet was the most common. IFIC’s survey also revealed that 67% of consumers are trying to eat more protein.

Rick Stein, VP of fresh foods at FMI — The Food Industry Association, says that protein popularity is rooted in different motivators. “Consumers are constantly reminded by health advisors and advocates that the proper amount of protein has great health benefits,” notes Stein. “In addition, protein can curb appetite. Manufactures are now marketing protein in a myriad of products, from health bars, beverages [and] cereals [to] other forms of protein.”

Wild About Protein

The retail meat department remains a destination for protein-seeking shoppers. According to FMI, poultry, beef and pork are tops when it comes to consumer protein preferences.

Red meat remains a protein stalwart as meat sales rose 5.7% last year to hit another record, FMI’s 2023 “Power of Meat” report has found.

Consumers who upped their seafood consumption during the pandemic can get ideas and tips from sources like the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.

Industry suppliers continue to promote the high protein content of meat and introduce new products. Seaboard Foods, for example, recently added a new line of USA Prime pork under its Prairie Fresh brand.

“Consumers are continuing to navigate inflation with their grocery bill and are on the hunt for high-value products,” says Emma Pierce, brand manager for Prairie Fresh Signature. “Pork remains a great option for shoppers, providing exceptional value with the current lower per-pound price compared with other proteins, as well as a culinary canvas that allows for maximum creativity. In addition to consumers shopping for high-value products, they are also continuing to seek hassle-free quality solutions like pre-seasoned proteins to quickly and easily put a wholesome meal on the table.”

Shoppers also continue to flock to poultry as a protein source. According to the National Chicken Council, 84% of consumers say that they’ve prepared a weekday dinner with fresh chicken.

Poultry brands are meeting customer preferences with products that have a protein halo. Tyson Foods recently launched chicken breast sandwiches and sliders containing 23 grams and 19 grams of protein, respectively. Meanwhile, Foster Farms has introduced Bold Bites chicken snacks delivering 15 grams of protein per serving and sold in single-serve pouches.

Key Takeaways

The retail meat department remains a destination for proteinseeking shoppers, while dairy is another mainstay category for animal-sourced protein.

The wave of plant-based meat activity may have crested, but plant-based milk and eggs are seeing robust sales.

Shoppers can also find other highprotein foods and beverages in the center store, the frozen aisle and the refrigerated section.

64 SOLUTIONS Protein Report
Perfectly seasoned cuts, ready for your shelves and customers’ plates. © Seaboard Foods 2023 Imagine the

Progressive Grocer spoke to Mattie Hays, Alexia Marketing Manager, Retail for Frozen Potatoes & Onion Rings about evolving consumer preferences and how grocers can stay at the forefront of culinary trends.

Progressive Grocer: What do you see as the most significant changes in America’s taste buds right now?

Mattie Hays: That’s a great question. The demand for more diverse global flavors is really on the rise. Hispanic, Indian and Asian cuisines have emerged as the fastest-growing segments, according to recent SPINS data. In fact, Mexican, Asian and fusion dishes are projected to be the culinary stars of the next three years. And millennials, in particular, are steering this shift with over 90% of millennials eager to explore new foods and indulge in bold, authentic flavors according to some recent research from IRI. That’s why we’re so excited about our newest Alexia product line where we bring bold global flavors to our customers.

PG: What impact are we seeing in frozen foods as consumers seek out zesty choices?

MH: The frozen aisle is about to experience a flavorful leap with the arrival of our all-new Alexia Spice of Life roasted diced frozen potatoes. Our newest innovation introduces three dynamic flavors—Cilantro Lime, Indian Curry, and Thai Inspired Basil Chili—that were born from a collaboration between Alexia and Spiceology. Alexia is a proven leader in the segment and these proprietary custom spice blends keep the momentum going. These new potatoes boast all the same high-quality, non-GMO, clean and simple ingredients that our customers have come to love and expect from Alexia, with a new twist!

PG: Some research reveals that more than half of Americans consider themselves adventurous eaters and have tried a variety of cuisines. How can grocers be on the vanguard of offering products to match their palates?

MH: Alexia’s Spice of Life roasted frozen potatoes are perfectly poised to satisfy the many curiosities of adventurous food enthusiasts as they seek out new, elevated taste experiences. Our products

are easily prepared in an air fryer or oven, —and don’t require a passport to enjoy the delicious, globally inspired flavors.

PG: What can retailers do to keep up with the evolving world of frozen foods?

MH: Retailers can take stock of their current offerings at shelf and make sure there’s opportunity to provide their customers with global flavors. Alexia Spice of Life roasted frozen potatoes are the perfect way to add excitement to shelves and a multitude of recipes alike. They’re ideal for retailers looking to stay at the forefront of culinary trends and provide uniquely flavorful experiences that surpass anything they’ve ever encountered in the frozen aisle.

For more information about Alexia’s newest line, scan the QR code and contact the Lamb Weston Sales team today.

Protein Report

Although seafood purchases have come off pandemic highs, sales last year were still above pre-COVID levels and opportunities exist for future growth. The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute notes that 82% of consumers prefer seafood that’s wild and sustainably sourced, but they want more information on how to choose seafood.

Seafood brands are helping shoppers up their protein intake with inventive offerings like Blue Circle Foods’ Happy Fish product. With 20 grams of protein per serving, the fish-shaped salmon pieces cook from frozen in eight minutes.

Dairy is another mainstay category for animal-sourced protein. According to the research site Statista, 19% of consumers report taking in more dairy-based protein in the past year.

Some dairy-centric CPGs use protein content as a hook: For instance, the Fairlife brand from The Coca-Cola. Co. offers ultra-filtered milk with 50% more protein than traditional milk. (For more about milk, see “Liquid Assets” on page 72.)

Within dairy, the yogurt category has higher-protein selections as well. Danone North America’s Oikos Pro yogurt boasts 20 grams of protein per serving, while General Mills’ Ratio Foods, which already has a line of Keto yogurt products, has added a protein cultured dairy snack.

The Alt Vault

The pace of R&D in the plant-based protein arena continues at a good clip. Within this sector, though, there are some ebbs and flows.

For example, the wave of plant-based meat activity may have crested. According to the insights firm Circana, combined sales of refrigerated and frozen plant-based meat alternatives (PBMA) dropped 8.9% from the first quarter of 2022 to the first quarter of 2023.

Research firm Mintel reported a similar decline. “PBMA sales have slid from their peak in 2020 as consumers abandon the category in favor of less-expensive protein options,” observes Caleb Bryant, associate director of food and drink reports at Mintel. “The category continues to struggle with negative perceptions even among those who follow a reduced-meat diet.”

New products are still arriving in this space, albeit at a slower pace. This fall, Morningstar Farms is unveiling a protein-rich plantbased Steakhouse Style Burger. Earlier this year, Teton Waters Ranch debuted Teton Taste Buds products for kids, made with a blend of grass-fed beef and vegetables.

Meanwhile, robust sales of plant-based milks and creamers affirm shopper interest in alt-dairy offerings with protein benefits. NielsenIQ reports that the alternative-milk beverage industry jumped 11.1% over the previous year, propelled by growing consumer health consciousness and environmental sustainability, along with innovations from suppliers.

Grocers also carry high-protein egg alternatives to reach shoppers who gravitate to plant-based options. The JUST Egg brand shared data from NielsenIQ showing a 14% increase in the number of stores carrying JUST egg products. That company is also branching out with a new line of JUST Egg Meals.

Centered on Protein

Shoppers can satisfy their cravings for protein by picking up products in the center store, too.

One case in point is the snack aisle. Offerings there include Wilde Protein Chips, a chicken-based protein snack available at Whole Foods, Sprouts, Coscto, Target and Walmart stores. Meat sticks are also a go-to for protein-minded shoppers, with options like new Stickado meat snacks from Fiorucci, featuring 8 grams of protein per stick.

Another example is the bread aisle. In fact, according to Innova, bakery is the top category for plant and non-animal protein ingredients. Shoppers looking for the word “protein” can find it in products like Thomas’ Cinnamon Protein English Muffins, with 9 grams of protein per serving, and The Better Bun from BetterBrand, with 20 grams of plant-based protein per serving.

Certain cereals also herald high protein levels. Plant-forward breakfast company Seven Sundays and sustainable food processor SunOpta collaborated to create a new Oat Protein Cereal line made with an upcycled protein powder, while the Kellogg. Co. has expanded its Special K cereal line to include Special K High Protein, packed with 20 grams of protein per serving.

Then there’s pasta. The Barilla line now includes chickpea rotini with 21 grams of plant protein per serving. Shoppers can also pick up a heat-and-serve macaroni dish with 20 grams of protein from the Muscle Mac brand.

Chilling to the Max

Shoppers likewise encounter more high-protein offerings in the frozen and refrigerated areas of the store.

Frozen meals represent a high-growth segment for protein lovers. The Real Good Food Co. recently rolled out cheesy burritos with two times the protein of conventional burritos; Applegate Farms LLC has developed high-protein Applegate Naturals Frittata Bites made with eggs, chicken breakfast sausage and bacon; and the venerable Lean Cuisine brand now includes several Protein Kick varieties containing up to 17 grams of protein per serving.

In beverages, Bolthouse Farms offers a “protein plus” nut butter drink, while Rebbl markets a plant-powered elixir with 16 grams of protein. Those are just some examples from another category ripe for protein innovation.

High-protein beverages

Protein-seeking shoppers are seeking snack solutions such as Foster Farms' chicken snacks that deliver 15 grams per serving. such as Rebbl's new plant-powered drinks are arriving in stores.
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As CEO of Washington, D.C.- based MilkPEP, Yin Woon Rani is responsible for helping milk suppliers and retailers sell more milk. Rani talked to Progressive Grocer about how MilkPEP is inspiring consumers to actively choose dairy milk.

Progressive Grocer: What makes dairy milk an excellent choice for consumers to incorporate into their diets?

Yin Woon Rani: With 13 essential nutrients, dairy milk is a nutritional powerhouse that’s also incredibly affordable, making it accessible to a wide range of people at around $0.25 per 8-ounce glass.¹ When it comes to taste, dairy milk’s rich and creamy profile is hard to beat. It’s a taste that many people love and find satisfying alone — in fact, the largest consumption of milk is still by the glass.2 Milk’s neutral flavor can also complement both sweet and savory dishes, making it a versatile ingredient in the kitchen. Consumers can use it as a base for smoothies, a creamy addition to their morning coffee, a complement to a delicious snack, or as the key ingredient in countless recipes, from savory soups to delicious desserts.

PG: What sets dairy milk apart nutritionally?

YWR: Dairy milk is a superfood that’s packed with nutrition. Its unique blend of electrolytes, carbs, and high-quality protein makes it even more hydrating than water.3 It helps fuel your day — with complete protein for lean muscle, four B vitamins for energy conversion, and vitamin A, zinc, and selenium for a healthy immune system. There’s also calcium, vitamin D, and phosphorus for strong bones, and iodine for metabolism regulation. Plus, it contains potassium, which helps maintain muscle function and fluid balance.4


milk daily, emphasizing the importance of mom’s role modeling.5

PG: Have you learned anything from the current campaign about the information consumers have shown the most interest in?

YWR: Consumers have overwhelmingly responded to information about hydration and protein. Hydration continues to be the most surprising to consumers! Research shows that dairy milk helps kids reach their full height potential and this message also resonates well with moms and kids alike. We’re also exploring new ways to increase shopper understanding of the various options available within the dairy milk category. One area of focus is lactose-free, which continues to trend upward, growing 7% in volume over the past year.6

PG: How can retailers help shoppers choose dairy milk?

PG: How is MilkPEP connecting to consumers to help inform them of the nutritional benefits of dairy milk?

YWR: MilkPEP is focused on reaching modern families through its always-on media campaign — in addition to targeted platforms related to running and gaming — to highlight milk as a performance beverage. We remain very focused on inspiring mom as she’s still the most influential in the household. We’re leveraging imagery of women in action along with messaging that highlights the many benefits of milk. Moms who have been exposed to our messaging over the past year are more likely to drink milk. And we find that when mom drinks milk, 88 percent of children in the home drink

YWR: Milk is a $16 billion dollar category, and it is found in over 91% of households.7 It is practically ubiquitous and many times can be taken for granted. We’re seeing that highlighting the benefits of milk closer to the point-of-purchase can inspire usage. These messages can be benefit-focused or inform shoppers of new occasions where they can use milk — as a mixer with alcoholic drinks, for example. In one test we saw purchase intent among those exposed to this new occasion increase by 18 points, and they were 14 points higher in their belief that milk can be used in a variety of ways.6 The possibilities for including dairy milk daily are many — from breakfast to snacking to cooking and more, there’s good reason to remind shoppers why along their entire journey!

ADVERTORIAL Sources: 1, 6, 7 – Circana 52 weeks ending August 13, 2023. 2, 5 – Q2 ’23 Ad Tracker Campaign Impact Report; Q3 ’23 Milk Consumption Tracker conducted by Radius. 3 – 4 – 6 – Lucid Shopper Study – June 2023.
With 13 essential nutrients, dairy milk is a nutritional powerhouse that’s also incredibly affordable, making it accessible to a wide range of people at around $0.25 per 8-ounce glass.

Liquid Assets


ilk and juice — two longtime staples of healthy eating — have faced challenges from health-conscious consumers looking for low-calorie and reduced-fat foods. While both beverages contain many natural health benefits, consumers have been exploring other alternatives of late. That may be changing, however.

“Consumers are looking at beverage claims or attributes as shortcuts to understanding a beverage’s impact on their health and wellness,” says Melissa Abbott, VP of syndicated studies at The Hartman Group, in Bellevue, Wash. “Seeking fewer calories has become an easy-to-follow approach that replaces the need to evaluate the source of calories for dairy milks and functional juices.”

According to experts, good nutrition isn’t always that simple. “When looking at your diet as a whole, it’s important to consider a food’s full nutrient package,” advises Laura Buxenbaum, MPH, RD, LDN and senior director, health and wellness at The Dairy Alliance, in Atlanta. “Many foods with naturally occurring sugars, like milk or fruit, also offer nutritious vitamins, minerals, protein, fiber or bioactives that can benefit our health.”

Consumers Get Smarter About Nutrition

Research suggests that consumers are becoming more discerning when they assess overall food nutritional profiles. In addition, shifting consumer preferences and other market forces are causing consumers to reconsider these two key categories. A recent report from Chicago-based market research firm Mintel has found that rising inflation and an uptick in at-home eating have given the dairy milk category a boost.

“Price, as well as assessments of holistic value created by taste, nutrition and versatility, led consumers to put a pause on their exploration of the nondairy category and opt for more familiar and reliable dairy milk offerings,” Mintel’s reports notes.

Mintel’s research indicates that 80% of parents agree it’s important for their children to drink dairy milk — more good news for the milk category. Manufacturers are introducing niche products with innovative claims and benefits, among them added protein, rBST-free and functional attributes, that tap into renewed interest in dairy milk.

“Consumer data shows us that value-added milk consumption is on the rise,” says Buxenbaum. “Consumers like variety, choices and products that they feel are personalized to them, and dairy milk has a variety of products that fit any lifestyle.”

Focus on Digestibility

Lactose-free milk is one segment experiencing a surge among health-conscious consumers, due to its lower calorie content and easier digestibility, according to research from Future Market Insights. The Newark, Del.-based market research firm

Key Takeaways

Manufacturers are introducing niche products with innovative claims and benefits that tap into renewed interest in dairy milk.

Juice consumers don’t mind a moderate sugar and calorie profile as long as products deliver on taste and functionality.

Manufacturers are exploring new health angles for both milk and juice products.

Milk and Juice

Availablity of A2 milk products, such as those from the a2 Milk Co., is good news for the millions of consumers who have trouble digesting milk, according to the brand.

predicts that as more people prioritize healthier choices, the appeal of lactose-free products is expected to continue to increase, reshaping the landscape of consumer preferences.

Interest in A2 milk is also growing. All dairy milk contains beta-casein, a common protein, but the breed of cow that’s the source of the milk determines whether milk contains A1 or A2 beta-casein, or both. Some studies suggest a link between A1 milk and diabetes and heart disease as well as digestive issues, although studies in this area are inconclusive and ongoing.

A2 milk is certainly on consumers’ radar, and the subcategory is outpacing the growth of both the premium/specialty segment and the overall milk category. “Our body of scientific research clearly points out that for those individuals that have trouble digesting milk, A2 milk is easier on digestion,” asserts Edith Bailey, global CMO at The a2 Milk Co. Launched in New Zealand in 2000 and based in that country’s capital city, Auckland, The a2 Milk Co. saw its brand grow by 27% in the United States last year.

According to Bailey, availability of A2 milk products is good news for the millions of consumers who have trouble digesting milk. Many consumers, she notes, view the products as an elevated-quality premium milk. “Our growth rate, combined with our CAGR since launch, provides strong evidence that consumers understand the benefits and are interested in our value proposition,” she says. The company recently added a2 Milk Grassfed Whole Milk and a2 Milk Grassfed 2% Reduced Fat Milk to its portfolio.

Meanwhile, fairlife, a brand of The Coca-Cola Co., based in Atlanta, has been expanding with premium products such as ultra-filtered milk. The brand, which brought higher protein, lower sugar and distinctive packaging to the category, has been growing, with a new manufacturing plant recently added in New York state set to fuel expansion.

Boston-based Slate Milk, a boosted-protein line of all-natural canned chocolate milk and latte products, has also seen significant expansion and is now carried in more than 10,000 retail stores across the country.

Consumers Reconsider Juice

In the juice category, consumers are more likely to accept natural sweeteners than in many other beverages. The Hartman Group’s Abbott observes that juice consumers don’t mind a moderate sugar and calorie profile as long as products deliver on taste and functionality.

“Juice drinkers are likely to look for simple and natural ingredients, and avoid juices with artificial low-calorie sweeteners, despite their ability to reduce calories,” she notes. “We can expect to see rising interest in fruit juices sweetened with a blend of real sugar and alternatives like monk fruit as a way to mitigate sugar grams and calories.”

As part of a strategy to accelerate the development of products aimed at health-conscious consumers, Chico, Calif.-based R.W. Knudsen recently launched a line of lower-calorie, lower-sugar juice beverages. Formulated without sucralose or high-fructose corn syrup, the lineup consists of eight new flavors, including cranberry, mango passionfruit, tart cherry and tropical blend. Langers, for its part, has added a 5 Calorie Pineapple

juice to its lineup. With only 5 calories and 2 grams of carbs per serving, the product still boasts 80% of the daily value of vitamin C in one cup.

“Consumers are looking for the natural goodness and benefits fruits bring to the table, such as vitamin C and antioxidants, but there’s heightened awareness and concern about sugar intake,” says Bruce Langer, president of City of Industry, Calif.-based Langer Juice Co. “This is where juices with a lower-calorie profile step in.”

This summer, category powerhouse Tropicana launched Tropicana Zero Sugar, an assortment with zero sugar and no artificial sweetener ingredients. The line is available in a 52-ounce bottle in three flavors: Summer Splash Punch, Lively Lemonade and Passionfruit Lemonade Escape.

The brand of Purchase, N.Y.-based PepsiCo also recently relaunched Trop50 as Tropicana Light. The renamed beverage delivers 100% of your daily dose of vitamin C and is a good source of potassium, but contains 50% less sugar and 50% fewer calories than regular orange juice, as well as no artificial sweeteners.

Among smaller companies, Austin, Texas-based frozen treat brand GoodPop has expanded into the beverage aisle with Mini Cans, lunchbox-size 7.5-ounce drinks made with real fruit juice and sparkling water, but no added sugars, sweeteners or flavors. The line comes in Fruit Punch, Orange and Lemon Lime flavors.

Manufacturers are also exploring new health angles for juice products. Scrubber, for example, is a recent functional juice introduction that boasts a hefty 15 grams of fiber per serving. “Our team recognized the demand for fiber and chose to address this need, says Michael Pizzimenti, general manager of Scrubber, which is made by a company based in Jakarta, Indonesia. Pizzimenti adds that the product “is the first juice-based drink to provide more than half of your daily fiber requirements, without any artificial sweeteners or added sugar. This innovation not only caters to taste and nutrition, but contributes significantly to the importance of gut health.”

Frozen treat brand GoodPop has now expanded into the beverage aisle with GoodPop Mini Cans, lunchboxsize drinks made with real fruit juice and sparkling water, but no added sugars, sweeteners or flavors.



Plant-Based Evolution


t may not be the most profound insight to take away from the recent Plant Based World Expo 2023, which was held at New York’s Javits Center this past Sept. 8-9, but the thing that struck me most was how good everything tasted. You might think that would be par for the course at a trade show where exhibitors are bound to bring their standout products for sampling, but I was at the very first Plant Based World Expo, which took place at the same venue in the far-off pre-COVID year of 2019, and back then, items tasting good wasn’t exactly a given.

What’s New

This time around, I was distinctly impressed by the vastly improved quality of plant-based cheese and jerky — the latter not usually my thing in any incarnation — along with a delicious array of other products, among them satisfying beef, chicken, seafood, pork belly, deli meat and bacon analogs; creamy nondairy butter; indulgent raw desserts; and even flavorful oat-based Key lime pie-flavored soft-serve ice cream. All of this caused me to reflect on how far food technology has advanced in this space in just four short years, and to wonder what we might expect in the next few years.

new sausage flavors and, at foodservice, an allergen-free hot dog. According to Ransom, plant-based food companies need to work on broadening the scale of the industry by ensuring that prices aren’t “more onerous” than those of animal-based meats, as well as doubling down on accessibility, inclusivity and convenience to break down the “invisible barrier” that often exists between mainstream consumers and plant-based products. She also suggested ditching the lofty language often used to describe the values and aims of plant-based food producers regarding the health of people, animals and the planet, advising companies to “loosen up a little bit.”

Beyond the expo floor, the event — which drew more than 3,000 registrants, according to show organizers — offered informative speakers and exclusive networking opportunities. It was my privilege to once more moderate a panel during Plant Based World, this time on merchandising plant-based products at retail, with a stellar group of experts: Erin Harper, director of merchandising-refrigerated foods at Whole Foods Market; Nikki Smith, associate director at the Plant Based Foods Association; Leslie Imber, team lead, natural specialty and new business development at Upfield; and newly minted SPINS CEO Jay Margolis. The lively session attracted an engaged audience that asked thoughtful questions.

Breaking Down the ‘Invisible Barrier’

Back among the exhibitors, I caught up with Erin Ransom, SVP marketing, growth and product development at Tofurky and its sister plant-based cheese brand Moocho. Tofurky, one of the more venerable brands in the plant-based sector, was launching two

When asked whether such tactics risked alienating longtime plant-based consumers, Ransom asserted, “If we’re not taking a risk, we’re not setting a good example for the category.” That said, she noted that while new items under development at Tofurky would be formulated to taste as much like their animal-based counterparts as possible, the company’s legacy products, like its iconic Roast, would remain the same. With plant-based eaters, as with any other consumers, you just don’t mess with the taste of the holidays — even if that taste isn’t exactly like turkey.

Sales” panel at Plant Based World Expo 2023.
“If we’re not taking a risk, we’re not setting a good example for the category.”
—Erin Ransom, Tofurky
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