The Oregonian reports that Lisa Sedlar is leaving her post as chief executive at New Seasons Market with plans to infuse her strong beliefs about food grown, raised or produced locally to another grocery format: the convenience store.
Sedlar envisions a chain of small neighborhood stores stocked with healthy options, such as locally cured salami instead of Slurpees and gourmet cheese instead of the liquid variety. Sedlar, 46, plans on a well-stocked meat counter and healthy meals to go, as well as local produce and good coffee for commuters. Along with neighborhoods—starting in the Portland area—Sedlar sees the need for her idea in airports and college campuses.
New Seasons’ leaders agreed, investing a minority stake in Sedlar’s new venture, The Oregonian’s Laura Gunderson reports.
Indeed, food is where it’s at in retailing. Larger retailers, including Dollar General Corp. and Walgreen Co., have increased the size of new stores to make room for more food. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has introduced more traditional grocery stores, too—already, the Portland area has three Neighborhood Markets with more on the way. Even traditional convenience stores have added some grocery items, although they tend to stop short of fresh meat or produce.
Sedlar’s stores may hit a sweet spot with shoppers.
“It’s a really compelling idea,” said Laurie Demeritt, president of The Hartman Group, a Seattle-area consumer research firm. “Consumers are increasingly interested in fresh and less-processed foods. And, they’re going to be willing to pay a little more—especially if there’s someone there behind the meat counter to talk about why it’s great and where it came from. It’s not all about self-service, there still needs to be that emotional enjoyment.”
Sedlar, whose new business is licensed with the state as Modern Convenience Food Stores, said she’s in the midst of negotiations on her first location and can’t share the address. She also said she hasn’t yet settled on a name—a task she may let be decided by a community naming contest.
“I’m realizing a lifelong dream,” Sedlar said before sharing the news with New Seasons employees Tuesday afternoon. Sedlar said she had her original inspiration for the new company while working as an executive with a pharmacy chain in Boulder, Colo., where she saw a steady stream of college kids in and out of a local gas station’s convenience store.
“These kinds of stores usually survive on sales from cigarettes and 40-ouncers (of beer),” Sedlar said. “I remember thinking how great it would be if they could be convenient and have good meat and produce.”
A chef that shifted in her mid-20s to retail, Sedlar joined New Seasons as president in 2005. She was promoted to chief executive in late 2010 when Brian Rohter, one of three New Seasons founders, retired. Stan Amy, New Seasons’ only remaining founder, said the board will lead the search for a replacement and Sedlar will serve as an advisor to the company through the end of the year. Her last day will be Nov. 2.
“We feel a sense of loss, of course, but on the other hand we’re truly excited about Lisa’s idea,” said Amy, adding that the smaller format likely will complement to New Seasons’ larger stores.
Sedlar came at a pivotal time for New Seasons and helped shape the company’s values and create culture that Amy said is now embraced not only by employees, but many of the company’s customers. And although she’s always remained active in the company’s operations, especially in representing New Seasons’ role in creating a regional food economy, Sedlar has been much more focused in past years on the company’s strategic direction.
“If ever there was a good time (to leave), now is a good time. New Seasons is financially strong, our culture is well set and we have our next two stores in the pipeline,” said Amy, noting the company’s new locations planned at North Williams and on Northeast Broadway near 33rd Avenue. Amy and the other group of founders and original employees will buy Sedlar’s equity in the company. The company’s shares are privately held and it did not disclose details of the transaction. The shares of Endeavour Capital, a Portland-based equity group that teamed with New Seasons in 2009, are not affected by this transaction. Endeavour remains a majority owner of the grocery chain.
In the featured photo at top: Lisa Sedlar, who was named New Seasons Market’s CEO in 2010 after founder Brian Rohter retired, announced Tuesday that she’ll leave the Portland chain next month. The 13-year-old grocery chain has not yet named a successor.