Leon Bergmann has been named president of West Region Wholesale for Supervalu, effective immediately.
“Leon’s experience at both Unified (Grocers) and Supervalu will allow him to hit the ground running as we incorporate customers from the western United States into the larger Supervalu family of retailers. I’m thrilled he has accepted this opportunity to be a part of our Wholesale organization,” Mike Stigers, EVP of Wholesale & Supply Chain Services for Supervalu, said in an internal memo on Friday.
Bergmann joined Unified Grocers, which was bought by Supervalu earlier this summer, in December 2012 as SVP of sales. In addition to his leadership of the sales and service functions, Bergmann assumed responsibilities for overseeing the customer satisfaction team and grocery, frozen and deli procurement in 2013. He was promoted to EVP in 2014 and added responsibility for the company’s transportation, warehouse and other logistics functions shortly thereafter.
Bob Ling had served as president and CEO of Unified Grocers prior to its acquisition by Supervalu. He stepped down when the deal was finalized.
Prior to joining Unified, Bergmann held the position of president of Independent Business at Supervalu. He earlier served as group VP of independent sales, marketing and merchandising in Supervalu’s Supply Chain Services division. His grocery industry experience also includes serving in roles of increasing responsibility at C&S Wholesale Grocers of Keene, New Hampshire.
Reporting to Bergmann will be Larry Bourland—VP of sales, Pacific Northwest; Bob Garibaldi—VP of sales, California; and Ray Van Wetten—VP of sales, Pacific Northwest.
“It’s exciting to see our new wholesale structure come together,” Stigers said. “I’m confident that Leon’s leadership in the West, along with Kevin Kemp in the East Region and Bill Chew in the Central Region, will guide the team on the path to Supervalu becoming the country’s leading wholesaler.”
On Friday, Bergmann spoke with The Shelby Report’s Bob Reeves about his promotion.
Bergmann: Thank you, I am beyond thrilled.
Reeves: They couldn’t have made a better choice over here on the West when they made this acquisition.
Bergmann: It’s just a matter of getting all the details worked out, Bob. And we’re able to do that and I’m just very, very happy.
Reeves: You’re on track; about every two years you get promoted, right?
Bergmann: (Laughs) I don’t know. It’s funny; when you’re younger you try to think about oh, how will this work, and you try to plan it out. What I’ve learned is that the older you get, you just take advantage of the opportunities that are given and you quit planning that much further ahead.
Reeves: It just seems like every time I turn around you’re getting promoted…
Bergmann: (Laughs)…I’ve been very blessed to work with some great people and great retailers, great companies, great vendors and brokers, and that’s what this business is all about, and I’ve just been very fortunate to be put into good positions. And I’m grateful for that.
Reeves: Your input on not only the Expo in Long Beach but going forward some things you might be able to share with us in terms of maybe something that people are not aware of with the acquisition and what your plans are, etc.
Bergmann: Let me start by saying what a good thing I think it is going to be in the short term and the long term for the independent retailers on the West Coast. What we are doing is bringing together two very complementary organizations and now we’re going to have a much greater level of financial stability and balance sheet stability, and we’re also going to have an expanded set of products and service offerings. You know as well as I do that independents value choice, and we’re going to be able to give them more alternatives and choices to help them succeed, and I’m just really, really excited about that opportunity.
Reeves: Bringing them a lot more tools also…
Bergmann: Absolutely. The services, the tools, the products, everything. And let’s face it; it’s such a dynamic time in the grocery industry. There has always been tough competition. People say the competition is tougher; I don’t necessarily believe that. I think competition has always been tough. I think the competition is much more complex and dynamic and fluid today. And with that in mind, that’s why this combination and the expanded services, tools, products that are going to be available to our retailers are so important.
Reeves: What are some of the best practices that Supervalu is looking forward to tapping into that Unified was doing?
Bergmann: We’re just getting into that, but it’s a combination of taking the best services, whether it’s retail technologies, whether it’s pricing systems, back-office accounting, from both companies and combining them. There are programs Supervalu has that Unified didn’t offer; there are other programs we had that were similar that we can put together in a more effective manner; and then there are programs we had that were very similar and they’re doing a great job of looking at it and saying which program is best? That’s the one we’re going to go with. The thing that has really struck me throughout this, and anyone who has ever been through an acquisition I think would agree with this, is there is no ego involved here. Supervalu just wants to evaluate things and determine what is best for our retailers. They’re not saying that everything at Supervalu is better than everything at Unified; they are looking at each program individually and I have to say I’ve got a great deal of respect for how they’re approaching this.
The other thing I would say, too, is they’re not rushing it. Especially for a publicly traded company, that takes a lot of discipline and it takes a lot of commitment…and to the retailers to not rush it too much and not make mistakes. It’s a fine line because you don’t want to move too slowly either. But they’re doing it in a very measured way and I think that’s going to benefit everyone.
Reeves: Anything else you can expound on in terms of timelines and things like that?
Bergmann: Not yet. There are all types of FTC regulations, as you know, until the deal closes. And quite frankly, since the deal was closed, the entire focus has been on serving the retailers. Any changes we’ve had so far have been very minimal. It’s really more on let’s continue to execute, let’s get through Supervalu’s Expo, let’s get through the Unified Powered by Supervalu Expo and then let’s get into hard-core planning, and that’s just what’s beginning now. To try to project that would honestly be preliminary at this point, Bob.
Reeves: Tell me more about your new responsibilities.
Bergmann: It’s going to be very similar to the other two regions. There are now going to be three regions: Eastern, Central and Western. My position is similar and/or fairly identical to Kevin Kemp in the East and Bill Chew in the Central. One thing to note is the definition of the Western Region. It’s going to be the old Unified book of business plus the Supervalu Tacoma book of business plus their Billings, Montana, warehouse. You may say, I know you had to draw a line somewhere; how did you pick Billings? It’s a really simple answer; there’s a really strong group of IGA retailers between Billings and Tacoma that work closely together, and Supervalu has always been and remains a very strong IGA supporter. That was the driving factor, and determining those geographic boundaries will support IGA and those retailers.
Reeves: So you think we can anticipate seeing more IGA outlets popping up in the West here?
Bergmann: I would certainly hope so, yes. And I believe we will.
We’ve got a couple of openings coming up, and that’s great news, because our IGA store count has been fairly stagnant lately. We’re just beginning to grow that again, and we have reallocated some resources internally to better support IGA and we’re working closely with IGA USA out of Chicago, and our IGA retailers are performing very well. And let’s face it: There is no better affiliation tool than successful retailers.
Reeves: You’re going to remain here in the West, right, you’re not moving or anything?
Bergmann: That’s correct. I’ll be officed out of Commerce, (California), and I will either in my office, one of the regional offices or in our retailers’ stores.
Reeves: Any other news you can share?
Bergmann: I think right now the entire focus is on building the best organization we can and morphing from a stand-alone organization to a regional organization that’s part of the larger company, and we’re going to do that very thoughtfully but very timely as well. The biggest thing I could say is there’s been a tremendous effort to maintain customer-facing functions and relationships, and I think that’s critical because this is such a people business because of all of the complexities, all of the changing circumstances, all of the partnership and collaboration required to compete effectively together. There’s been a very concentrated effort to maintain all those touchpoints and relationships.