The Shelby Report and The Grocery Group have introduced a new series entitled People to Watch that focuses on current and future leadership in the grocery industry. In this installment, The Grocery Group founder and CEO Cindy Sorensen interviews John Fraro, director of deli, bakery and foodservice for Big Y Foods, which is based in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Tell me a little bit about you and what you like to do with your time away from the office.
I live on a 60-acre family farm in Connecticut with my husband Kris. In my free time, I enjoy doing home improvement projects and gardening. Cooking new dishes in the kitchen is also one of my biggest passions.
Please provide a brief description of Big Y Foods.
Big Y Foods operates 80 locations throughout Massachusetts and Connecticut, including 70 supermarkets, Fresh Acres Market, Table & Vine Fine Wines and Liquors and nine Big Y Express gas and convenience locations. It has more than 11,000 employees.
What is your role at Big Y Foods?
As the director of deli, bakery and food service, I am fortunate to lead my team, which is made up of sales managers, merchandisers and support staff. Our team is responsible for managing the everyday deli, bakery and food service business within Big Y.
What was your career path to this position?
I started my career working for a smaller independent in Connecticut and came to Big Y in 2005. I have spent most of my time working in the fresh departments. When I started at the Big Y Support Center, I was a junior buyer and then moved on to being a sales manager in bakery, deli and produce. In 2017, I was promoted to my current position.
What do you see as the greatest opportunities for workforce and leadership development within the grocery industry?
As the business evolves so quickly, it is crucial to take time out of the daily whirlwind to reflect on your personal and business goals and determine if you are on the right track or if you need to adjust your strategy for the future. Too often, we get caught up in the hustle of it all and do not take a step to the side to recenter.
In what ways does Big Y Foods focus on developing future leadership?
Big Y has a culture of engagement that starts with the grassroots team. This environment really helps to identify high potential future leaders. From there, our company participates in many internal and external leadership development programs that help our team members to grow. Recently, I was fortunate enough to attend the National Grocers Association’s Executive Leadership Development program at Cornell. It was an incredible experience that I would highly recommend for future leaders.
What advice do you have for college students and young professionals considering the grocery industry?
Build a career with a company that helps you to be passionate about your industry. Make sure that you are so passionate that it never feels like work. Always give 100 percent in everything that you do and never give up on your goals, regardless of how hard people tell you it will be.
What pieces of advice did you receive that you found most helpful?
- Focus on one or two major goals at a time and execute them well. We all have many “to dos” on our list, but by maintaining focus on the biggest goals and executing, you will achieve success.
- Network throughout the industry. These connections have really helped throughout my career, whether it is to source a unique product or to just discuss an industry concern and how others are approaching it.
Did you utilize or participate in any mentoring/coaching experiences as you developed your career?
I have had several people that have worked side by side with me to mentor me throughout my career, which I am extremely grateful for. Most recently, one individual has mentored me and has made me think outside of the box and challenged me to think differently about the business. It is a great privilege to work for someone who you look up to and makes you want to better yourself.
What else would you like the readers of The Shelby Report to know about you, your employer and/or other relevant industry information and insights?
Thank you to The Shelby Report for the opportunity to share and thank you to Big Y for continuously challenging my team and me to be better, more knowledgeable leaders within our industry.
Do you personally play a role in helping to develop/coach/mentor future leadership in the industry either internally or externally?
Yes, it is a part of my role within Big Y to work with my team and others within the organization to help them develop into future leaders.