by Mary Margaret Stewart, staff writer
Across the landscape of 2020 – COVID and all – Manard Lagasse Jr. is proudest of retailers’ consistent approach to business through such a difficult time.
“We’re in a lot of small communities, and their customers rely on their local grocery stores. Our retailers did everything they could to service the needs of their customers,” he said.
Associated Grocers provides resources and support for more than 200 independent grocers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. But as Lagasse, the president and CEO points out, there was a surge throughout the entire grocery segment.
While the supply chain hasn’t been in the best shape, these grocers have handled things well, attributing their job well-done to independents’ “ability to move much more quickly in those situations,” in comparison with big chains.
And on the wholesaler side of things, Lagasse acknowledged how smoothly AGBR navigated the pandemic, too.
“We were very, very fortunate that our workforce remained healthy, and they did an outstanding job,” he said. “The team rallied together to do an exceptional job to service the needs of our independent retailers. It was amazing – it really was.
“We had the majority of our field team, plus additional employees out in the stores helping to get things done, which is something that we’re still doing…We’re very service-oriented, and we’ll continue to be that way.”
When it comes to predictions for what the “new normal” will be, Lagasse foresees that there likely will be some permanent changes in the industry, whether that’s the production of products or company protocol – “everybody’s going to have to reassess how it all works,” he said.
“The variety won’t be there because some of the companies have had to focus on their better sellers to make sure they can meet the demand,” he said. “And I think there’s going to continue to be some reduction in SKUs.
Weather is a component of safety, too, which has been thrown into the mix with coronavirus this fall.
“With the climate these days, it has been interesting, to say the least,” Lagasse said. “And, unfortunately, we’ve had to deal with multiple storms this hurricane season. We certainly hope that this year ends quietly…but living in South Louisiana, we do have to deal with hurricanes.
“We have a tremendous amount of experience,” he said. “We do have retailers who unfortunately have issues after storms, and we do everything we can to help them to get back on their feet as quickly as possible, but we are dealing with Mother Nature, and sometimes things do happen.”
As for his vision for AGBR over the next five years, Lagasse strives to ensure that the wholesaler is providing retailers with all of the tools and technologies they need to compete. Or in other words, “Take the burden off of them – we want to be more of a partner than we do a distributor,” he said.
Another partner of AGBR is ROFDA, and Lagasse recently joined the ROFDA board as one of its eight CEOs, which proved helpful during the unprecedented nature of 2020.
“ROFDA is a good group to work with, and they really do some outstanding things,” he said. “And quite frankly, the leadership on the ROFDA board is top notch.”
And top-notch leadership is exactly how Lagasse with AGBR navigated the pandemic. He banded together with his peers on the board to capitalize on all of their industry knowledge and efficiently handle situations that arose.
But it all comes back to the people on the ground for Lagasse.
“I think for me personally, the most important CEO perspective is, personally, I’m so thankful for the dedication and commitment from our employees to continue to deliver the services that we provide,” he said. “It’s more than just getting groceries to a retailer.
“From a grocery store standpoint, we will continue to see growth. I am optimistic. I believe there is a good future ahead for the independent grocer.”