Organization has ‘big heart,’ is always first to step up, give back
by Mary Margaret Stewart, staff writer
The New Jersey Food Council was created 51 years ago by one of Wakefern Food Corp.’s store owners, Joe Saker of ShopRite.
NJFC President Linda Doherty said the seed was planted for its structure in Saker’s living room. Saker, who would serve as the organization’s first chair, and the two other co-founders “had the foresight to band together with other grocers in New Jersey to become the voice of the food industry and the supermarket industry.”
“And when we celebrated our anniversary, 50 years later…Joe’s son, Richard, happened to be our chair,” she continued. “The roots were established through the Wakefern owners, and their legacy continues today to lead us in our mission.”
And today, Doherty said the council’s strong relationship with Wakefern is critically important to the success of its agenda, with the corporation holding influence as New Jersey’s largest private employer.
“[Wakefern’s] imprint is on almost everything we do from our strategic planning, to our issues, management, to our asset protection program, our continuity planning, our legislative agenda, our food safety program, our political platform, our committee activity, our energy aggregation, and our action in food assistance programs,” Doherty said.
All in all, though, the giant’s influence is not the only reason for the council’s draw to continuing its partnership into the future.
“What I love about dealing with Wakefern is that they see the bigger picture,” Doherty said. “They have that keen ability to work with their competitors, through the food council, to move our industry forward in New Jersey and protect all our interests.
“They, as business leaders in the state and throughout the country, continually keep the pedal to the metal. They never rest on their morals, and they challenge every member of their team to be the best that they can be. And that’s what motivates me at the food council to work side by side with them.
“And you have to look at their unique structure and governance. They’re family-owned and -operated. They’re supported by a professional team. It’s just such a winning combination that makes them such a viable competitor.”
The business structure of Wakefern is something that draws in other industry leaders as well. Greg Ferrara, president and CEO of National Grocers Association, can attest to that for his organization, a partner of Wakefern for several years.
“First and foremost, one of the things I admire so much about Wakefern is they are made up of family-owned businesses,” he said. “And because of NGA and who we represent as independents, family-owned businesses are such an important part of our membership.
“Wakefern is able to use its enormous size and influence to bring about good in the industry and in the communities that they serve, while at the same time, they are able to harness that entrepreneurial spirit, that family-owned business commitment, to keep their stores very, very local, and close to the community. And I think that’s why they’ve been so successful in the areas that they operate in.”
Specific to NGA, Wakefern has been involved in several facets.
For starters, the corporation’s leadership has served on NGA’s board of directors. That includes Joe Sheridan, who served as chairman of NGA, and Jeff Reagan, who currently serves as the board’s secretary.
Ferrara added that NGA also holds a close relationship with many of Wakefern’s retailers, many of whom have also served on the board of directors over the years.
“On a personal level, I’ve been very fortunate to have a close relationship with many of our leaders, both in terms of Wakefern the co-op, and also many of their retailers,” he said. “I consider many of them personal friends. Many of them are have been mentors to me and continue to be mentors.
“They’re just an organization that has a very big heart and is always the first in line to step up and give back any way they can to the industry, and I admire that very much. I admire the work that they do for advocacy.
“When they get behind an industry issue, they are willing to put the full muscle of Wakefern and their members stores behind it. That includes grassroots efforts, that includes supporting our political efforts to help get champions elected to Congress [and] that includes bringing a very large contingent of retailers and Wakefern co-op employees to Washington each year for the annual fly in. That makes a huge, huge difference in the success of the industry and how we’re able to advance the causes.”
In addition, Ferrara said Wakefern also has been a tremendous supporter of NGA’s show for several years, helping ensure that the association can provide top-notch educational and networking opportunities for the industry at the event.
Similarly, Wakefern has been “a huge champion” of the NGA Foundation as well, helping to attract, train and retain the next generation of leaders in the industry. The corporation has been a longtime supporter of NGA’s Executive Leadership Development Program, as well as the Women Grocers of America.