By Eric Payne / NGA Manager of Communications
With 2020 behind us, it’s time to start looking forward to what’s coming up this year, as NGA has several events scheduled for independents both in person and virtually. Last year showed the country how vital essential Supermarket Superheroes are, and it’s time to recognize that extraordinary sacrifice.
Last year in San Diego, The NGA Show concluded with a sold-out expo floor, 60 educational sessions and more than 100 speakers. While education and networking were the primary activities during the event, we also found time to honor independent grocers with several prestigious awards like the Women Grocers of America (WGA) Woman of the Year Award, the Thomas K. Zaucha Entrepreneurial Excellence Award and the inaugural Peter J. Larkin Award for Community Service.
NGA again will be issuing these awards at the 2021 NGA Show and nominations are now open. Click the links above to learn more about each award and begin the process for submitting a nomination. If you have any questions, reach out to Eric Payne at [email protected].
As we look forward to receiving nominations for these awards, let’s look back on last year’s winners and highlight the important work they accomplished to earn these recognitions.
WGA Woman of the Year Award
WGA, the only organization representing female grocers and other women affiliated with the independent food industry, focuses on career development for active professionals and students interested in pursuing careers in the independent supermarket industry.
WGA provides opportunities for networking, education and recognition – with the WGA Woman of the Year award given to an individual exemplifying leadership and passion for our industry.
Two years ago at the 2019 NGA Show, Jan Gee, former president of the Washington Food Industry Association, won the WGA Woman of the Year award. She was recognized for more than 30 years as a voice for small businesses, specifically those in the independent sector.
Former NGA President and CEO Peter Larkin said the following about Gee: “Through her leadership and tireless efforts, Jan has been a strong advocate for the independent supermarket industry at every step of the way. She has played a key role as a mentor for women in the industry, inspiring and encouraging many to take on leadership positions.”
Last year, at the 2020 NGA Show, Jennifer Graff of Columbiana Foods/Giant Eagle won the award for her 30 years as a leader in the independent supermarket industry, helping her peers and inspiring the next generation.
Graff began her grocery career 30 years ago as a cashier, then moved to the deli department, eventually landing in the bakery department where she was well-known as an expert cake decorator along with her twin sister Christina. She moved to the floral department in 1996 and then joined Columbiana Foods/Giant Eagle as perishable director of deli, prepared foods, in-store Starbucks and floral, supervising merchandising and sales, reducing shrink, recruiting, training and team-leader development.
Gee and Graff are just two examples of women in our industry paving the way for future generations of female leaders. Often, women face hurdles in the workplace and these stories help inspire others to take on these challenges and follow their dreams. If you know someone fitting the criteria for the WGA Woman of the Year award, please consider nominating them by clicking HERE.
Thomas K. Zaucha Entrepreneurial Excellence Award
The 2021 NGA Show will mark the 13th year the Thomas K. Zaucha Entrepreneurial Excellence Award – sponsored by Mondelēz International – has been awarded to an independent retailer showing examples of persistence, vision, and creative entrepreneurship.
At the 2019 NGA Show, the award was presented to Trygve (Trig) Solberg of T.A. Solberg Co. Inc. Solberg began his grocery career in 1971 alongside his wife Tula in Land O’ Lakes, Wisc., with a small store. They now own eight supermarket locations and various other retail businesses, employing more than 1,200 associates.
Solberg won the award by revamping the company to provide a more comprehensive experience for customers, focused on several areas of operation, by creating a senior leadership team. These areas included culinary development, meat operations, produce operations, deli operations, pricing and analytics, grocery/dairy/frozen operations, smokehouse operations, HR functions and marketing strategies. This led to new programs that focus on fresh, family and community.
Peter Larkin said the following about Solberg: “NGA is honored to present this award to such a strong leader in the independent supermarket industry. Trig is admired by coworkers and industry peers for his dedication and commitment to his stores, community and his colleagues and peers in the industry.”
Last year, Rudy Dory, executive chairman of Newport Avenue Market, won the award as recognition for his career of entrepreneurial innovation. Newport Avenue Market, located in Bend, Ore., opened in 1991 and offers a variety of specialty and international foods. In 2015, the operation became the first employee-owned grocer in central Oregon, with staff investing in providing a unique shopping experience to customers.
NGA President and CEO Greg Ferrara said the following about Dory: “When you think of what it means to be an entrepreneur, Rudy Dory comes to mind. He’s worked almost his entire professional life in the grocery industry, growing Newport Avenue Market over the last 25 years into an innovative and strong business. The company now operates three supermarkets that are dialed into the local community, providing excellence and quality to their customers. For Rudy, his love and passion for what he does is as strong as ever and our entire industry is better because of him. I congratulate Rudy on receiving this award and look forward to working with him for years to come as we continue to advance the interests of our industry.”
It’s not surprising the independent supermarket industry is full of entrepreneurs, as they are experts at innovation and adapting with the times. The tough part with this award is choosing just one independent meeting this criterion. If you know a true entrepreneur, nominate them today by clicking HERE.
Peter J. Larkin Award For Community Service
Announced at the 2019 NGA Show, the Peter J. Larkin Award for Community Service recognizes an independent retailer or wholesaler NGA member for dedication and commitment to community service.
During the opening session of the NGA Show last year, NGA presented the award to Associated Grocers of New England (AGNE) for their incredible work in the community.
NGA President and CEO Greg Ferrara said the following about AGNE: “AGNE’s commitment to serving their community and employees is a shining example for the independent grocery industry. From their Helping Hands program that offers monetary assistance to employees unable to afford life essential bills to the Volunteer Committee that makes it easier for employees to find opportunities to give back, AGNE makes service to the community and each other part of their mission.”
Nominate someone for the Larkin award HERE.
These are just a few of the recent NGA award winners – you can find a full list by clicking HERE.
Now, more than ever, it’s important to recognize the essential work of independent grocers. We look forward to receiving nominations and hearing the great stories of sacrifice, dedication and commitment to this incredible industry.