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5 Questions For Tony Sarsam

5 Questions For Tony Sarsam
Tony Sarsam

The president and CEO of SpartanNash shares his thoughts on the current state of the industry and what the future holds for independent grocers.

  1. The pandemic, a widespread labor shortage, supply chain issues, high fuel prices and now conflict in eastern Europe have created a perfect storm that’s driving inflation. What can be done to ease the pain on grocery operators as well as their customers?

Nothing is immune from inflation, so efficiency is the name of the game now. As much as we want to think about a workaround, the reality is the grocery industry is intertwined with the labor shortage, global supply chain challenges, fuel price fluctuations and high inflation. In an effort to combat the elongated labor shortage – which has been impacted in part by people choosing to take themselves out of the workforce – we need to support those who show up for work every day and appreciate their efforts, which is why we embrace a “People First” culture. Our store teams heroically served our customers through the worst and lingering days of the pandemic, and our leadership team has been very intentional about purposeful recognition. While these celebrations may not ease the pain for grocery operators, it helps keep our store associates happy, our shelves stocked and our deliveries efficient, and allows us to maintain a higher fill rate.

  1. What are your expectations for the coming months?

We anticipate that these challenges will persist through the year. As summer approaches, we expect the meals-at-home trend to continue as family gatherings increase. Supply chain challenges are likely to inspire consumers to try alternative brands and products as their familiar brands may be unavailable at times.

  1. Despite persistent infection rates, most mask mandates remain lifted and the pandemic seems to be over in the minds of many. How will the experience of the pandemic continue to influence your operations?

We learned a lot of great lessons from the pandemic, which helped inform our new corporate identity, Our Winning Recipe. It focuses on our Core Capabilities of People, Operational Excellence and Insights that Drive Solutions. We will continue to make significant investments in our associates to retain our valued workers and attract diverse talent. We launched a supply chain transformation project that will continue to deliver results as we operate more efficiently and effectively to serve our customers. We are also leveraging insights from the retail operations of our 145 corporate-owned stores to provide customer-centric innovation and solutions for the food retailers we serve.

  1. What one thing must independent operators do to ensure growth and success?

Now more than ever, grocery stores are seen as essential within their communities, so for independent grocers, it’s time to reevaluate if they have the right partners in place for smooth operations, comprehensive business support and reliable deliveries. Our customers rely on our team of grocery consultants for our food solutions expertise. We frequently partner with independent operators who are investing in refreshing their stores during this time, and we love seeing that proactive business-building work.

  1. What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not working?

I’m a family man, so when I’m not working, we are planning our next vacation or big adventure with our six children. During the holidays, our house is full of life, and the kids and I love playing games into the wee hours of the morning, going to the movies or having a civics-based discussion about current events and history. At the end of each week, we also love to slow down a little to visit our local SpartanNash grocery stores and enjoy church on Sundays.

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