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SEG Chief Shares Keys To Weathering Industry Storms

Anthony Hucker

Last updated on January 30th, 2023 at 03:39 pm

“If you’re going through hell, keep going.” Southeastern Grocers President and CEO Anthony Hucker referenced the quote from Winston Churchill during his remarks at the recent FMI Midwinter Executive Conference in Orlando, Florida.

Hucker shared photos from Mexico Beach, Florida, after Hurricane Michael made landfall as a Category 5 storm in October 2018. He noted that Hurricane Ian made landfall as a Category 4 storm a few months ago, just 130 miles from Orlando in Cayo Costa.

“Talk about misfortune. Talk about change. But this, this is resilience – an ability to recover from misfortune with change,” he said. “…Resilience is a concept that we must embrace as we move into this next evolution, this next S-curve of what our industry will become. Resilience is the product of challenge. Challenge is the basic ingredient of resilience. And you simply cannot have one without the other.”

Hucker said the grocery industry continues to face historic challenges. The resilience of the supply chain has been tested. “We have felt it bending, but it never broke, thanks to many of you that are here today.”

He said grocery shoppers are counting on industry leaders “for value to stretch their dollars, convenience to simplify their increasingly complex schedules and products that meet at the intersection of quality, nutrition, affordability and sustainability.”

Hucker said all are now familiar with the demands of ESG, as “we’re facing unprecedented dynamics of change from our environment. The health and sustainability of our planet is adding fuel to the fires affecting our supply chain, food insecurity and pricing concerns.”

He noted dramatic extremes in weather in the western United States are straining the supply of fruits and vegetables, while for the first time, the Alaska fishery was closed for snow crab season due to a “catastrophic” disappearance of the crabs. And in Florida, the devastating effects of Hurricane Ian on the citrus industry and colonies of pollinators will be felt for years.

“As a grocer with the majority of our stores bordering oceanic coastline, we find ourselves firmly in the grip of the most pressing impacts of climate change,” said Hucker, adding that the Jacksonville, Florida-based company has sustained “multiple long-term store closures from storm damage” in the past year.

One of the worst challenges facing the industry, though, is a “crippling” labor shortage that has impacted every facet of the industry. At SEG, Hucker said this challenge consistently ranks among its top priorities as it concerns the company’s most valuable assets – people.

“People are at the center of every answer to every question we face. So at SEG, we put people at the heart of every decision we make. Without question, that commitment has been the engine for every gain, every success and every win we’ve earned through this challenging period,” he said.

Hucker noted that was not always the case. In 2017, an internal SEG associate survey showed leadership’s trust scores were at an all-time low. He noted that they realized it would be difficult to start a cultural transformation without trust. So, taking his mother’s advice – “you have two eyes, two ears and one mouth – use them in proportion” – SEG’s most powerful tool to rebuild trust became “listening loudly with intention.”

Now five years into its current transformation, SEG has learned to put its people first and has “accomplished a powerful cultural transformation that is boldly visible in black on the balance sheet,” Hucker said.

Associate trust scores are at their highest mark, with a 30 percent increase since 2017. And as SEG rebuilds trust among associates, it is building trust among customers.

Hucker said those outside of SEG have taken notice, with its cultural transformation case study now taught in one of the world’s most revered business schools. The company has been recognized by Newsweek as one of the most trusted and loved workplaces and listed as one as Fortune’s best workplaces in retail. It has been certified as a great place to work for three consecutive years. 

“More notably, we’ve learned at the core of everything we face, it’s our people who are resilient,” he said. “Their capacity to not only recover and adjust, but to creatively reinvent our strategy in service of our purpose, is what has propelled us forward with velocity through every daunting challenge that we faced. 

“Suffice it to say, we believe in our commitment to a people-first culture. So much so that we’ve trademarked the phrase – ‘We’re in the people business, we just happen to sell groceries.’” 

In referring again to the devastating storms that have impacted the state, Hucker said the people have grown only more resilient.

“Every brick rebuilt, every shelf restocked, every associate supported and every community pantry refilled has left us with life lessons. Lifting spirits can do as much to heal a community as lifting debris. Building back stronger can build momentum. Our most important lesson is that we are stronger – together. It’s what we believe. It’s where we source from. It’s our light in the darkness. It’s our inspiration.”

He closed with three requests for the audience: first, continue to be resilient, together. Second, care for communities, together. And third, shape the future of the industry, together.

“There’s an African proverb that I often reference: If you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together.”

About the author

Treva Bennett

Senior Content Creator

After 32 years in the newspaper industry, she is enjoying her new career exploring the world of groceries at The Shelby Report.

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Featured Photo PLMA Annual Private Label Trade Show
Donald E. Stephens Convention Center
Chicago, Illinois
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