Women in Waiting

Giant Eagle Chief Executive Laura Karet
Giant Eagle Chief Executive Laura Karet

Recent events have raised the profile of women around the world. Can the same trend benefit women leaders in food retailing? In this PLMA Live! report David Merrefield takes a look at the question.

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Women in Waiting

You might think by looking at recent political events that women executives are in rapid ascendancy.

After all, Hillary Clinton aspires to become the first woman president of the U.S. In Britain, Theresa May was just appointed prime minister, joining the ranks of women heads of state that includes Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany.

But reality differs from perceptions. There are still few women heads of state. Of the roughly 175 nations in the world, fewer than 20 are headed by women.

Closer to home, the same reality is true of the food-retailing industry, which is dominated by men in top executive positions.

That’s a strange situation given that food stores are mainly patronized by women shoppers  — stores that are operated by and managed to a great degree by women.

The good news is that the situation is changing. In a generation or so women with senior titles will proliferate.

But at the present time, there are very few food-retailing chains headed by women. The largest one is Giant Eagle, the chain of 415 supermarkets headed by CEO Laura Karet. Smaller food retailers helmed by women CEOs include Superior Grocers, Kings Food Markets and Andronico’s.

Rosalind Brewer is president and CEO of Walmart’s Sam’s Club
Rosalind Brewer is president and CEO of Walmart’s Sam’s Club

Yet, just below the CEO level, a deep bench of talent forming. For instance, Rosalind Brewer is president and CEO of Walmart’s Sam’s Club. Colleen Wegman is president of Wegman’s. Lori Raya is president of Albertson’s southern California division.

colleenwegmanBelow that level we find hundreds of women in food retailing with titles such as senior vice president, group vice president, chief financial officer and chief operating officer. Many more have responsibilities for human resources, procurement, finance and so on.

Separately, the board room is tipping in the favor of women. Many companies have significant numbers of women members. Notable are Target, Supervalu and Publix, among others. It’s rare to encounter a significant company without a woman on the board.

So there are three factors in place that almost ensure women’s upward march in the hierarchy of food retailing.

First, women board members are positioned to identify and promote the interests of women and other diverse talent to create an inclusive workforce.

Meanwhile, the large numbers women in middle to upper management soon will be trained and sufficiently experienced to move upward.

And, looking farther into the future, the in-store workforce is quite inclusive. It’s not impossible to move from a store to a corner office. Many men have made that leap. Maybe women will be next.

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Christopher Durham
Christopher Durham is the president of My Private Brand and the co-founder of The Vertex Awards. He is a strategist, author, consultant and retailer who built brands at Delhaize-owned Food Lion, and lead strategy and brand development for Lowe’s Home Improvement. He has consulted with retailers around the world on their private brand portfolios including: Family Dollar, Petco, Staples, Office Depot, Best Buy, Metro (Canada), TLW (Taiwan) and Hola (Taiwan). Durham has published five definitive books on private brands, including his first book, Fifty2: The My Private Brand Project. In 2017, he will debut his newest book, Vanguard: Vintage Originals, a visual tour of innovation and disruption in private brand going back to the mid-1800’s. Dynamic in his presentation while down to earth and frank in his opinions, he has presented at numerous conferences, including FUSE, The Dieline Conference, Packaging that Sells, Omnishopper and PLMA’a annual trade show in Chicago. Durham lives in Charlotte, NC with his wife, Laraine, and two daughters, Olivia and Sarah.