ARLINGTON, Va. - The new chairwoman of the National Grocers Association says independent retailers are in a good position to grow as consolidation continues among national supermarket chains.
"I believe there will be opportunities for growth for the independent grocer, not in new store construction because there is already too much retail square footage available, but from chains who will decide to or be required to divest as mergers and acquisitions continue," said Carole Bitter in an interview with SN.
Bitter became the new chairwoman of the NGA board at its annual convention and Supermarket Synergy Showcase in Las Vegas last month. She is president and chief executive officer of Friedman's Supermarkets, Butler, Pa., and has served on the NGA's board of directors for five years.
She cited passion for food retailing and having a good relationship with wholesalers as key ingredients for the success for independent retailers. "I think the independent grocer who has survived to this point has a passion for the business that is a formidable asset," she said. "As long as the independent operator has a wholesaler that can create economics in procurement, advertising and other services, we can concentrate our energies on what we do best: marketing to our market; being active in our communities; and creating exciting, well-merchandised, fun places to shop with excellent service in convenient locations."
Bitter brings many years of experience to the NGA in her new role. A third-generation retailer, she has been president and CEO of Friedman's, a 105-year-old company started by her grandfather, since 1976.
"I've been a food retailer all my life," she said. "I started working as a cashier and dairy clerk 45 years ago and did every job in a typical supermarket."
She joined Stop & Shop as a management trainee after college and became the company's first female - and youngest - store manager. She moved on to become a resident supervisor store manager, working in 17 different stores in six years.
"While running the family business, I continued to learn and gain new experiences by serving multiple terms on the boards of FMI, NGA, PFMA, Nextier [Citizens National] Bank and serving 13 years as a member of the board of Nash Finch," she said.
Bitter said she is waiting to meet with Thomas Zaucha, the president and CEO of the NGA, to discuss strategy. "I haven't had time to formulate my goals for NGA," she said, "but I believe the previous chairmen of the board and the NGA staff have done a terrific job growing NGA membership and growing attendance at the annual convention, and defining the mission of the community-based retailer and wholesalers and manufacturers that support us."
Bitter doesn't anticipate making many changes during her tenure. "At this stage, my intent would be to continue the fine progress we have made in recent years," she said. "Financially, NGA is in a strong position, and we have every reason to expect this to continue."