July 1 is a big transition date in this industry. It marks a leadership succession at National Grocers Association after 28 years of Tom Zaucha at the helm (see the story here ).
Incoming President and CEO Peter Larkin will need to fill big shoes, because Tom was the association's founder and a longtime advocate for independent grocers.
No need to worry about Peter, however, because he's qualified and ready, as he displayed during an interview last week.
His background, at least on paper, is a remarkably good fit for NGA. He had association leadership experience in running California Grocers Association. His positions at Food Marketing Institute and Kroger Co.  undoubtedly solidified his understanding of retailer needs. He worked on Capitol Hill for a lawmaker, and also had a stint at Phillip Morris that boosted his knowledge of the CPG side.
Peter will begin his tenure with a listening tour around the country, meeting with NGA members and others for their input. He'll get an earful because independents have no lack of challenges on the competitive, legislative, regulatory and other fronts.
But Peter's already ahead of the game. He relays a deep understanding and appreciation of NGA's history and clearly defined mission to serve independents and their wholesalers, “which is one of NGA's greatest strengths” because of Zaucha's leadership, he said. He also emphasizes the need to maintain that role while meeting changing needs.
One way is to enhance NGA's already strong government relations program, “bringing in more resources and expanding the effort, and focusing even more on independent and wholesaler issues,” he said.
Another strategy is to enhance NGA's role in broadcasting how independents contribute to their communities and the economy, making sure this message is fully understood by consumers, the media, and elected and regulatory officials.
NGA also needs to identify and promote the unique competitive advantages of independents in a wide range of areas, from food deserts to locally grown foods, he said.
Peter sees lots of growth opportunities for independents in niches including ethnic, high-end, organic and others. Likewise, he wants to pursue growth for NGA with more aggressive membership outreach and recruitment.
He recognizes that an association's job doesn't end when legislative battles have concluded, such as the recent fight over health care.
“Over the next several years, the real impact of health care legislation will become clearer to independents, and our mission will be to help members understand how it will impact them,” he said.
Peter's listening tour will adapt his thinking and add to his strategies. He has a good shot at being a pivotal figure for the association and independents, a Zaucha for a new era. But he'd probably dispute that, instead claiming he just wants to keep the mission on track.
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