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Industry Needs to Project a Positive Image: Panels

The supermarket industry has a ways to go in terms of improving its image to attract new workers, according to panelists in two different workshop sessions Tuesday at Food Marketing Institute’s Future Connect leadership development conference in Dallas.

“People think our industry is simple [because it appears that way to consumers], but we need to get people to understand how broad this industry really is,” said Don McGeorge, the soon-to-be retired president of Kroger Co., Cincinnati, citing the broad range of functions performed at supermarket companies, from purchasing to logistics and technology.

Janel Haugarth, executive vice president at Supervalu, Minneapolis, said the supermarket industry “is probably the worst at self-promotion.”

“We are an undiscovered great secret,” she said.

She said Supervalu has been trying to improve advancement opportunities at the company using a web portal to help guide workers through career paths.

“We also need to go back to colleges and universities and tell our story,” she said.

Ted Herrod of PepsiCo agreed that the industry needs to project a better image through public relations, especially in light of its efforts on sustainability and other initiatives that resonate with young job-seekers.

“I don’t know if we can put enough emphasis on PR to go out and tell this story better,” he said.

“We need to find ambassadors who go out and recruit for us,” added Tom Corley of Kraft Foods.

Keith Oscamp of Campbell Soup Co. said his company – and supermarkets in general – are seeking to make a positive impact on people’s lives through offering healthful food products, and that is something that can be used as a recruiting tool as well.

Malcolm Calhoun, director of marketing for Calhoun Food Markets, said supermarkets can also emphasize the fact that “no two days are the same” in food retailing. “If you have a career that lasts five days or five years or 25 years, no two days will be the same,” he said.

Leslie Sarasin, president and chief executive officer, FMI, noted that she joined the food industry almost by accident – her first job out of college was with an international seafood firm, but she was attracted by the company’s international aspect, not its food component.

“But I found I loved the food industry,” she said, and ended up spending the rest of her career in the business.