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Krasdale Foods’ Gus Lebiak: Challenging times for grocery industry

‘This has been like no other time I’ve ever seen,’ distribution executive says


As a distributor in metropolitan New York, one of the nation’s largest grocery markets, Krasdale Foods has had a front-row seat to the economic volatility in the industry, namely the high inflation and supply and labor shortages hitting retailers, suppliers and their customers nationwide.

Gus Lebiak, president and chief operating officer of Krasdale since January 2021, said the company is experiencing issues such as a lack of truck drivers, product shortfalls in various categories, packaging shortages and elevated inflation that’s hiking costs for businesses and consumers alike — all amid high demand driven by the pandemic. And like other businesses across the country, the food wholesaler and its customers are grappling with the surge of infections from the Omicron variant of COVID-19.

“It has become a very fluid situation,” Lebiak told Supermarket News about the supply situation in an SN Off The Shelf podcast. “During the beginning of the pandemic, we had a lot of specific categories that were really being hit. Now we’ve seen this move around a lot. It’s not always the same categories. As far as supply issues, back in normal times, you’d be looking at service levels where you might not deliver three out of 100 cases, or 3%. It is [now] not uncommon to see 15% to 20% out-of-stocks. So it has really, really been challenging. And that does a lot to your efficiencies.”

At the same time, Lebiak is working to drive Krasdale’s expansion in its core independent grocery business. Krasdale operates a 325,000-square-foot distribution center in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx and supplies more than 300 independent supermarkets in the Northeast and Florida, mainly in metro New York. Store banners it serves include C-Town, Bravo, Aim and Market Fresh supermarkets; mini-groceries Shop Smart Food Markets and Stop 1 Food Mart; and a host of small retailers, reaching some 2,500 stores overall.

The company, too, offers a private-label program and operates a significant support services, through affiliates Alpha 1 Marketing and Beta II Marketing (marketing and merchandising), Consolidated Supermarket Supply (third-party grocery distribution), KoolTemp Foods (frozen and refrigerated food distribution) and Waverly (financial services).

Lebiak’s 40-year grocery career started with a range of retail roles over 10 years at Mayfair Supermarkets. Then in 1991, he shifted to the wholesale side by joining Twin County Grocers as a buyer/analyst, later becoming a category manager. In 1999, Lebiak assisted in the launch of supermarket cooperative Allegiance Retail Services, serving as director of grocery and then vice president of center store.

Lebiak joined Krasdale Foods in 2012 as vice president of Alpha 1 Marketing and later became senior vice president and COO of that unit. He was named as Krasdale’s president in late 2020 — a tough time to start at the helm of a large operation.

“It has been crazy. I have a supermarket and a buying background. I started in the stores when I was literally 15 years old — that was 1981 — and I’ve been at a few different companies,” he said in the podcast. “There are pieces of this business where you could set your watch by. But I have to say that this has been like no other time I’ve ever seen. And when you add the fact that I’m more involved in the hardcore distribution end than ever before, it has really been a challenge like no other.”

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