DALLAS — The supermarket industry needs to do a better job of presenting its image to potential employers, according to several speakers at the Food Marketing Institute's Future Connect leadership development conference here last week.
“Now more than ever, we must leverage the supermarket's reputation as a reliable, steady employer that is expected to be around for the long term,” said Leslie G. Sarasin, president and chief executive officer, FMI, during the annual Speaks presentation last week. “In surveys, students are saying they just want a good, steady paycheck. Most job seekers are searching for a safe and secure employer. Let's capitalize on that fact now.”
The fact that five supermarket companies were on this year's Fortune magazine list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For — Wegmans Food Markets, Nugget Market, Whole Foods Market, Stew Leonard's and Publix Super Markets — proves that, in fact, supermarkets are “great places to work,” she said.
That may be, but supermarkets are not getting the message across, some speakers at the conference pointed out.
Janel Haugarth, executive vice president at Supervalu, Minneapolis, speaking on a panel called “Projecting a Winning Image,” said people in the supermarket industry are “probably the worst at self-promotion.”
“We are an undiscovered great secret,” she said.
Supervalu has been trying to improve advancement opportunities at the company using a Web portal to help guide workers through career paths, she explained, which in turn would make the company more attractive to potential recruits.
“We also need to go back to colleges and universities and tell our story,” she added.
Don McGeorge, the soon-to-be-retired president of Cincinnati-based Kroger Co., noted that the industry has to battle the public's overly simplistic view of supermarkets when seeking to attract potential workers.
“We make the business appear to be simple — however, it is not,” he said. “I think when we are recruiting people we need to open up a wider net to explain to the people who are our potential future just how broad this industry is, how efficient this industry is and how technologically advanced it is relative to some other industries.”
CPG representatives on panels also offered some ideas for improving the industry's reputation as a place to work.
Ted Herrod, vice president and general manager of grocery at 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, senior vice president of sales and logistics for 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 a recruiting tool as well.
The industry's reputation for long workdays can even be used to its advantage, FMI's Sarasin suggested, by leveraging it to accommodate those workers seeking flexibility in their hours.
“Let's use our 24-7 operating schedule to find ways to be more adept at creating work-life balance for our associates and their families,” she said.
Young Generation Y job-seekers may actually have a more positive impression of supermarket careers than some of their predecessors, according to another presenter.
Nancy Childs, professor of food marketing at St. Joseph's University, Philadelphia, said her students appreciate the efforts many food retailers make in areas that are important to young people, such as community involvement, organic and natural-food offerings and sustainability.
“We are green and it matters — it speaks to values that matter to them,” she said. “Trumpet that.”
She said young people are also very interested in food. “To this group of people, food is sexy,” she said.