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Dynamic retailer panel highlights FPFC luncheon

Tim Linden

An overflow crowd of well over 200 industry members listened to a dynamic panel of women retail leaders trace their unique paths and leadership philosophies in their specific careers at the Jan. 24 Northern California luncheon meeting of the Fresh Produce & Floral Council.

Myisha Nathaniel, produce category merchant at Raley’s, served as the master of ceremonies and panel moderator expertly drawing out the backgrounds and journeys of these women as they succeed in a difficult business environment representing a new class of leaders. The panel consisted of Sprouts Farmers Market Vice President of Produce Sonja Constable, Fred Meyer Vice President of Merchandising Kendra Doyel and Raley’s Senior Director of Fresh Faith Garrard.

The leaders did not discuss the ins and outs of the produce industry to this produce-specific crowd but rather their roles as leaders in the retail space, how to grow the category and their strategies in getting their respective teams to execute the game plan.

Kendra Doyel of Fred Meyer, Sonja Constable of Sprouts, Faith Garrard of Raley's and Moderator Myisha Nathaniel, also of Raley's
Kendra Doyel of Fred Meyer, Sonja Constable of Sprouts, Faith Garrard of Raley's
and Moderator Myisha Nathaniel, also of Raley's.

Of immediate note was that these three leaders did not come to their executive produce positions in retail in the traditional way, which was starting as courtesy clerks and moving up the ladder, one rung at a time from store level through the produce buying office. Their common thread is that they were in various careers and positions, seemingly being promoted for their ability to lead and innovate as to their specific knowledge of fruits and vegetables or any other grocery store product.

Constable of Sprouts started her career at Mervyn’s, a California general department store, and gained further marketing and merchandising experience at Pottery Barn Kids, PetSmart and Dollar Days before joining Sprouts in 2021 to re-invigorate its signature bulk category after COVID. A year ago, she was named vice president of produce.

With a degree in pharmaceutical sciences, Doyel joined the Kroger Co. as a pharmacist 25 years ago. When she was promoted to pharmacy manager for a specific store, she thought it might be the last promotion she ever received. Instead, she moved to different facets of the company and its banners gaining experience in public relations, government affairs and human resources before moving to merchandising. Today she is involved in marketing, advertising and store design at Fred Meyer, a Kroger brand in the Pacific Northwest.

Garrard began her post-college journey as a customer service rep at a meat packing company in Sacramento. She eventually got into exports and retail sales with Raley’s being one of her customers. She joined the retailer as a category manager of beef and pork and soon became director of meat and seafood. After completing the well-regarded, 16-week intensive Food Industry Management program at the University of Southern California last year, she was almost immediately named senior director of fresh in May of 2023.

The women each noted that mentors and sponsors, as well as their ability to move out of their individual comfort zones, allowed them to succeed and take their careers to unknowable heights and responsibilities.

Constable said in each of her retail stops her strategy was to get her team to focus on the customer. She said learning what the customer wants and delivering is how one succeeds.

“You have to create a moment with the consumer to motivate behavior,” she said.

Speaking specifically of her relatively new position in charge of produce, Constable said it is easy to get intimated when you realize you are leading a team with decades of produce experience while you have very little. But she indicated the key to growth is not the knowledge of the product but the connection to the customer.

Constable added that at Sprouts she expects success if she follows the strategy of “grounding myself to the customer and relying on my team.”

When discussing her leadership philosophy, she advised others to be your “authentic self.” She said it’s impossible to lead if you aren’t true to yourself and the person you are. At another time during the discussion, she offered that early in their careers, employees get promoted by “doing” a good job at whatever task is at hand. As one moves into management, she said you can no longer succeed by “doing.”  At that point, you “stop doing” and your success is determined by leading others.

Doyel learned early — as the manager of a pharmacy — that you have to be a strong advocate for both yourself and your team. She noted that is how you build a cohesive unit. She relayed a time that she spoke up to a top Kroger executive to get her team recognition, which taught her a valuable lesson she has followed throughout her career.

“You have to be comfortable being uncomfortable,” she said. “You can do hard things.”

Doyel said success often involves listening to the voice in the back of her head. “At the end of the day, I am the only person controlling my narrative.”

Garrard said a trick she has learned to pump herself up, if you will, is to talk to herself in the third person. “That helps and works,” she quipped. She relayed that while in the USC food program, she learned another valuable lesson. “My perception (of myself) and reality can be two different things.” Her classmates saw her as a confident leader. She saw something different but vowed to act as they saw her.

Turning specifically to her job as the senior director of fresh, Garrard believes she is in the perfect position. The family-owned chain has a stated philosophy of changing the way the world eats.

“I’m all in,” Garrard quipped. “I think we can change the way the world eats. I love working for a purpose-driven company!”

However, she did admit that these are difficult times and worries about the future of retailing. Garrard said Amazon is no longer just a threat but a significant part of the industry. While she is optimistic about Raley’s place in the marketplace, she said it is a “soft market” and every day low price opertors are tough competitors. Raley’s does not play in that lane.

Asked to project three years down the road, Garrard said retail is changing quicker than that and said forecasting 18 months into the future is difficult enough.

Doyel noted that while the retail grocery industry is “very deeply rooted,” times are changing and indicated success will go to those who adapt. She indicated that every aspect of retailing has to be up for discussion. “Is a store managers job going to be the same (in three years)? I’m not sure it is,” she said.

Doyel also repeated the oft-heard mantra that the world is changing so quickly: “today is the slowest pace for change we will ever experience.”

Constable agreed that everything is changing and the way retail looks three years from now will be different than it is today. But she went back to her mantra, noting that success will be determined by creating moments for the customer. At Sprouts, she said that means convincing the customer that they should shop two markets as the chain doesn’t profess to be an end-all for each customer. “We have to convince them to take that extra trip,” she said, adding that the experience in the store has to be constantly changing because the customer’s wants are constantly changing.

Tim Linden

Tim Linden

About Tim Linden  |  email

Tim Linden grew up in a produce family as both his father and grandfather spent their business careers on the wholesale terminal markets in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Tim graduated from San Diego State University in 1974 with a degree in journalism. Shortly thereafter he began his career at The Packer where he stayed for eight years, leaving in 1983 to join Western Growers as editor of its monthly magazine. In 1986, Tim launched Champ Publishing as an agricultural publishing specialty company.

Today he is a contract publisher for several trade associations and writes extensively on all aspects of the produce business. He began writing for The Produce News in 1997, and currently wears the title of Editor at Large.

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