National Grocers Association Concludes 2023 Executive Conference and Public Policy Summit

October 26, 2023

U.S. Sen. Katie Britt helps close out 3-day gathering of more than 250 independent grocery leaders

Washington, D.C. – More than 250 independent grocery executives convened this past week for analysis, insights and discussions about the future of their industry and influence of politics on their business, at the Executive Conference and Public Policy Summit hosted by the National Grocers Association at the Grand Hyatt in Washington, D.C., Oct. 22-25, 2023. Attendance topped that of last year’s executive event.

The conference closed out its general session on Wednesday with “The Future of Retail Leadership,” an exploration of the ability and vision that will be required of the industry’s rising leaders. Moderated by NGA President and CEO Greg Ferrara, the panel featured Erin Horvath, chief operating officer of Providence, R.I.-based grocery wholesaler UNFI; Tim Lowe, president of Winston-Salem, N.C.-based supermarket operator Lowes Foods; and Kurt Schertle, chief operating officer of Sunbury, Pa.-based grocery chain Weis Markets.

Session highlights:

  • Horvath: “Be flexible for the customer, for what they want their experience to be. Know their expectations and be able to match that.”
  • Lowe: “America needs what you have. Brick and mortar’s not dead, [but] technology’s not going away. Be in the right place at the right time. … You can’t be everything to everyone, but you’d better be something to somebody.”
  • Schertle: “I’m bullish on our future. We’ve earned a lot of trust over the last few years … We’re changing to adapt to the newer consumer.”

“The insights shared by some of independent grocery’s most prominent leaders were the perfect way to close this year’s conference, as we all look ahead to the future and how best to keep this industry strong, successful and vibrant,” Ferrara said. “We thank all of our attendees for taking the time to work on their businesses and we appreciate our generous sponsors for their ongoing support of NGA and our industry.” Summit sponsors included AR Marketing, BRdata, Claire’s, The Clorox Co., Ecolab, ECRS, Instacart, Kellanova, Kimberly Clark, KraftHeinz, Mondelez International, Nestle Purina, ReposiTrak, SPINS, TimeForge, UNFI and Upside.

Wednesday morning also featured a keynote address by U.S. Sen. Katie Britt (R-AL), junior senator from Alabama elected in 2022 as the youngest Republican female senator.

The day began with an NGA staff presentation on “The Future of Food and Payments,” including programs such as SNAP online, nutrition incentives, produce prescriptions and healthy benefit cards; and continued with “The Future of Food Safety Regulation and Litigation,” on emerging scientific, regulatory and food safety legal trends; and “The Future of Grocery Distribution,” with moderator Mark Allen, president and CEO of the International Foodservice Distributors Association, leading a panel that included Dan Funk, COO and incoming president/CEO of Associated Wholesale Grocers, Certco President/CEO Amy Niemetscheck, URM Stores President/CEO Ray Sprinkle, and Scott Widtfeldt, EVP of sales, chain natural and independents at KeHE Distributors.

Session highlights:

Food safety: Food industry attorney Shawn Stevens noted that foodborne illness litigation isn’t going away, so take precautions. Audit your suppliers to ensure they have safety measures in place. Train your employees on food safety and traceability procedures, and encourage them to report problems.

Sprinkle on distribution: “We need to work closer with the vendor community and with the retailer to better understand their needs. … The consumer is no longer as brand loyal as they used to be. Our exclusive brands have filled that niche.”

Tuesday’s sessions included presentations from SPINS on “The Future of Consumer Demands” and how grocers can deliver on shoppers’ changing needs; a panel led by Saint Joseph’s University Academy of Food Marketing Executive Director Joe Bivona on “The Future of Talent,” with strategies for attracting, managing and nurturing employees; discussion of category management, assortment and promotions in “The Future of Center Store”; the direction of perimeter categories in “The Future of Fresh”; and “The Future of Retail Policy,” a look at how government influences business operations.

Tuesday afternoon also featured breakout sessions on positioning; general merchandise; front end; traceability; deli, dairy and bakery; and emerging brands. The agenda closed with a presentation by author Randy Ross on “The Future of Relationships,” who asserted that good relationships beget happy employees who then deliver better customer service, solve problems and add value. Tuesday’s luncheon keynote speaker was Daily Beast senior columnist Matt Lewis.

The conference opened midday Monday; more information on the opening lineup can be found here, with a recap of industry awards presented here.

Also convening during the Executive Conference were the Women Grocers of America (WGA) Emerging Female Leader (EFL) share group and Executive Female Leaders (EXFL) Network meetings. EFL met Oct. 24-25 and EXFL convened Oct. 25 and is continuing through midday Oct. 27.

The Executive Conference and Public Policy Summit is NGA’s annual event for executives and their leadership teams to gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace through in-depth forecasts on the future of the industry, outlooks of emerging economic and business trends, and opportunities to strengthen relationships with trading partners throughout the supply chain.