2022 GenNext Awards Honors Young Professionals Reimagining Grocery – Progressive Grocer


Food retail’s future is bright with these honorees determining the industry’s direction for years to come

By Progressive Grocer Staff

A chance to reimagine the future of grocery is at hand, and it begins with the 2022 class of Progressive Grocer’s GenNext honorees.

This year’s GenNexters, all under the age of 40, are showcasing the most promising talent in the food and consumables industry, and it is PG’s honor to shine a light on these fresh faces with such promise. 

Our honorees come from the retailer, supplier and solution provider companies that make up the grocery industry, and they are making a push to define the future of food retail in America. The new capabilities and technologies they have worked on are making a big mark on an array of diverse fields in grocery, from omnichannel marketing to fraud investigations to digital fulfillment to curbside pickup to sustainable food supply chains. Each honoree’s vision is unique, but they all show a deep commitment to inspiring and serving shoppers and their communities. 

The grocery industry is facing tremendous challenges, including inflation, supply chain snags and the endless complexities of digital transformation. But it’s also grappling with a persistent labor crisis that shows no sign of fading away. So it’s comforting to know that there’s a pipeline of leaders emerging to help companies overcome the obstacles associated with all of this change. 

There has never been a more exciting time to be an emerging leader in the grocery industry. While no one can predict the future, we know that this next generation of innovators has the power to design a post-pandemic future that is more customer-centric, more inclusive, more sustainable and more profitable. PG believes that it has never been more important to support the people across the industry who are committing their lives to making a difference in grocery. We are thrilled to have the opportunity to celebrate the achievements of the GenNexters shaping the future of this essential industry. Congratulations to all of this year’s honorees below.

Clara Douglas

Grocery Clerk, AGS Vermont Inc./Jericho Market

Age 25

Douglas is described as a versatile associate who’s adept at many roles within the store. Since joining AGS Vermont in 2016, however, she’s become known for her willingness to jump right into initiatives, like the launch of the grocer’s first e-commerce program in 2019. Under her leadership, e-commerce at that location grew from 10 to more than 80 orders a week and led to the program’s expansion to all of the retailer’s stores. Following that rollout, she tackled another effort, starting cross-training in more departments. While eager to contribute, she’s also patient and calm, bonus qualities amid the intensity of the pandemic.

Joseph Asaro

VP of Customer Development, Botticelli Foods

Age 27

He may be a fourth-generation owner, but Asaro has also worked at other companies, including Chobani and Advantage Solutions, to gain broad insight and knowledge. Returning to Botticelli Foods to lead the retail sales team in 2020, he leveraged his experience to keep products in stock, widen distribution from 5,000 to 15,000 stores and triple the company’s sales revenue. Botticelli is now a national brand, and its authentic premium Italian foods are available at Walmart, Albertsons and Kroger stores, among many food retailers. While growing the business, Asaro values his roots, expressing gratitude to work with his father, the president and CEO. 

Johnathan Kroeger

Senior Product Marketing Manager, Innovation, Bowery Farming

Age 36

Tasked with product innovation, Kroeger went above and beyond traditional leafy greens to spearhead the launch of Bowery’s Strawberry Duopack featuring two separate berry cultivars grown indoors without pesticides. The unique item was an immediate hit, with retail partners regularly selling out of the products or limiting the items to one per customer. In addition to product innovation, he successfully delved into package updates, helping the company launch a peel-and-reseal film lid that reduced plastic use by 45%. As a leader, Kroeger is described as inspiring, creative and collaborative in his efforts to democratize access to fresh produce.

Macaela LeClair

Assistant Category Manager of Floral, Brookshire Grocery Co.

Age 30

LeClair has put up some big numbers since starting her position less than two years ago. She generated record-breaking floral sales for key holidays and led strategies that boosted revenues from $12 million to more than $20 million. Her secret? Staying on top of consumer and market trends and working closely with vendors and partners. Through those collaborations, LeClair continues to innovate, launching a new fresh-cut program that included several Brookshire-exclusive items and opening a new store with a totally different high-end program that’s now the retailer’s top floral department. Her colleagues call her uplifting, ambitious and empowering.

Rebekka Price

Partner Development Supervisor, Brookshire Grocery Co.

Age 27

Viewed by her colleagues as dynamic, adaptable and authentic, Price balances those traits to enhance training programs at Brookshire. The dynamic and ambitious parts of her business personality are evident in the quick pace at which she has elevated training, from improving the onboarding process for all new corporate partners and leaders, to rolling out a new applicant-tracking system for the entire organization, to creating weekly training and coaching communications. Price’s authenticity shone particularly brightly when she helped found the grocer’s store director leadership academy and when she mentored a new team of trainers with backgrounds in education. 

JJ Sanders

Produce Category Manager, Brookshire Grocery Co.

Age 31

If there’s such a thing as career destiny, Sanders exemplifies it. He fell in love with produce at a young age, setting up displays and meeting with mentors who would help hone his passion. Sanders was Reasor’s youngest department director in company history when he became its director of produce. Now at Brookshire, he recently created a new produce department staffed by knowledgeable experts and designed to feel like a farmers market, remodeling every store within two years. Sanders also strives to create new leaders by creating a culture that encourages others to achieve their professional goals.

Reed Immer

Co-Founder and Sales Director, CT Food Launch Pad/Chabaso Bakery

Age 32

It’s a testament to his versatility and multifaceted retail acumen that Immer works as sales director at Chabaso Bakery and as the founder of the incubator CT Food Launch Pad (CTFLP). He excels in both roles, rebuilding Chabaso’s sales team to make the company’s artisan bakery products available in almost all major retailers in the Northeast, and leveraging his experience to help small Connecticut food startups like a Ghanaian hot sauce brand get on the shelves at Stop & Shop. Thanks to Immer, Chabaso grew its business by double digits in 2021 and 2022, while CTFLP has secured additional funding from the Nutmeg State.

Kenzie Steel

Omnichannel Marketing Director, Daily Crunch

Age 30

Steel proves the point that internships are valuable for both parties. She helped build the snack company Daily Crunch during her internship in 2020, at a dynamic time in the COVID-affected marketplace. After receiving her MBA from Vanderbilt University, Steel became the firm’s first official employee and subsequently assisted in growing the business tenfold through her efforts in digital advertising, website design, traditional marketing, email marketing and more. A native Texan, she helped secure a new account at Texas-based Central Market and is described as a strategic leader who will “go the extra mile on everything she does.”

Jessica Bernheim

Director of Brand Marketing, Daring

Age 28

You might say that Bernheim has been branching out in bringing plant-based brands to life. Following a successful stint as head of new product development at Upfield — where she launched that company’s Country Crock plant butter and plant-based whipping cream, among other items — she joined Daring. At the plant chicken company, Bernheim leads strategy and innovation and has already made great inroads, as Daring recently completed a Series C funding round and expanded its presence in Walmart stores. The Williams College graduate is also committed to uplifting people and communities in other ways, including her support of nonprofit organizations fighting food insecurity. 

Amber Roberts

VP, Enterprise, Drinks.com

Age 39

This former head of marketplace at Kroger got into the wine delivery business at a pivotal time, meeting the needs of consumers who were still largely at home. Running Drinks.com’s e-commerce programs for some of the country’s largest companies, she leads a team that creates and maintains strategic partner relationships. Roberts recently oversaw the launch of four new branded nationwide wine programs, expanded existing partner programs to accelerate orders nearly 70% year over year and streamlined client communications. Her nominators call her innovative, creative and obsessed — in a good way — with helping partners gain competitive advantages.

Zachary Lane

Director of Retail Systems, Fareway Stores

Age 35

With a clear command of the complexities involved in supporting a 130-store retail chain, Lane has demonstrated leadership throughout the planning and implementation of Fareway’s employee discount program. He was integral in the design of a lean yet reliable solution to achieve the requirements in a manner that surpassed expectations. His leadership also proved valuable on a PayPal/Venmo deployment project. Despite typical early-adopter challenges, Lane demonstrated how being an IT professional with excellent communication skills can have a positive impact throughout a project.

Corwin Heatwole

Founding Farmer and CEO, Farmer Focus

Age 39

Heatwole’s new farming model has made family farming viable again for a new generation, helping farmers return to ownership from the brink of bankruptcy. In January 2022, Heatwole was invited to join President Biden at a roundtable to discuss competition in the meat industry, during which Heatwole advocated for independent farmers and explained how Farmer Focus creates an equitable business model. The USDA also requested Corwin’s input on policies to support “investments and opportunities for meat and poultry processing infrastructure.” With Heatwole’s input, the department introduced a new framework to develop a financing solution for turnkey processing to assist companies in bringing businesses to scale.

Ofek Lavian

Co-Founder and CEO, Forage

Age 30

In his twenties, Lavian was product manager for payments at Uber, where he powered the global payments platform, responsible for processing tens of billions of dollars in payments volume in 60-plus countries. He also led the payments and commerce product teams at Instacart, where he built the company’s core payments infrastructure and launched multiple products that drove billions in incremental impact during the company’s peak growth years. At Instacart and now at Forage, Lavian has focused on helping 42 million Americans purchase their online groceries with SNAP benefits. His experience enabled Forage to help grocers and other merchants accept EBT payments online. 

Ashley Alden

VP of Merchandising, Foxtrot

Age 34

Since joining Foxtrot in 2018, Alden has grown its product assortment from approximately 500 SKUs to nearly 3,200 SKUs, including new categories like grocery, produce and gifting. She oversees the annual Up & Comers program, reviewing thousands of applications, taste-testing hundreds of products and hand-selecting the best products, with an eye toward the most game-changing brands. Alden is hands-on every step of the way, from product selection, to how it’s displayed in stores, to distribution and inventory management. Also, amid supporting Foxtrot’s growth to 21 stores — and counting — she grew her team from two merchants to 10-plus.

Dorian Blanco

Assistant Store Manager, The Fresh Market

Age 30

Metrics-driven Blanco has demonstrated leadership in many ways, whether it’s through community relations activities, training team members in the bakery to hand-decorate cupcakes to increase revenues to the category, decorating the stores and display tables, or developing bakery strategies to upsell pies on Pi Day. During the Great Resignation, she addressed the store’s staffing issues by personally going to shopping centers and malls to look for and attract talent for The Fresh Market. Blanco handed out cards with QR codes to automatically take people to the retailer’s site, helping to bring on several new team members in this way.

Gerrick Polinsky

E-Commerce Manager of Curbside and Catalog, The Fresh Market

Age 30

Polinsky took over primary responsibility for starting up the Instacart e-commerce platform for The Fresh Market during the start of the pandemic. Due to company turnover, he was singularly on point for implementing the catalog integration, IT integration and operational integration of the program, working with c-level executives of each function in merchandising, finance, operations, IT and marketing to successfully launch the e-commerce program while working from home. Because of Polinsky’s ability to work cross-functionally with senior executives and peers internally and Instacart’s top executives externally, he grew the business to $100 million-plus in its first year.

Alex Jackson

Director of Sales, Frieda’s Branded Produce

Age 32

Excelling at coalition building, Jackson is a produce industry growth driver and the youngest professional ever to graduate from the United Fresh Leadership Program. Her ability to leverage inclusivity, along with a charismatic approach to sales, drives a team of Boomers, Gen Xers, Millennials and Gen Zers to deliver results for their retail and foodservice partners. Jackson’s strategic planning vision led her team to embrace a coordinated five-step stage gate process, evaluating Frieda’s products and future growth opportunities for branded produce. This resulted in clarity and direction on product launches going forward, ensuring that consumer appeal matches product positioning. 

Will Regan

Strategic Planning and Commercial Finance Director, The Giant Co.

Age 38

Regan and his team leverage innovative tools to make continuous improvements. For example, among the team’s accomplishments are enhancements regarding sales analysis, price investment reporting and analysis, sales/margin volume/rate mix reporting, and planning processes. None of these improvements would be possible without Regan’s steadfast leadership. As an active chair of the company’s CARE business resource group, he helped establish leads across all 12 regions within the organization and create a community of caregivers to drive a supportive work culture. Regan is also the chair of EPIC, a new group for emerging professionals in the Carlisle, Pa., area. 

Emily Massi

Healthy Living Merchandising Manager, Giant Food

Age 28    

Breaking department silos, Massi has compelled cross-functional leaders across the organization to evaluate business priorities through the lens of healthy living. For example, after reviewing her creative and insights-driven proposal for nutritionist-approved, chef-inspired prepared meals, the merchandising group gave Massi a leadership role on the meal solutions task force. She’s also a champion of the Guiding Stars nutrition guidance system and Social and Environment Impact Ratings, educating internal teams and customers on how to identify products that are both good for you and for the planet. Further, Massi inspires listeners of the “Healthy Living by Giant” podcast with seasonal product recommendations.

Matt Rothman

Manager Early Talent Development, Hannaford Supermarkets

Age 35

Rothman started his career with Hannaford Supermarkets, now a local brand of Ahold Delhaize USA, 15 years ago as an in-store trainee, and over the years, he has held various strategic leadership roles. With a focus on recruiting and developing Hannaford’s future leaders, he has been instrumental in identifying new processes and technologies to drive improved efficiencies, communication and overall execution at the store level. Rothman has worked with critical stakeholders to spearhead technology initiatives, and today he leads the development of Hannaford’s early talent pipeline to ensure that leaders are being nurtured over the long term. 

Abby Byers

VP, Delicatessen, Hy-Vee Inc.

Age 35

As Hy-Vee’s first-ever VP of delicatessen, Byers is responsible for managing the operations of more than 285 delicatessen departments, along with building and leading a team of 10 regional deli supervisors. She challenges her employees to build memorable experiences through sampling, product storytelling and product recommendations, and is always at the forefront of the latest category trends. Byers was instrumental in revitalizing Hy-Vee’s Long Island Deli department, which has led to increased sales that continue to grow. She also developed the Hy-Vee Charcuterie Certification Workshop Series, a best-in-class certification program tailored to employees with a strong passion 
for charcuterie.

Scott Copeland

Group VP, Auditing, Hy-Vee Inc.

Age 32

Copeland began his career with Hy-Vee in 2010 in the internal auditing department before moving to the accounting side, and he has since held several financial reporting positions. In his current role, he works closely with Hy-Vee’s operations leaders, loss prevention department and top executives to identify key areas of focus and ways to streamline operations, increase profitability and recover lost funds. Copeland helped company leaders determine profitable COVID-19 vaccine incentives to help attract more patients, and he has leveraged his pharmacy expertise to identify new ways to recover funds and make the pharmacies’ operations more profitable.

Laura Edwards

Director, Employee Development, Hy-Vee Inc.

Age 38

Edwards oversees training and development programs for Hy-Vee employees at all levels, and a major part of her focus is Hy-Vee University, which is designed to build a pipeline for the next generation of department and store leaders. She spearheaded an initiative to redesign the company’s core training programs and also launched new certification opportunities for employees who specialize in beer, charcuterie and seafood. Working with Hy-Vee’s VP of produce, Edwards launched digital produce identification flashcards and a gamified training course for new employees to strengthen product knowledge and improve customer service.

Clinton Ellis

Assistant VP, Data and Media Partnerships, Hy-Vee Inc.

Age 33

Ellis began his career with Hy-Vee while he was still in high school and is now responsible for building a framework to collect, store and access high-quality data that is used throughout the company. As Hy-Vee’s data strategy accelerates, he and his teams have been key in elevating the quality of data and data capabilities that help support and guide the retailer’s growth. Ellis has also spearheaded the rollout of several complex projects that will set the stage for Hy-Vee’s future in data, and over the past year, he has led the implementation of Hy-Vee’s new data catalog, which acts as a centralized repository of the company’s data assets.

Matt Hagewood

VP, Digital Development, Hy-Vee Inc.

Age 37

Hagewood oversees a diverse group of managers, engineers, product owners, delivery leads and quality assurance technicians to drive Hy-Vee’s digital-first approach to grocery retail. His digital health-and-wellness team kept the retailer’s online COVID-19 vaccination appointment scheduler updated throughout the various phases of the pandemic, which required major changes as each vaccine became available and various age groups were added to the list of eligible patients. When divisions within Hy-Vee expanded, Hagewood led the effort to make sure that all systems were synced and successful, and he has helped create a scalable structure and foundation for future web and mobile development.

Travis Hoover

VP, Information Technology; Chief Data Officer, Hy-Vee Inc.

Age 39

Through his chief data officer role, Hoover is tasked with harnessing the mountains of available data about shoppers and their behavior to produce pinpointed, personalized marketing that drives bottom-line results. He has helped lead efforts to modernize the point-of-sale system governing fuel sales, and he tackled the procurement process to help the company improve replenishment and accuracy. Hoover joined Hy-Vee in 1998 as a part-time courtesy clerk in Burlington, Iowa, and rose steadily through the IT ranks after joining that department.

Andy Schroeder

VP, Accounting, Hy-Vee Inc.

Age 35

Leading a team of 160 individuals, Schroeder is responsible for producing monthly financial statements and overseeing accounts payable, accounts receivable and payroll for Hy-Vee’s $12 billion grocery business. He started in the internal auditing department in 2009 before transitioning to accounting, where he held various management roles, and throughout his career, Schroeder has proved himself to be a problem solver and a champion for technology. Since he’s taken over the VP role, his most significant achievement has been expanding Hy-Vee’s finance team in an effort to be more forward-thinking with predictions that are backed by data to help guide the company toward continued growth.

Kelly Stevenson

Talent Supervisor, Hy-Vee Inc.

Age 35

Stevenson first started working for Hy-Vee as a high school student 20 years ago and rose through the ranks by taking on various leadership roles. Today, she oversees and supports 30 retail stores with training, hiring, onboarding and human resources assistance. Stevenson has played a leading role in modernizing the company’s training curricula through digital worksheets and videos, and she recently led the development of digital department scorecards. In 2021, she spearheaded training for Hy-Vee Scan & Go by diving headfirst into learning the ins and outs of the system, which allowed her to develop thorough training materials for associates.

Kayla Winstead

Assistant VP,  Project Planning and Strategy, Hy-Vee Inc.

Age 33

As an emerging leader in Hy-Vee’s IT department, Winstead has worked on various teams within the technology space, including finance, specialty pharmacy and point of sale. Today, she leads and manages project organization for a portfolio of 20-30 large-scale enterprise projects and is responsible for organizing them and determining each one’s process to be shared with company stakeholders. Most recently, Winstead and her team helped bring to life the Hy-Vee Seasons lifestyle magazine through a digital, interactive kiosk, and they also helped manage the launch of Hy-Vee’s three new e-commerce ship-to-home websites, which were stood up in only three months. 

Max Winstead

Group VP, Supply Chain and Network Infrastructure, Hy-Vee Inc.

Age 34

Overseeing all of Hy-Vee’s IT infrastructure and teams and leading more than 70 employees, Winstead has already become a mentor to those around him. Having originally joined the company while still in high school, he began his career working at a retail store, where he touched nearly every department and learned about the company’s day-to-day operations. Over the course of his IT career, Winstead has helped implement various projects relating to Hy-Vee’s network infrastructure, among them the deployment of a new firewall to enhance the company’s network security, and has advocated for the modernization of IT supply chain development practices.

Muntazir Mehdi

Senior Product Manager, Invafresh

Age 38

Considered a visionary force in leading the development of Invafresh’s analytics solution, Mehdi strives to provide value to retail customers, not just today, but also in the future as the company’s Fresh Retail Platform evolves. He and his team provide retailers with consultancy and data-driven decision assistance to reduce food waste and improve the freshness of products sold to end consumers. His deep understanding of the macro challenges facing retailers and of their needs, as well as his innovative approach to how technology can be used to deliver solutions to those challenges, has made him a key player at Invafresh. 

Michelle Aikens

Drug GM Sales Manager, The Kroger Co./Quality Food Centers (QFC)

Age 33

Aikens has created a unique, locally tailored merchandising plan for QFC that connects with the community and customer base. Her out-of-the-box thinking and ability to powerfully merchandise product enable her to tell a compelling story, and she uses this skill to appeal to upscale customers. Because of limited space in many QFC stores, she has come up with creative solutions to ensure execution, including a permanent HBC end cap program, which has resulted in an incremental $56,000 in sales. Aikens has also innovated and expanded QFC’s small houseware sets through racks, displays and seasonal programs, for a $21,000 sales lift. 

Enxhi Asani

Store Director, The Kroger Co./Mariano’s 

Age 28

Promoted to director of Mariano’s Store #526 in fall 2021 with the holidays fast approaching, Asani leapt into action, ensuring that her store placed No. 1 in division ID sales during Thanksgiving week. Her location also became known for its breathtaking floral displays — thanks to her previous experience as a floral field specialist — resulting in a division-leading 22% sales over budget. After seven months of building a strong foundation and culture that bred more consistent growth in ID sales at #526, Asani was appointed director of a large-format, high-volume store, where she is further demonstrating her positive impact on Mariano’s business.

Kerya Ball

HR Data Governance and Analytics Manager, The Kroger Co.

Age 26

Ball’s delivery of just-in-time reporting to support immediate needs and data automation techniques has proved impactful to Kroger. She rebuilt the company’s training and development PowerBi compliance dashboard to provide real-time accurate information on associate status regarding such important trainings as diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and personal safety, thereby enabling leaders to quickly ensure that their teams are fully trained. Her work has now expanded to a suite of reporting that includes dynamic updates on safety, training and DEI, as well as measuring the execution and compliance of a new microlearning app, Fresh Start, used by Kroger’s front-line teams. 

Jenni Brinkley

Store Manager, The Kroger Co./Ruler Foods

Age 27

Having started out at Ruler Foods as a clerk while going to college full-time, Brinkley quickly rose to shift manager and upon graduation was offered an assistant manager role at a larger-volume store. After starting a family, she returned to Ruler Foods as a store manager — a role she recently left — in which capacity she welcomed trainees from across her district, traveled to help other areas and completed special tasks while keeping her store on track. Brinkley maintained low turnover by making solid hiring decisions and ensuring that her associates were properly trained, given feedback and made to feel part of the team.

Michael Clark

Senior Advanced Software Engineering Manager, The Kroger Co.

Age 36

Clark built an internal tool called Abacus that’s still in use at Kroger today. A custom platform enabling the company to test a hypothesis for the front end user experience without any actual impact, Abacus allows product managers, front end stakeholders and other leaders to run experiments, gather results and streamline operations. Currently guiding the mobile and web tech platform that powers the Kroger website, Clark is also building out the grocer’s new NextGen platform, an architectural perspective leading first-generation integration for the native app. He’s an alumnus of Northern Kentucky University, where he teaches as an adjunct professor and lecturer. 

Alison Cook

Clinical Operations Manager, The Kroger Co.

Age 33

Cook’s team at the University of Cincinnati’s College of Pharmacy developed an automated omnichannel engagement experience for patients to receive medication therapy management services. Through telephonic engagements with patients, her team at Kroger Health’s Center for Advanced Community Care completes comprehensive medication reviews, eliminates gaps in care, converts patients to 90-day refill therapies and performs other targeted interventions, with all work visible to the patient’s local pharmacy team in real time, so continuity of care is maintained. This not only delivers value to patients by providing them with a superior clinical service, but also delivers results to Kroger’s bottom line.

Michael Cypret

Store Leader, The Kroger Co./Fry’s Food Stores

Age 33

Recently promoted to his present position, Cypret focuses on making a meaningful impact in his community. As a member of Fry’s Young Professionals associate resource group, he devotes time outside of his regular duties to giving back to his community; this includes volunteering at a local food bank and supporting Fry’s annual backpack donation drive benefiting underprivileged youth. He’s also a member of Fry’s health and wellness committee, which supports the mental health and well-being of the supermarket chain’s associates. As a store leader, Cypret models servant leadership and helps his employees develop their skills and remove barriers to advancement. 

Marissa DeMaria

Customer Communications Manager, The Kroger Co./Nashville Division

Age 32

During her nearly 10-year career at the grocer, DeMaria, a second-generation member of the Kroger family, has been presented with many opportunities to advocate for the needs of the company’s associates and customers. One notable example was her two-year appointment to the board of directors for the state of Virginia’s Retail Merchants Association, where she represented Kroger and worked on collective social, agricultural and economic business issues. DeMaria’s projects have ranged from leading cross-functional teams on custom branding efforts to being a voice for Kroger divisions on enterprise teams during the rollout of Master Brand, an all-encompassing 360-degree brand transition.

Nicki Fickau

Division Human Resources Leader, The Kroger Co./Roundy’s

Age 37

As an HR leader, Fickau intrinsically puts people first. In addition to caring for the grocer’s employees, though, she is also quite customer-centric, making decisions to ensure that stores best meet shopper needs. In 2021, she overcame challenges in a tough staffing market by using a team approach to hiring, leading and coaching a group of seven HR pros to achieve the division’s goals for that year’s continuous high-performance cycle. Fickau’s efforts led to a promotion to her current role and her involvement in Roundy’s Better Together HR reorganization. She has been praised for leading by example and being solution-oriented and diplomatic. 

Craig Gliva

Category Manager, Packaged Deli, The Kroger Co.

Age 37

Combining passion, charisma and motivation, Gliva is an innovator in the packaged deli space. He has launched 215 Our Brands products from concept to shelf over the past three years and was behind the successful introduction of the deli’s freshly made tortilla chips. Through these and other accomplishments, Gliva guided the packaged deli area to a record year in 2021 with double-digit growth. Always customer-driven, he takes every opportunity to mentor and lead others, according to his nominators. His best attributes extend beyond the store, too, including his involvement in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.  

Zack Howard

Store Leader, The Kroger Co./Smith’s

Age 34

Like many grocery leaders, Howard started out in the business as a teenager at the courtesy desk. He made a name for himself by stepping in when needed and relocating a few times to help struggling stores succeed. Now at the helm of one of the Smith’s banner’s top stores, he led the location to have the division’s best in-stock rate and set the example for a store manager walk for the entire company. Passionate about sustainability, Howard donated more than 5,000 pounds of food through Kroger’s food rescue program and spurred his store to serve as the retailer’s rollout location for waste integration. 

Robert Hughes

Produce-Floral Merchandising Field Manager, The Kroger Co./Ralphs

Age 37

It’s easy to say that this GenNext leader blooms where he’s planted, but that adage is actually pretty apt. Hughes brings an undeniable freshness to his role, using his early background in produce and retail-honed leadership skills to drive $980 million in sales at Ralphs. Among other achievements, he took the banner from zero to 110 stores producing value-added in-store cut fruit, recognizing the need to make that task faster and easier by ordering pre-skinned varieties. Before taking on his current position, Hughes was a Ralphs store manager in the Los Angeles area and won Store Leader of the Year in 2020.

Patrick Knuckles

Fraud Investigations Manager, The Kroger Co.

Age 30

Given the hit that grocers often take on fraud, Knuckles has an important role in protecting the Kroger business and its customers.  He was hired to build out Kroger Personal Finance’s antifraud program and went on after that project to share information with internal and external audiences about preventing product scams. He also created a fraud awareness brochure that’s available at all of Kroger’s money services desks, and for Kroger team members, he updated antifraud training programs. Knuckles also saved the company from major financial losses by identifying risks within the fuel program related to loyalty gaming activity through fuel points.

Dana Longworth

E-Commerce Business Owner of Innovation, The Kroger Co.

Age 38

E-commerce is a two-way street, in theory as well as in execution. As a key player in Kroger’s e-commerce operations team, Longworth looks at the digital channel from both the shopper and retailer perspective. As the pandemic accelerated e-commerce, she rapidly opened locations at a clip of 160 stores in three months and added enhancements to drive costs for users and the retailer. Longworth, who began her work at Kroger by leading the national rollout of Kroger Delivery across more than 2,700 stores, continues to innovate by reducing wait times and helping transform the e-commerce labor model to standardize demand on store teams. 

Brandon McKeller

Store Leader, The Kroger Co.

Age 34

McKeller’s path to store leader began when he joined the company as a clerk in 2008. As he steadily moved ahead in his career, he took on several roles in which he built and finessed his leadership and service skills. At his present high-volume location in Indianapolis — not far from where he grew up — he applies what he learned at Kroger’s Leadership Excellence Acceleration Program and is a go-to resource across the division for his operations expertise. Active in Kroger resource groups and subcommittees, McKeller prioritizes mentorship not only among store associates, but also within the community he serves.

Billy Milton

Store Leader, The Kroger Co.

Age 35

He’s known for his celebratory huddles and signature hashtag, #GreatPeopleWorkHere.  This enthusiasm carries through to other aspects of Milton’s leadership, from developing talent to taking on additional challenges. His store in Hampton, Va., garners $1 million per week in sales — well above the $800,000 in projected sales when the location opened — and is third in the enterprise in end-to-end product sustainment, a new Kroger initiative. Milton has been deemed a pillar of the community for forging relationships with nonprofits, community organizers and law enforcement, and is described by his nominators as energetic, excited and a veritable “Energizer Bunny.”

Janquita Oliver

Store Leader, The Kroger Co.

Age 36

Although Kroger is Oliver’s first and only employer, she has gotten to know the ins and outs of the business by taking on several roles since being hired as a cashier. Now a store leader, she leverages that experience and balances it by creating an atmosphere of trust and engagement. A mentor who operates by an open-door policy, Oliver is also the finance and event-planning chair of the Young Professionals associate resource group and a prolific volunteer for several Kroger-sponsored events. Her nominators note that she seeks out growth and change, and is an inspirational leader for younger generations to follow. 

Jennifer Owens

Service Owner, Human Resources Shared Services, The Kroger Co.

Age 39

Described as an active change agent, Owens continually seeks out ways to improve and transform the business. Additionally, since she’s worked in health and human resources functions, she has a keen sense of people. These qualities proved invaluable during the pandemic, when she helped create automated solutions to answer questions and schedule vaccine appointments. Meanwhile, to centralize service for Kroger’s 430,000 associates, she led the launch of the company’s first all-employee help desk. Despite these professional challenges, Owens managed to graduate magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree from Purdue University.

Joab Padilla

Store Leader, The Kroger Co./Fry’s Food Stores

Age 30

Once a month (on his day off), Padilla hosts his “Build Your Future with Fry’s” day, inviting associates to sign up for one-on-one meetings so he can walk through the tools and resources that the company offers to better help them on their career paths. Since Padilla’s in-store career day concept has been such a success, the HR team followed his lead and now implements something similar in every store in the district. Padilla’s store also continues to be in the top tier of sales in the division, well below the district average for shrink, and tops in increasing sales over last year. 

April Pence

Communications and Engagement Manager — Merchandising and Marketing, The Kroger Co.

Age 39

As communications lead for Community Immunity Giveaway, Pence created a strategy to promote this groundbreaking program that encouraged associates and customers to get vaccinated by offering chances to win prizes like one of five $1 million checks, or groceries for a year. She worked with internal business partners to create clear rules and promotions for entering, as well as powerful storytelling to highlight winners and demonstrate the importance of COVID-19 vaccines. This project garnered attention from the White House for Kroger’s role in advocating for vaccination. Pence also developed the communication strategy for Kroger’s Framework for Action: Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

Sabrina Poulson

Division Perishable Sales Manager, The Kroger Co./Smith’s

Age 25

Poulson created a one-stop shop for meat leaders with relevant information that’s optimized to work with the Kroger FEED application; this tool allows meat leaders to quickly access from their phones everything they need, without their having to search. She also created a master list to make analyzing distributions efficient and accurate, ensuring that stores receive the right amount of product for sale promotions. After partnering with the retail operations team on a shrink initiative to identify cost and setup issues that create undue shrink, she helped identify north of $800,000 in under-relieved cost in the first month alone. Poulson is also a startup member of Smith’s Women’s Edge associate resource group. 

Demetria Price

Senior Infrastructure Manager, The Kroger Co./Ruler Foods

Age 33 

Price advocates for innovation, leading the charge in securing pilots to test the latest store technology at Ruler Foods. Due to her persistence and close relationships with cross-functional business units, Ruler was chosen to pilot the newest in-stock program. This was important for the division because its stores are smaller than a typical Kroger location. Price also secured pilots at Ruler for open-source telephony and self-checkout XXL installations. Additionally, when Kroger upgraded its capital management and purchase order capability, Price and a peer became subject-matter experts on the new system and trained the entire division technology organization.

Joseph Puchala

Director, Forecasting Center of Excellence, The Kroger Co.

Age 35

Puchala created a Forecasting Center of Excellence from scattered and fragmented teams across the business. These efforts led to expertise being centralized and provided the ability to consult on best practices for the rest of the organization, while also building world-class forecasting solutions. Puchala built tools and teams that directly led to Kroger having better store demand forecasts and, subsequently, better on-shelf availability. While winning in forecasting innovation, Puchala has made a significant investment in his community and the technology industry by forming the Men 4 Equality group within Women’s Edge at Kroger to increase men’s engagement in workplace diversity and inclusion.

Stella Reed

Store Leader, The Kroger Co.

Age 37

To alleviate staffing issues, Reed looked into resources that were previously underused. This led to a new relationship with the local Salvation Army that allowed her to get the word out that jobs were available for anyone willing to be a friendly face for the community. This supported many local individuals who were without stable housing and using the Salvation Army’s shelter services. Through this partnership, Reed gained new candidates to staff her store, but even more importantly, she showed her support of the local community, providing a new start and hope for many who didn’t have other employment opportunities.

Aidan Reiser

Internship Program Manager, The Kroger Co.

Age 29

Reiser aligned and guided divisions in a single retail internship strategy while allowing for local customization of various banners. She created an internship program that benefits both interns and division leaders and in turn had a strong collective buy-in, resulting in an industry-aligned conversion rate of 50% and higher for interns hired as full-time associates. Recognized as the Center of Recruiting Excellence CoRE Recruiter of the Year and CoRE Recruiting Supervisor of the Year, Reiser plays a key role in two company transformations, leading the creation of almost 400 associate appointment letters for end-to-end fresh merchandising and Kroger Technology & Digital.

Ashley Reuter

Business Owner, Off Site Fulfillment, The Kroger Co.

Age 34

In 2021, Reuter helped roll out an associate experience overhaul for e-commerce in-store technology. She worked closely with many different tech teams to create an experience that was better than the current in-store system through modernization. Reuter also led the effort to enable fulfillment centers to provide store pickup, which helped grow sales and improve the shopping experience and costs. She and her team were in stores each day, working alongside the associates to capture what was working, what wasn’t and overall feedback. Traveling across the country, Reuter created training documents and hosted training sessions with different stores and divisions to assist with rollouts. 

Britney Ricker

Division Promo Planner, The Kroger Co.

Age 33

Ricker developed the Marketing Download, a platform that serves as a foundation for Kroger’s daily communications. She also co-created the Marketing Connection meeting, a monthly gathering that brings leaders from outside the department to showcase potential career paths for associates. Ricker has used her talents to coordinate several quarterly events to give associates even more exposure to individuals on the team. Examples include a puzzle contest, a one-to-one lunch/break hangout and a food/book drive competition. She has managed initiatives in many categories, most notably the 2019 Master Brand Launch — the largest marketing campaign in Kroger’s history. 

Stephanie Turner

Director of Grocery Merchandising, Edible II, The Kroger Co.

Age 36

Because her feedback and perspective are so valuable, Turner is asked to pilot many new systems and processes. She championed the grocery Our Promise team, breaking down barriers and improving job performance and work-life balance for associates. While overseeing the international categories, Turner led the grocery department’s multicultural growth efforts. She built department strategies, including relevant assortment and promotions, and maximized supplier investments. Turner created new merchandising standards to better serve and engage Hispanic shoppers. She also represented Kroger in the Mortar program to coach minority business owners for success in retail.

Amanda Wander    

Senior Manager of Product Management, The Kroger Co.

Age 37

Since starting her career with Kroger as an intern, Wander has evolved with the industry to add value and train business analysts to compare the grocer’s human resources processes across retail, manufacturing and the company’s various divisions. According to co-workers, her greatest demonstration of innovation, leadership and commitment to the industry has been the way in which she led improvements and challenged people to think about Kroger’s benefits strategy. Outside of work, Wander is involved in the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Cincinnati, whose mission is to enhance communities, educate families and celebrate the lives of those with Down Syndrome.

Amanda Lai

Food Retail Practice Leader and Senior Manager, McMillanDoolittle

Age 29

In the span of five years, Lai has earned three promotions and now leads McMillanDoolittle’s food retail practice. She is an emerging thought leader in the industry, representing McMillanDoolittle as a contributor to leading news outlets and publications. At the onset of the pandemic, Lai was integral in quickly pivoting the company to create virtual content, leveraging personal camera equipment and self-taught video-editing skills to develop McMillanDoolittle’s digital presence. Lai also works directly with a leading South Korean retailer and has been an integral part of standing up her client’s functional teams as it established its U.S. business.

Jordan Clark

Director of Compensation, Meijer

Age 35

Clark’s compensation team is responsible for ensuring that the Meijer and Fresh Thyme Market compensation programs are competitive to market and compliant with applicable laws and regulations. He designs and manages programs that include hourly and salary plans, annual bonus plans, and long-term incentive plans for 70,000 team members. A key project that he designed and implemented was a shift to performance pay in lieu of an hourly wage in certain distribution buildings. According to colleagues, Clark is seen as a role model by many, specifically for his ability to self-develop through leadership experiences, charting a path, openly receiving developmental feedback and building a network of resources.

Ben Hamlin

Director, Own Brand Food, Meijer

Age 37

Proving himself to be a leader in Meijer’s own-brand space, Hamlin has developed and executed best practices for the retailer’s private label business planning while also aligning and executing guidelines for each individual brand. He specifically had a big influence on the Frederik’s brand launch by identifying new products and fully following through with their execution. Previously, Meijer’s focus was on comparing private label product ingredient lists with national brands, but Hamlin’s data focus has helped create a new way of thinking by relying more on quality assessments via customer insights and other information. 

Mike Klomp

Senior Store Planning Manager, Meijer

Age 33

Klomp’s leadership helped drive transparency and alignment in developing the new Meijer grocery format, and the design was finalized under an expedited schedule that will enable two pilot stores to open in this fiscal year. He has led Meijer’s supercenter prototype ideation project and has also implemented a robust new store prototype management program, both of which have modernized the civil and supercenter planning process. Standard operating procedures are in place to routinely collect feedback on building designs for the purpose of continuous improvement, and feedback is solicited from internal and external stakeholders to ensure that design evolves to meet current needs. 

Jess Murray

Market Director, Meijer

Age 31

Through her work as market director, Murray has improved customer pickup times by 32%, achieved the second-best customer wait time for digital pickups in the company year to date, improved 25% in customer metrics, and been No. 1 in the company for both on-shelf availability and mCulture, the grocer’s internal culture survey. She is also an advocate for her team and has worked to identify talent; provide team members with education, training and mentorship; and promote team members into leadership. Murray serves as chair of the Western Region Team Member Resource Group, in which role she works to develop the next generation of female leaders.

Courtnie Sanchez

Store Director, Meijer

Age 34

After starting as a part-time team member 14 years ago, Sanchez held various positions, including line lead, store director development, fresh specialist and market asset protection manager. As a solutions-oriented leader, she identified ways to partner and innovate to reduce food waste and further support the communities that her store serves. Sanchez’s leadership within a resource group has provided her with opportunities to identify and develop future talent, and co-workers say that she provides authentic space for team members to share their various cultures, as well as including in her store a world map highlighting the more than 20 languages spoken by team members at the location.

Paul Thompson    

International Director of Logistics, Meijer

Age 39

Thompson and his logistics teams and merchants have helped build stronger relationships and open lines of communication with vendors to directly address out-of-stocks and accompanying sales impacts. He provides the organization with a weekly snapshot of what’s taking place in the transportation industry and its impact on Meijer, and as a result of his quick actions, in-stocks have improved by more than 25% due to products arriving on time. Colleagues consider Thompson a fierce and passionate competitor who loves to drive change that leads to company growth. 

Jimmie Vargas    

Store Director, Meijer

Age 38

Starting as a store director in the midst of the pandemic, Vargas knew that investing in people and building a team that felt like a family would be key to his success. He built a sense of belonging among his team members through special recognitions and celebrations, as well as urging them to engage with the community to expand their impact. Vargas improved his internal-culture survey score by more than 58%, making his location one of the top three most improved stores throughout the chain, and his store also saw the highest Shop & Scan usage in Q1 and increased on-shelf availability by nearly 10%. 

Lara Werner

Digital Fulfillment Manager, Meijer

Age 31

Werner led the creation of Meijer’s digital fulfillment team, which didn’t exist in February 2020, and spent just three months planning and considering risks, priorities and capabilities. She collaborated with leadership to identify and understand what was needed, aligned responsibilities for her new team, defined the metrics she would use, and hired and empowered her new talent. Werner’s efforts resulted in an 89% increase in the number of Meijer stores with pickup capabilities, and her team has since reduced the average customer wait time by 60% to less than five minutes and driven pick rate improvement of more than 40%.

Tyler Sones

President, OPIE Grocery Stations

Age 24

A master of problem-solving, Sones acted promptly when OPIE’s local dairy supplier unexpectedly shut down, finding and contacting four alternatives in the region, determining options for cross-docking delivery with supply wholesalers, and presenting a spreadsheet with the pros and cons of each dairy. He also created the store-based Microsoft Teams channels and PowerApps enabling all managers to work off the same daily checks at the store, found creative solutions when the drive-thru grocery sensors were down, spearheaded a Thanksgiving turkey promotion that increased sales by 200%, and volunteered to be the first to be trained to operate OPIE’s delivery robot. 

Erin Chavez

Brand Marketing Director, Sam’s Club, Procter & Gamble

Age 33

Chavez led work on cleaning solutions that were paused and re-evaluated during the pandemic, alongside evolving consumer behaviors and motivations. She and her co-founder identified a clear job to be done, which inspired a brand-new product solution: Swipes. Chavez also headed efforts to launch the team’s first transactional learning experiment, taking ownership of many of its elements, including e-commerce design and execution, ad creative, the customer relationship management program, and data tracking. As well as her “day job,” this innovative, intelligent, empathetic young leader co-led the family care brand culture team, which she bolstered in a still mostly virtual world. 

Mike Schneider

Brand Marketing and E-Commerce Director, Procter & Gamble

Age 39

Schneider’s business contributions include leading the 52-week scale plan of P&G’s Olympic execution, driving a historically high sales week, and delivering significant value for the Meijer-P&G joint business. His thought leadership has been leveraged across regions, speed teams and the shopper marketing network for an even greater impact on the organization, while his leadership development of a younger colleague in the area of digital commerce was recognized by P&G’s baby category, leading to a newly created role and promotion for the colleague. Co-workers aptly note Schneider’s ability to “[make] you feel as if you’re the most important person in the room.”

Venkata (Sid) Konka

Director-Data Solutions Architecture, Retail Business Services (RBS)

Age 31

Konka ensures that RBS’ end-to-end design is delivering to help meet customer needs while remaining consistent and aligned to its architecture principles. In key initiatives like Ahold Delhaize USA Supply Chain insourcing or SAP software deployment, he influences and educates company leaders on up-to-date ways to use and deliver data, leading to a more decoupled architecture, more reusable components and an overall more robust implementation. Konka is currently also leading the technical solution supporting RBS’ compliance with the Virginia Consumer Data Protection Act, demonstrating his capacity to mobilize a team, negotiate with various stakeholders and deliver on a complex initiative.

Juanita Londono Castillo

Software Engineer IT, Retail Business Services (RBS)

Age 28

In under three years, Castillo has gone from a participant in the IT co-op to a respected leader and transformation agent playing key roles across numerous critical areas. Her excellent design-centered research on various topics has been leveraged in strategy creation, project plans, succession planning and key internal communications. Through her organically developed reputation, she has been requested to educate teams not only in IT, but also across other RBS pillars and Ahold Delhaize USA’s brands and strategy team. Castillo is additionally a champion of diversity, equity and inclusion, dedicating her time to making RBS a better place to work.

Zachary Fusco

VP, Robert’s Food Center and Brookside Market

Age 30

Since 2015, Fusco has led a full remodel of his family business’ Madison, Conn., location; navigated the store through a Stop & Shop strike, hurricanes and power outages; overseen a change to C&S Wholesale Grocers; and built a second location, Brookside Market, in South Glastonbury, Conn., amid the pandemic. His leadership “shows on a daily basis his fun, engaged, hands-on management style; exacting standards; and true passion for the supermarket industry, which is contagious to all team members around him,” notes his father and nominator, Robert, who adds that the younger Fusco is developing numerous department heads as future leaders.

Jon Mareane

Product Manager, Rosie

Age 31

Mareane worked closely with a small team at Rosie to launch the Online SNAP Food and Nutrition Service pilot program for independent grocers. While many at the company contributed to the program, Mareane tirelessly led the charge and was vital to its success, his thoughtful, detail-oriented approach guiding Rosie through the complicated testing and approval process. He was also able to break down the complex application, approval and certification journey for retailers to make it simple. According to Rosie, “This new functionality will change the game for a countless number of small and independent grocers, and the customers they serve.”

Andy Clausen

VP, SpartanNash National Accounts, SpartanNash

Age 38

Clausen oversees $1 billion-plus in SpartanNash’s national account business and manages more than 20,000 of the company’s ship points across the country. His hard work and dedication have helped national account sales double in the past five years. Clausen has also championed many successful projects at SpartanNash; these include leading efforts to create a new West Coast partnership that provided the network with an extra 500,000 square feet at a minimal investment. The partnership additionally reduced SpartanNash’s annual transportation fleet mileage by 10%, lowered greenhouse-gas emissions by 10,000 metric tons, and saved roughly 1 million gallons of diesel fuel annually. 

Nate Vollmer

Director of Human Resources, T.A. Solberg Co. Inc. (Trig’s)

Age 37

Starting out at Trig’s 14 years ago as a cart collector and quickly identified as a growth associate, Vollmer has created structure in the HR department, ensuring that his team has what it needs to be successful. He has also reinvented the annual conference into a fun and positive leadership training occasion topped off by a first-class awards banquet to celebrate the accomplishments and anniversaries of teammates. Giving recognition to others is always top of mind for Vollmer, who has nominated many teammates for awards so that they can feel appreciated. Now his grateful colleagues have enthusiastically returned the favor.

Andrew Scarpelli

Manager of Promotions Planning, Total Wine & More

Age 31

In his former role as merchandise planning manager at Giant Food, Scarpelli conceived many promotional programs, developing strong connected-customer strategies. Facing technical limitations, he identified key gaps in the customer’s omnichannel experience and sought to facilitate partnerships within the organization to  best develop programs that could be delivered both in-store and online. Through various programs, Scarpelli worked closely with key functional areas and stakeholders, and created funnels to institute seamless experiences in offering consumers deals and pricing in multiple channels — meeting customer demand any way they chose to shop.

Seth Nieman

VP-Pricing, VMO and Space Planning, Wakefern Food Corp.

Age 30

Nieman’s rise at Wakefern has been swift. Previously on the procurement team at Lidl, he brought his private label expertise to Wakefern at a crucial time of expansion and strategic focus for its Own Brands team. In less than two years, he led the analysis, development and relaunch of 40-plus categories under Wakefern’s new Bowl & Basket and Paperbird brands. He also established a “digital-first” strategy for the ShopRite banner at a time when execution of traditional promotional methods was challenged by the pandemic. This strategy positioned the retailer cooperative to succeed financially while growing its base of valuable omnichannel customers.  

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