Exclusive: New Seasons Market CEO Wendy Collie steps down as chain restructures, pulls out of Northern California

Wendy Collie and Kim Malek outside the New Seasons Market store on North Williams (2014) Wendy Collie and Kim Malek outside the New Seasons Market store on North Williams (2014)

The company will shift to a co-president leadership model and focus on core stores in the Pacific Northwest and Central California.


"The retail landscape in the grocery industry has been changing dramatically and with incredible speed over the last six to 18 months," said Collie, who announced the change at the company's headquarters today.

"The leadership team, the board and myself, have been spending a lot of time thinking about how New Seasons is going to compete in a very volatile market, what is our position and how do we think about strategy and organizational structure to make sure we’re setting up the company for long-term growth and success."

The chain will shutter its New Seasons Market Sunnyvale, California store and will not open locations in San Francisco, Carmel and Emeryville as originally planned. The Sunnyvale store opened in August 2017.

The contraction marks a dramatic reversal for New Seasons Market, which pursued an aggressive expansion strategy under Collie's watch. The company acquired the New Leaf chain in 2013 and has opened one New Seasons store in Seattle.

Instead of a CEO, two co-presidents will lead the company.  Kristi McFarland, Chief People Officer, and Forrest Hoffmaster, Chief Financial Officer, will assume the new roles. Collie will stay on through February to help with the transition.



Asked if she was pushed out, Collie said no. She said her departure was a joint decision made by herself and the board and that she did not consider becoming a co-president.

"I'm trying not to cry," she said.  "I love this company. I love what we stand for. And I believe in the strategic shift. The company is in good hands."

Brick and mortar supermarkets have been struggling as consumer preferences change and big box and online competitors muscle in. 

"It's what happening in the marketplace, Amazon, Whole Foods, but there are also way more options for customers to get food on the plate at home," said Hoffmaster. New Seasons weighed the costs of building and managing new stores against protecting the company's core business model, he said. 

Hoffmaster declined to comment on New Seasons revenues, saying only, "we’re not immune to what's happening around us. The core business has been able to weather through that."

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New Seasons has positioned itself as the ultimate neighborhood grocery store, selling the experience of shopping alongside its locally-sourced food and progressive workplace practices. But new business models are testing how much consumers value the experience.  Going forward, New Seasons plans to retain its local vendor programs while innovating more in "meal solutions" and delivery.

The company will open a New Leaf location in Aptos, California and two new stores in Seattle as planned.

Collie joined New Seasons in 2012 and led the effort to become the first grocer in the U.S. to earn B Corp certification, a social and environmental business standard. She beefed up benefits, boosting wages and introducing paid parental leave.

Despite its forward-thinking reputation, New Seasons has come under fire from some employees who say the chain is retaliating against workers who are trying to unionize.

McFarland said any decision to unionize "would be our staff's choice. It's entirely their decision. It’s about allowing everybody an opportunity to speak up. It's part of our culture — that’s what we foster."

Asked about next steps, Collie said she would like to continue helping steward companies toward a triple bottom line philosophy.  "But first, I'm going to take a vacation."

 

 

Linda Baker

Linda Baker is the editor of Oregon Business

1 comment

  • Eleanor Schulz
    Eleanor Schulz Tuesday, 06 February 2018 16:20 Comment Link

    You did not understand the mood of the workers, the need of the workers , or the rights of the workers, New Seasons market needs to return all units to employees fired from new seasons market , new seasons market needs to rethink making there middle managers nameless cordnaters or just plainly call us #5 , talk less , NO I say NO to who treats people like stepping stones . I’m a hard working member of what was one of the best companies in Portland, what are we now ??? Good by Windy !!

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