- The Fresh Market’s CEO Larry Appel has resigned, effective March 2, 2020 and will be replaced by Jason Potter, who has more than 30 years of experience in the grocery industry, according to a press release.
- Potter spent most of his career at Canadian grocer Sobeys. He previously served as its executive vice president of operations and prior to that he held roles as president of Sobeys West, Sobeys Atlantic and president of the company's multi-format operations.
- He said his goal is to make the Fresh Market a go-to destination for perishables with unique product offerings and better customer service.
Potter's experience steering a fresh-focused retailer through a period of economic uncertainty no doubt made him an attractive choice to The Fresh Market.
He played a key role in Sobeys' Project Sunrise, a cost-cutting initiative the grocer kicked off in 2017 after years of diminishing returns following the botched acquisition of Canada Safeway in 2013. Project Sunrise brought greater operational discipline to Sobeys, including a streamlined organizational structure and better pricing. Empire Company Limited, which owns Sobeys, announced last year it exceeded its $500 million cost savings target for the program.
Empire also acquired urban format Farm Boy, launched a new banner in western Canada and announced an e-commerce partnership with online grocer Ocado.
As Sobeys’ executive vice president of operations, Potter was responsible for about 800 full service and community stores under the Sobeys, Safeway, Foodland and Thrifty banners. Stewart Samuel, program director at IGD Canada, said Potter's experience steering a complex organization through turbulent times makes him a good fit for the top role at The Fresh Market.
"Drawing on his multi-format experience and operating in a complex, large organization, he should be able to cut-through the current turbulence of the natural, premium food segment to create a more relevant and different offer," he told Grocery Dive in an email.
The Fresh Market went through a rapid expansion phase as demand for specialty grocers surged, but has recently had to curb store growth and close underperforming units as conventional chains have built out their selection of natural, organic and gourmet products. The chain, which was acquired by Apollo Global Management in 2016, has a debt-to-EBITDA ratio of 7.3, according to Moody's Investors Services, which upgraded its outlook for the company from "negative" to "stable" late last year but warned the company remains under pressure.
"The increasingly competitive and promotional business environment and pricing pressure from larger and better performing competitors in the company's geographic footprint will make any major improvement in profitability difficult to come by and the risk of a distressed exchange remains high," Mickey Chadha, Moody's vice president, said in a statement.
Like Sobeys, The Fresh Market has been focused on operational discipline. The company dabbled in a more mainstream format that built out core groceries and general merchandise, but under CEO Larry Appel, who joined the chain in 2017, The Fresh Market has retooled categories like beverage and accentuated fresh and gourmet selections and services that harken back to its specialty roots.
With the demise of specialty grocer competitors Earth Fare and Lucky’s, The Fresh Market faces renewed scrutiny. But Samuel said the demise of those competitors opens doors for the chain, allowing it to more clearly define itself in the marketplace.
The Fresh Market recently launched an online store and mobile app that customizes online shopping. It also tapped a venture firm to help identify popular food trends for the years ahead, and is rolling out additional private label items.