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When MNB asked FMI's new chairman, Liz Minyard, what her priorities were for her just-started two-year term, she was brief and to the point: "Keeping FMI relevant in the new environment we are all facing."

Easier said than done. But as the co-chairman and co-CEO of Minyard Food Stores in Dallas, Minyard is used to challenges. In the following exclusive e-interview, MNB explores Minyard's attitude about her new position, and some of the special responsibilities that come with the task at hand.

MNB: As a retailer, you are in an interesting position in that you exist in a highly competitive market, and you co-exist with major chains (Albertson’s, Safeway) and another major regional company (HEB). You’re also not big enough to be a major player, not small enough to be an independent. This would, however, probably describe an awful lot of companies that are members of FMI. As the new chairman of FMI, what kind of sensibility do you think you bring to the job, especially in terms of sensitivity to companies like you own?

Liz Minyard: I am certainly sensitive to the opportunities faced by retailers who are not No. 1 or even No. 2 in their respective markets. Battling for your fair share of the market is a continual challenge that most of us face, especially in the fiercely competitive grocery industry. There are few markets more competitively challenging than the Dallas-Fort Worth market, where my company does business. So I know first hand, what the challenges are. But after 70 years in business, our family-owned company has learned how to remain competitive with the major chains throughout the years and still remain profitable. Those are insights I look forward to sharing with the membership of FMI.

MNB: One of the things your company has done well is diversify into a variety of formats that cater to a range of demographic groups. How important do you think this ability is for most mainstream supermarkets to have when competing with big box stores and mega-chains?

Liz Minyard: Finding a market’s niche and filling it is the secret of success for the modern-day food retailer, no matter their size. No longer should a grocer be satisfied with a one-dimensional image, but rather we need to capture the largest cross-section of customers possible. Market share will continue to change, but how it will shift will ultimately be up to the consumer. It is the retailer’s job to make their operation attractive; it is the consumers’ privilege to choose the operation which best serves their needs.

MNB: A demographic group that you’ve done an excellent job of catering to has been the Hispanic population, which has been pinpointed as a major growth area for all U.S. retailers. What does the industry as a whole have to do to attract this group to its stores?

Liz Minyard: It is of paramount importance for every retailer to recognize the rapidly growing buying power of the Hispanic consumer. From a grocery store perspective, Hispanic households eat at home more than their Anglo counterparts, and they cook dinner at home 5.6 times per week. Hispanics are growing at four times the rate of the general population, and they are now the No. 1 minority in the U.S. over African-Americans.

Emphasis on fresh meat and produce is key in capturing the Hispanic consumer, simply because Hispanics are more likely to cook from scratch than the average consumer. For instance, our Carnival Food Stores, which cater to the Hispanic consumer, index almost two to one in percent of produce sales over the industry average.

It is also important to identify the ethnic groups unique to your specific area and merchandise accordingly. For example, Hispanics from Mexico and other Central and South American countries have moved into Dallas-Fort Worth while Puerto Ricans and Dominicans are more dominant in New York City. While there are many products in a supermarket that cross all ethnic lines, there are many that do not. Knowing what to buy for your store and knowing how to merchandise to your customer is the key to success in attracting the Hispanic purchasing power. Recognizing their needs, taking the time to customize your store to better fit their shopping requirements, sends the message that everyone is a valued customer.

MNB: As the first woman ever to hold this post, do you feel a special responsibility in terms of your ability to break through barriers and appeal to new and perhaps unheard segments of the food industry?

Liz Minyard: A woman in management level positions is not a new idea for me. A sister and four brothers founded our company, Minyard Food Stores Inc., back in 1932. My aunt worked right along side her brothers as secretary-treasurer of the company for 52 years. As one of the five co-founders, she saw the company grow from a small wood-framed store to a chain of 53, before her death in 1984. My aunt was one of my role models. Because of her, it never occurred to me that women were any less capable to run a major corporation than men.

But, obviously, I am sensitive to the fact that there are only a handful of women executives in our industry who have moved beyond the traditional female roles, such as consumer affairs directors. We as women have to start asking for the jobs we want and seek out the training it requires. I want to be a symbol from the standpoint of encouraging other people that they can do whatever they want to do---whether male or female.

Obviously, women are still the most important consumer group supermarkets serve today, so if I can offer any insights into the female shopping perspective, it will be my privilege to do so.
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