retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

Regular readers of MNB know that for the past few months, Supervalu has provided something of a target for this site. I don't think any of the criticisms were gratuitous, but they were frequent, colorful, sometimes graphic, and came not just from me, but from a wide variety of industry players, many of them current and former Supervalu employees. I don't think that the criticisms were personal, though a certain former CEO of the company might disagree with that characterization. And they have taken up an enormous amount of space on MNB.

But it needs to be pointed out that many of the people who work for Supervalu are good, hard-working, dedicated people who want nothing more than to contribute to the company in a way that will help it out of the mess that it is in. I got a first hand taste of that this week, when I was invited to speak at a conference of retailers sponsored by Supervalu's Eastern Region.

That's right. Supervalu invited me to Atlantic City and paid me to give a speech. The same company that I've been raking over the coals for weeks.

Now, to be honest, I got the booking months ago. But with every word I wrote or posted over the past weeks, I thought to myself that this would be the one that causes them to cancel the gig. That never happened. When I drove down to Atlantic City this week, I half thought that the Supervalu folks were planning to lure me into a dark alley and beat me up. That never happened, either. If nothing else, I figured that someone at Supervalu corporate would see my name on an invoice and say, "WTF?"

No, what I found at this meeting, in addition to a group of retailers hungry for ideas that would make them more competitive and a view of the future that they could integrate into their business models, was a group of Supervalu executives who were absolutely charming and totally classy. They never asked to vet my remarks, and they were nothing but supportive. They wanted to listen, and they wanted me to be provocative. Go figure.

I give special kudos to Manda Johns and Brian Keech, who were a pleasure to work with - these are the kind of people who, working on the front lines, will be a source of strength for Supervalu. They put a positive face on an embattled company.

I spent very little time talking about the past. I thought it was more important to talk about the future. I won't pretend that just hiring me compensates for all the issues that the company has ... but I also thought that in view of all the things I've written about Supervalu in the recent past, it was only fair to tell you what a positive first-hand experience I had with the company. It was an Eye-Opener.

I was rooting for them to transcend all their issues before. I'm rooting even harder for them now ... though I'll continue to call them as I see them, which is exactly what many of the folks I spoke to at Supervalu seem to want.
KC's View: