The Fresh Market names Winn-Dixie veteran CEO

September 12, 2017

By Jeff Wells | Food Dive

Dive Brief:

The Fresh Market has named Larry Appel its new chief executive officer, according to the Winston-Salem Journal. Appel takes over for CFO Brian Nicholson, who assumed the interim CEO role after Rick Anicetti left the top post back in June.

Between 2002 and 2012, Appel held numerous positions with Winn-Dixie Stores, including COO, chief human resources officer, head of strategy and chief legal officer. After this stint, Appel served as CEO of Skeeter Snacks, a nut-free snack maker. From 1997 to 2002, he served as SVP of The Home Depot.

“I am committed to re-energizing all that sets The Fresh Market apart as a great brand and retail store,” Appel said in the release. “Its heritage and history provide a strong platform in continuing to define the company as a unique ‘specialty’ grocer, offering best-in-class products and customer service.”

Dive Insight:

Appel, who brings more than 30 years of retail experience to the table, faces a decision in his new role as head of The Fresh Market: Should he keep the company on the path established by his predecessor, or blaze a new trail?

Under Rick Anicetti, who left the retailer for undisclosed reasons back in June, The Fresh Market has focused less on its specialty assortment and more on lowering prices and offering a wider grocery selection. The company’s store remodels, which are ongoing, include an expanded center store section with 1,300 more everyday items, including household and baby products. At the same time, the company is reinforcing its natural and organic image with more locally sourced products, prepared foods and health market selections.

The Fresh Market, which was acquired by Apollo Global Management early last year, began its remodels last October and is slowly spreading them across the chain. At the same time, the company is closing poor performing stores situated in highly competitive areas. Earlier this year, The Fresh Market closed five stores. Last year, it closed 18, including all of its locations in Texas, Missouri, Iowa and Kansas.

One of The Fresh Market’s biggest problems, according to industry observers, is that it has too many stores and is spread too thin. During the boom years that also saw Whole Foods rapidly grow its footprint, The Fresh Market built more than 150 stores across two dozen states. As mainstream grocers such as Kroger began to offer competitively priced natural and organic products, The Fresh Market saw its market share erode.

“Outside of the Carolinas, which is The Fresh Market’s home base, they just don’t have sufficient size and scale anywhere,” Burt Flickinger, managing director of Strategic Resource Group, recently told Food Dive. “In the more distant markets, they’ve got two or three stores in numerous states, and they’re making the same mistake Wild Oats made in just never being able to compete effectively against Whole Foods.”

Will Appel stick to Anicetti’s plan, which stands to drive customer traffic but could make The Fresh Market less differentiated? Or will he refocus the company on its specialty roots? A lot is riding on Appel’s management, and the only thing that’s certain is the need to make bold moves to improve the company’s fortunes.