BY DYLAN SKRILOFF
Inserra ShopRite is a true family business and in keeping with that tradition the next generation is stepping up involvement in the organization.
Lindsey Inserra has assumed the role of VP of Marketing and VP of Corporate Retail Health and Wellness. She is the daughter of Lawrence Inserra, Jr. and granddaughter of Lawrence R. Inserra, the man who worked with other determined store owners to turn several independent supermarkets in New Jersey into a retailers cooperative now known as grocery heavyweight ShopRite.
The brand name has over 330 stores in six states and nearly 50 ownership groups. With 22 stores in New York and New Jersey, Inserra is the third largest ShopRite ownership group within the co-op, as well as one of its earliest members. The co-op’s distribution and corporate arm is called Wakefern.
Lindsey Inserra says her mission as VP is not limited to increasing the company’s profitability, but also focused on helping to improve the culinary culture of 21st Century America. It is no secret that obesity, increasing rates of preventable diabetes and other diet-related issues have become prevalent in America. What better institution to encourage good eating habits than the purveyors of food themselves?
Inserra Shop Rite and its co-op parent WakeFern have been promoting a dietitian and nutrition program for the past decade. Amongst the five Inserra ShopRites in Rockland County, the program has been operating at the West Nyack branch, led for the past year by dietitian Jaclyn Padovano, RD.
Now the chain is looking to expand the Wellness Program, adding it to the recently transformed and re-opened Tallman branch, while other branches like Stony Point are expected to follow soon after. One of Lindsey Inserra’s goals is to get every store in the Inserra chain to offer the wellness and dieticians program.
“I would like to make that transition,” Lindsey Inserra told the Rockland County Times, speaking of a change toward healthier diet in the consumer culture. “We are telling people it’s more accessible. It doesn’t have to be more expensive.”
It’s a little more complicated than that, Inserra acknowledges, as it also is the company’s job to meet the demands of the marketplace as it currently exists. She believes that a positive message will make a difference over time.
Some special features at the Tallman location and other participants in the Wellness Program include “Gotham Greens,” produce picked the same day on rooftop gardens in Brooklyn. The fresh fruits and vegetables last an average of two weeks in your refrigerator.
Johna Mailolli, R.D., is the new in-store registered dietitian at Tallman. An Inserra press release stated, “Mailolli also will host a variety of free store-based events each month, such as product demos, weight management classes and health screenings, among others.”
The Wellness Program also features cooking classes, a suggested meal of the week and meetings with licensed dietitians, all free of charge.
The Wellness Program follows guidelines from the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics, which Lindsey Inserra said is based on the latest consensus in scientific research. That knowledge includes newfound awareness that excessive sugar intake is generally more dangerous than fat consumption.
Consumers are aware, as well. Inserra said seltzer sales have increased while sugar soda sales have declined in recent years. The trends point to better diets and more whole grains. “Let’s hope we make it the norm,” she said.
“We are running the company with purpose. Helping people…. We should be preventing illness,” Inserra said.
Lindsey represents the fourth generation of Inserra family members dedicated to the grocery chain. The average family business fizzles out by generation three, so the Inserras are setting their own trend.
Patsy Inserra opened a single Patsy’s supermarket in Lyndhurst, NJ in 1954. His son, Lawrence, would go on to take that one store to unimagined heights. ShopRite is now the largest employer in New Jersey and Wakefern the largest retailers cooperative-style supermarket chain in the nation and 17th overall in supermarket sales.
While other name brands have fallen into economic trouble or been liquidated, including Pathmark, a company that formed in a corporate separation from ShopRite in 1968, it seems Wakefern and its ShopRite ownership groups have found the right ingredients for continued growth.
Looking to continue that vision into the future, in March 2015 Inserra Supermarkets named Ron Onorato, former NY division president of Stop and Shop, as the company’s new president and COO, taking over a role filled by company stalwart Steve Chalas for decades.
Lindsey Inserra’s passion for the family business also offers a clue into the brand’s success.
“Where do we all end up at the end of the day? Around the kitchen table,” Inserra said, describing the importance food has to our lives and how much it means to her to play a role in filling her customers’ stomachs. “Feed yourself. Feed your soul!”
The redesigned store in Tallman aesthetics match the company’s burgeoning health-friendly vision. The atmosphere has been noticeably softened and décor made more folksy and friendly. “We wanted it to feel like a local community market,” Lindsey Inserra said, crediting her aunts as the brains behind the new look.
“We sell the same good stuff as the farmer’s market,” the young executive claims, but what’s more, she says Inserra will be inviting actual farmer’s markets to stores in coming years.
When she was coming of age, Lindsey faced a decision many children of legacy businesses must grapple with: whether to work for the family or try something else. In Lindsey’s case she tried something else first: social work.
Complications from Type-1 diabetes slowed her down for a while and she came to a crossroads. That’s when her dad said he would like to expand the company’s Wellness Program and have her oversee it. It was a perfect fit for Lindsey.
Since then she’s bought in 100 percent. The work ethic and values of her father and grandfather inspire her, she said.
“I respect and admire my father so much. He believes in giving back as much as he can,” she said, noting the Inserra Supermarkets considerable philanthropic efforts.
Memories of her grandfather Lawrence R. Inserra motivate her daily.
Asked what ultimately made her choose the family business, she said, “He did,” pointing to a photo of Lawrence.
His commitment to the company was so intense that “he was in the store until a few days before he died.”
The drive to keep the company at the top sometimes keeps her up at night, causing her husband some agita, Lindsey confessed.
The stress is worth the while, she said; so long as she can help make health and wellness a priority and carry the Inserra torch well into the 21st Century.