The Food Institute Report’s Women’s History Month series continues with Judy Spires, chairman and CEO of KBUS Holdings, which includes Kings Food Markets and Balducci’s. Prior to this role, she served as president of ACME Markets. Over her three decades—and counting—in the industry, Spires has amassed a range of invaluable insights and experiences. She shared a few of them in a recent interview.
Q: You’ve weighed in on this over the years, but what are your thoughts today on the so-called “demise of brick and mortar?”
A: I have absolutely no reason to believe in the death of brick and mortar. Grocery retail is continually evolving, and customers are looking for a reason to visit a store. For example, our guests love our stores because we provide service, experience, and a highly curated offering. Our merchants search near and far in order to offer the best possible items that create an intriguing “treasure hunt” in-store experience. Our associates are passionate foodies—our customers can spend their time chatting with our cheese mongers and any of our department professionals. They assist our guests with everything from weekly menu planning to last-minute easy meal solutions. In addition, we host a calendar of special events and support it all with a dynamic website full of ideas and inspiration.
Q: Can you comment on the recent Chapter 11 bankruptcies by specialty grocers like Fairway and Lucky’s Markets?
A: Our industry is always learning and evolving. When I chose, as a college student, to pursue a supermarket career, my dad noted I would always be employed because “people always have to eat.” The key is to remember they are not always going to eat in the same way! We must be quick and nimble in understanding their ever-changing needs.
Q: What do you see as the challenges for women leaders in the food industry’s C-suite?
A: The food industry suffers from the same challenges as every other industry. In a word: representation. There are still way too few of us at the top. Given that women make most of the grocery buying decisions, it is a business imperative that we have this same representation at the highest levels of the industry. We must remove any barriers that do so. The reality is I believe in diversity and inclusion for all, and continuously work to provide opportunities for all! Studies have proven diversity has a direct effect on profitability.
Q: Any advice for women execs today looking to advance in their position?
A: First: You must always deliver results.
Second: Don’t ever think asking for help is a sign of weakness. It is a sign of strength.
Third: Speak up! Your insight and knowledge are critical to your organization. You are in your position for this reason.
And finally: Hard work is not hard work if you truly love what you do.
Q: What are you most proud of in the Kings organization?
A: I am so humbled to be a part of an incredible, dedicated team of food industry professionals. Not only do they perform above and beyond in their daily jobs, they extend their passion for food to those in need. Our company has a total commitment to ending hunger in New Jersey and America. Our stores partner with the Community Food Bank of New Jersey, where I am a board member. Kings has been supporting community food banks with direct donations from our customers, as well as corporate campaigns and sponsorship to support Thanksgiving Turkey Drives across the chain as well as additional events throughout the year. Not a day goes by that we are not thinking about how we can do more for people in our community who are food insecure.
Q: What would you like to be most known for in your career?
A: I’ve spent over 30 years in leadership roles, always working to create career and employment opportunities and pleasing customers. Nothing is more important to me.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
A: The retail food business is a fun, rewarding, and challenging career where anyone can work hard and achieve their fullest potential and deepest dreams.