CHICAGO - IGA retailers and board members welcome the news that Mark Batenic was named president and chief executive officer of IGA USA here earlier this month.
He is succeeding Thomas Haggai, who will remain president and CEO of IGA International. Haggai previously was president and CEO of both the domestic and international operations.
IGA, a network of independently owned supermarkets, suffered from the 2003 bankruptcy of one of its primary wholesalers, Fleming Cos. - where Batenic spent much of his career - but has sought to rebound by adding new wholesale partners and seeking to revitalize its marketing and operations.
"It's kind of a David and Goliath situation," said John Ancona, co-owner of Ancona's IGA Market, Ridgefield, Conn. "Most of us are medium-sized independents competing with large operators with deep pockets, and we are fighting for market share.
"I don't think there is any doubt that [Batenic] will put all his efforts in putting a good, strong face on IGA domestic operations, and continuing to keep us moving forward as we get stronger and better as operators."
Filling Haggai's shoes is a major challenge, according to Brian McGregor, owner of Archie's IGA, St. Maries, Idaho. "He had a lot of respect in the industry - an industry that is changing very rapidly," he said, noting that one challenge Batenic faces is "making sure the IGAs are part of those changes."
Retailers said Batenic needs to focus on expanding IGA in the U.S. and increasing the banner's profile in the marketplace.
"Tom has done a terrific job growing the alliance," said Jim Mirabito, owner of Village Market IGA, Hannibal, N.Y., and a member of IGA USA's board. "Now we just want to spend a little more time focusing on the domestic side."
Batenic should focus on "growing IGA in the U.S. and finding new ways to add value for our retailers through IGA," said Ronald Baxter, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Great North Foods, Alpena, Mich., and a member of the IGA USA board of directors.
"We have realized good growth in international and taken lumps here in the U.S.," he said. "It will be important to focus on our roots."
"[Batenic should] increase store count," agreed W. Henry Johnson Jr., president of W. Lee Flowers & Co., Lake City, S.C., and also a member of IGA USA's board.
Most operators agreed that splitting the responsibilities for IGA's international and domestic operations will be good for the company. In 2005, just 32% of IGA's sales came from domestic operations, while 68% came from international.
"This will make both better, actually," Johnson said. "Tom has done a great job, but for Mark to focus on just U.S. and for Tom to focus his talents on international, it's a win-win situation for all. A lot of people could do this job, but Mark can do it immediately. Particularly with his experience, it would take years for anyone else to learn the job, so I think he was a perfect choice. I'm extremely excited - I think he's a great choice and a great guy."
Batenic currently is president and chief operating officer of Clemens Markets, Kulpsville, Pa. He will remain in this position for about a month, and will formally take over IGA USA operations in mid-December.
Baxter believes that Batenic's experience at Clemens and Fleming makes him a good candidate for the position. "It is very important for IGA to have a president and CEO who has a passionate feeling for the IGA independent retailer," he said. "The pressure from the big-box store is certainly a challenge, as well as challenges from within the system in terms of finding the proper tools to grow IGA and to bring the alliance closer."