Readers of SN will not see a familiar face in the top Viewpoints spot this week. That's because David Merrefield, vice president and editorial director, has retired from SN after nearly 30 years.
I had the privilege of working for David for 15 of those years, beginning in 1993 when I joined the publication.
David led SN's editorial department at a time of pivotal changes in the food industry. Supermarkets went from the catbird seat to being pressured by new types of competitors. David made sure that SN's coverage reflected all the sweeping developments.
In talking to David last week, he told me that Wal-Mart's foray into food retailing was the most important event he witnessed. As David put it: “It changed the way product went to market and in some ways rendered the old supermarket model obsolete as it refocused on a dramatic spread in price.”
However, David added that the industry is rising to that challenge and in recent years has “shaken off its doldrums and come to a more optimistic place by finding a way to compete.”
David's professorial demeanor and David Brinkley-type vocal delivery is balanced by his quick smile and reassuring manner. His personal brand of insight and wit was offered each week in his columns, which covered all the key industry topics. His writing was at its best when taking a well-deserved poke at someone or something.
Consider this excerpt from last year's July 23 column focusing on the shocking revelation that John Mackey, Whole Foods' top executive, had regularly posted anonymous comments about his company and competitors on a major online message board. “No chief executive of a company has the luxury or the right to risk sullying the brand and threatening shareholder equity by amusing himself with artless chatter,” David wrote.
Perhaps David's most lasting impact is the people he leaves behind. In publishing, just as in the supermarket industry, one needs to build a great team and give them a degree of autonomy. That's what David did, first with SN's magazine, and later with its Web presence. So SN moves forward with a stellar editorial and art group, by far the industry's largest.
I'm sure I speak for the entire SN operation, and indeed the supermarket industry, in thanking David for his contributions and wishing him well in future endeavors.
As Dan Bagan, SN's senior vice president, said last week: “I would like to thank David Merrefield for his strong writing, steady management and friendship. He is truly a gentleman and we wish him and his family all the best.”
David's departure coincides with changes on SN's publishing side. Jerry Rymont has been named publisher of SN after serving as group publisher of the Baking Group of Penton Media, SN's parent company. Christopher Warne, SN's associate publisher, was promoted to group publisher of the Baking Group. Best wishes to Jerry and Chris in their new positions.
At this time of transition it's important to know that SN will continue as the leading information source for this industry.