Portland-based New Seasons Market announced a leadership change and abandoned its plans for a cluster of stores in Northern California. It remains committed to opening two more Seattle-area locations in the next two years, but is in a tussle with workers who want to unionize.
A shift in strategy and management shakeup announced by Portland-based grocery chain New Seasons Market on Tuesday will not affect its plans to open two new Seattle-area stores in the next two years, the company said.
New Seasons, which opened its first Seattle-area location on Mercer Island in November 2016 and lately had designs on a substantial Northern California footprint, said it will refocus on the Pacific Northwest. It announced the closure of its Sunnyvale, Calif., store, which opened last August, and abandoned plans for three other Northern California stores.
Also, New Seasons CEO Wendy Collie, who previously spent 17 years at Starbucks, is leaving the company, which is a focus of union organizing efforts in Portland.
New Seasons, with more than 4,000 employees, said it intends to redirect investment to existing and planned stores in Oregon and Washington, including new locations in Ballard and the Central District.
Its expansion to Seattle, where most grocery chains are unionized, has faced resistance from labor groups and some community members. New Seasons highlights the pay and benefits it offers its employees, including a recently implemented paid parental leave plan, but has also been accused of a crackdown on attempts to unionize its Portland-area stores. The company denied the allegations.
New Seasons’ Ballard store — the latest in a cluster of grocers setting up in the fast-growing neighborhood — is on track to open this spring, a company spokeswoman said. That’s a few months behind the original fall 2017 target. “We delayed the opening to provide time to ensure our solid understanding of the neighborhood and surrounding community,” the spokeswoman said.
Last fall, New Seasons said it would anchor a planned Central District development at 23rd and East Union, provoking an outcry from some neighborhood leaders who see the grocer — which sells a mix of high-end local and organic foods alongside conventional produce and national brands – as another advance in the ongoing gentrification of a historically African-American neighborhood.
The New Seasons representative said the company plans to open the Central District store in 2019 and has been working with the Central District Advisory Council “to understand the needs of the neighborhood.”
Collie, who took on the CEO job in 2012 and led the company’s expansion to California, said in a news release that New Seasons’ decision to focus on the Northwest reflects changes roiling the grocery business, which is under pressure from the rise of online shopping and home delivery. “Today’s disruptive retail landscape has inspired many companies such as ours to re-evaluate their organizational structure and strategy,” said Collie, who will leave at the end of the month after assisting with the transition.
Senior New Seasons executives Kristi McFarland and Forrest Hoffmaster will lead the company as co-presidents.
New Seasons co-founder and board member Stan Amy praised Collie in the release, which noted her accomplishments including obtaining a B Corp certification, administered by a Pennsylvania nonprofit group that recognizes businesses that adhere to certain social and environmental standards. Amy said Collie advanced the company’s mission “as a champion of a healthy regional food economy, a progressive employer and a leading community advocate.”
But the group organizing workers, New Seasons Workers United, laid blame for strained worker relations on Collie. A statement attributed to Zoe Dye, a worker at one of the chain’s Portland locations, and distributed by the group’s public relations firm, reads in part: “We hope that this marks a shift in New Seasons corporate management to one that listens to employees and truly embodies the values New Seasons says it espouses.”