It is always alarming when a major local employer encounters a setback. And so, we were concerned last week when C&S Wholesale Grocers of Keene announced it had lost its largest customer, Netherlands-based Ahold Delhaize.
C&S, the largest wholesale grocer in the country and one of the largest privately held businesses, employs more than 1,100 in Keene. Such news causes us to reflect on the fragility of the regional economy and wring our hands a bit.
For the company’s part, Richard Cohen, chairman, and Mike Duffy, CEO, provided reassurance. They pointed to an impressive history of innovating in the face of disruption in their industry. You don’t get to be a century-old institution, with $27 billion sales and nearly 15,000 worldwide employees, without facing upheaval and overcoming it along the way. They said it will be some time before an impact — if any — is felt from the lost business, and these words, we’re certain, provided comfort to employees. But C&S is such an integral part of the economic and social fabric of this region, it still gives us pause.
The details the company released are this:
Ahold Delhaize, a global food retailer with five U.S. supermarket chains, including Hannaford, wants to bring distribution logistics in-house.
C&S will be part of the transition toward that end, selling to Ahold Delhaize three warehouses — two in Pennsylvania, one in New York — and leasing a fourth, also in Pennsylvania.
C&S will provide management and technology services to the Netherlands conglomerate.
No immediate staffing moves are anticipated, and maybe none will be necessary, depending on new business the company can drum up between now and the transition, which will take three years.
C&S has been planning for this since Ahold and Delhaize merged in 2016, noting that Hannaford already has warehouses.
Innovations or business developments at the company that are showing promise include digital tools allowing ordering through C&S via phone, and an expansion in the Pacific Northwest, specifically a new warehouse in Oregon.
No matter the business or the large footprint a company occupies, customers leave, threats are encountered, setbacks occur — all part of the rhythm of business. Surviving is all about what one does with those challenges and being agile enough to pounce on opportunities.
Cohen said as much: “We’ve been doing this for a long time. We get customers, we lose customers; in general, we’re growing faster than we’re not growing, so we’re getting more customers.”
There are myriad examples of the company’s innovation and expansion, particularly in automation. But that inventiveness isn’t just in supply-chain efficiency. Bob Trebilcock of Keene, editor of Supply Chain Management Review magazine, authored last year an interesting piece that featured C&S’ work with Keene State College and Franklin Pierce University, developing internships and curricula that lead students from those institutions directly to positions at C&S. At a time when so many graduates leave New Hampshire for other parts, these efforts make progress in keeping talented young folks here and bolster the company’s workforce. A small example, perhaps, of needed change, but an important local illustration.
We think it’s noteworthy and important that C&S shared the disappointing news — an unusual move for the company — and we applaud the firm’s transparency with employees and the public.
Too often, this type of information is shielded, allowing rumors to drive the narrative, creating mistrust. Clearly, C&S has a strong understanding of its importance to the region and the need to keep the community posted on such developments — even if such disclosures cause worry.