Category Manager Specialty Cheese/Deli Merchandiser
Q. How has your career evolved over the years?
A. I was born and raised in Southern California. When I finished high school, I went to cosmetology school. I always wanted to be a hairdresser. It did not take long to discover that was not the path I was meant to take. In 1980, I started to work for Gelson’s in the deli department. I was responsible for cutting and wrapping specialty cheese. In 1989, I was promoted to department manager; I oversaw the retail wall deli and specialty cheese. In 2000, I was promoted to supervisor of deli/specialty cheese and responsible for operations, and training in all of our stores.
In 2007, I was promoted to wall deli and specialty cheese category manager, responsible for for purchasing. Since 2009, my responsibility changed to category manager, specialty cheese/deli merchandising. I purchase the specialty product for our stores and am responsible for labor, training and merchandising in all 27 stores. In addition, I work with my team to create pairings for our virtual wine events.
I did not receive a college degree; however, I continue to learn and received my WAFC Retail Management Certificate, my ACS CCP, (American Cheese Society Certified Cheese Professional), CSW (Certified Specialists of Wine) and WSET (Wine and Spirit Education Trust) level II certificate. I am responsible for training our cheese specialists to pass the ACS CCP exam. We now have three who are certified!
Q. What positions have you held in industry associations?
A. I am a member of Internationale Guilde du Fromage and an American Cheese Society Certified Cheese Professional. I assisted at IDDBA 2019 setting up the “What’s in Store” pavilion and served on the IDDBA committee to create the first annual Charcuterie Professional Certification. I have been a past board member of the DDBC and serve as current president of the California Cheese and Butter Association.
Q. What is your leadership philosophy?
A. I believe in coaching and empowering my team by working hands-on to educate, train and even learn from them. I am very fortunate to have two supervisors who are out in the stores to assist and provide support to the team. I do not like to micromanage; my team members are skilled at what they do and know the expectation, which in turn makes them feel more confident and valued. This leads to less turnover and, ultimately, better customer relations.
Q. How do you balance your work and personal life?
A. Recently, I have gotten much better at work/life balance. I have a company cell phone and receive sick calls and refrigeration alerts, so I do need to respond to certain emergencies. I have a great support staff that helps with these. When I take time off, they handle anything that comes up. Personal time is very important to every team member, and our company respects that.
Q. What deli retail trends have impacted the industry most over the last year?
A. Past cheese and deli trends were more adventurous, such as grazing boards and large abundant cheese displays, self-serve salad, poke and olive bars. Over the last year, with the pandemic, all those things went away, and we had to rethink how we can offer customers a grab-and-go, “no touch” offering.
Early in the pandemic, customers were in survival mode buying paper goods and grocery staples. They wanted longevity in products, and cheese was one of those staples. With the reality of sheltering in place, quarantining, children going to class virtually and many people working from home, families were now eating all their meals at home.
Ingredient deli items such as cheese and sliced meat were experiencing double-digit growth. The increase in sales is due to the versatile uses of cheese and meat for baked meals, fondues, pizzas, salads or just to eat alone as a snack.
I think we will continue to see this trend impact the industry for a while.
Q. What technology or technical tools are indispensable to you in the workplace and why?
A. There are several analytic reports emailed to me every day by our business analyst department, which has great sales information. I use a combination of these reports, my knowledge, experience and gut to make everyday decisions.
Q. What have been the biggest changes in the deli industry over the course of your career?
A. Definitely how social media has evolved the way our customers shop. We see customers looking to social media for everything from health and wellness to fun and simple cheese and charcuterie recipes. For instance, there was an Instagram post using feta, cherry tomatoes, olive oil and spices baked in the oven. It can be used over pasta or with veggies as a dip. This post went viral. As a result, feta was selling off the shelf.
We are doing virtual wine, spirits and beer tastings paired with cheese and charcuterie plates. From a deli perspective, this is an excellent platform to reach a large number of high-valued, loyal customers, especially at a time when we cannot offer samples in the stores.
Q. Are you married? If so, how long? How many children?
A. I am married. My husband Andy works in the industry. He is a liquor manager at Gelson’s. We have six children, five who are married, and our last one lives at home while finishing her last year of nursing school. We are fortunate to have 15 beautiful grandchildren. Family is important to me and having such a big family keeps me pretty busy; I enjoy spending as much time as I can with them.