2021 People’s Awards

Sonya Heydt
Corporate Bakery/Deli Director

Johanneson Inc.
Bemidji, MN

Q. How has your career evolved over the years?

A. I started my career with a local grocery chain working in the bakery learning everything from French bread to baguettes, continuing to advance myself into a bakery and deli position. I spent many years growing my skill set and learning everything there was to know from fine cheeses to pastrami. I found myself wanting more and continued my career with SUPERVALU as a bakery/deli specialist, working with independent retailers in Western North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana. I created programs and promotions for their deli and bakery operations to grow their businesses. Next, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to work with the wholesale and retail operations at SpartanNash as a bakery deli specialist. In 2020, I went back into retail as the director of bakery and deli for Johannesson Inc. We have Marketplace Foods and KJS Fresh Markets stores in North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin. I am responsible for developing programs, writing ads and creating merchandising events for our bakeries and delis. I can truly say I have found my passion in my work.

Q. What positions have you held in industry associations?

A. I have been involved with IDDBA for over 15 years as part of the “What’s in Store” team. IDDBA has long excelled at doing the work to research the ever-shifting climate of the dairy-deli-bakery industry. In addition, I have been involved in and support the North Dakota Grocery Association.

Q. What is your leadership philosophy?

A. I believe constant change is one of the best pathways forward. Encourage motivating a team through goal-setting and overcoming challenges while providing guidance and inspiration to improve the team’s performance constantly. I learned a long time ago to get the right people working on the right thing in the right way— and get everything else out of their way.

Q. What is the best advice you ever received and why?

A. One piece of advice that still sticks with me today is something one of my mentors shared with me. “If we truly provide a value for our service and we believe in the value, we need to charge appropriately, and it is important to show our worth to them. I have always felt that it is important for them to see a value we bring to their business. I have always felt it was important to sell ours.

Q. How do you balance your work and personal life?

A. I have always found balancing is hard. I have worked hard to create a work/life balance and found it difficult because I love what I do. I have learned to work to create those special moments with family and unplug from work when I am around family and friends.

Q. What deli retail trends have impacted the industry most over the last year?

A. I believe with COVID this past year we have had one of the largest impacts in years. Our stores have placed more grab-and-go cases in our lineup. We have begun to package salads and have removed some of our service cases. We have purchased Cryovac machines and have larger displays of meats and cheese ready to go. We have also taken our salad bars and remerchandised them for charcuterie cases. Our labor forces have been impacted this year also, which has led to using more grab-and-go items. It also has been a year where manufacturers have struggled to manufacture products and packaging. It has been a year of exploring new ideas and creating new concepts.

Q. What technology or technical tools are indispensable to you in the workplace and why?

A. Zoom has been the most indispensable tool this year. I have used it to conduct meetings with employees. We have used it for company seminars. We can go over new programs, promotions and show products and ideas to our deli managers. It is a lot more efficient and saves travel time. We can have employees communicate over three states. We also use Teams for our ad meetings.

Q. What have been the biggest changes in the deli industry over the course of your career?

A. I think the biggest change was in the beginning of my career when delis sold mainly Colby, cheddar, Swiss and muenster cheese. Over the years, people have done more traveling, and there are so many cooking channels that are using more gourmet cheese and meats. This area has had such an increase in sales. People are looking for charcuterie areas in the delis. Even restaurants are offering gourmet cheese and meats. 

Q. What is the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome on the job?

A. The biggest challenge has been with COVID. I have had to respond to products being discontinued or out of stock. We had to become more proactive so we could service our customers. This year has led me to look for different options for our company. We looked at more options of grab-and-go meals, both singles and family meals. We have relied on our Central Deli kitchen to produce more of the grab-and-go meals for our customers. I feel we are going to see way more grab-and-go and less service in our delis in the future.

Q. What hobbies do you enjoy outside of work?

A. Holidays are my favorite season, and I enjoy decorating my home for special occasions. Family and friends are important, and I love to entertain, cook and sharing quality time. I enjoy traveling to destinations with family and have created wonderful memories.

Q. Are you married? If so, how long? How many children?

A. I am widowed; I have a son and daughter who blessed me with three grandchildren, which have supported me in my career over the years.

Cover Story

The Grab-and-Go Phenomenon

Lisa White The grab-and-go segment has evolved over the years. As a result, supermarket delis are more diverse and have become more competitive with today’s restaurants. Its higher-end offerings providing convenient and fast pick up […]

Deli Meats

Going All Natural

Lisa White As consumers seek products that are as unadulterated as possible, natural meat has been in the spotlight. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “products labeled as natural are products containing no artificial […]


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