2021 People’s Awards

Mike Merritt
Director of Deli, Bakery & Foodservice
Lowe Foods
Winston-Salem, NC

Q. How has your career evolved over the years?

A. My family owned two restaurants, and I was educated at Johnson & Wales in Norfolk, VA. I have background working at restaurants. I spent three years working at Genuardi’s Family Markets in Pennsylvania, then stayed another five years after the business was acquired by Safeway. I then spent 12 years at Buehler’s Fresh Foods, ending up as vice president of foodservice. I managed the bakery and deli as well as the full-service restaurants and commissary. I’ve been director of foodservice with Lowe for the past year. I oversee the foodservice deli and bakery teams. I also work with the culinary team on developing different concepts. I’m blessed by senior management, Tim Lowe, who’s our president, and the entire George family. They embrace foodservice and are part of tastings. Having the buy in from ownership and senior management is so important. They have a lot of trust in me and my team.

Q. What positions have you held in industry associations?

A. I’m a member of the IDDBA (International Dairy Deli Bakery Association). I also am involved in a lot on the culinary side. I created an external chef panel in Winston-Salem, where our headquarters is. Chefs critique our new products to make sure we’re as innovative as possible.

Q. What is your leadership philosophy?

A. It has to be all about teamwork, from the bottom up. It can’t be a top down organization. Anyone can manage but not everyone can lead. I’m so lucky to have a strong team of chefs, category managers and operators who can share that big picture of where we are now, where are we going to go and how to get there. We get everyone’s involvement, and we all have a say in what we do. Everyone’s voices are heard and are valued.

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

A. As long as you treat the dishwasher the same way you treat the store manager, you’ll never have a problem with people and will always have their respect. I don’t care what your job role is, everyone is an important part of the puzzle. Treat people how you want to be treated.

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

A. Being a chef makes this easier for me because my personal life is family and food. I’m a certified master barbecuer, so I’m always trying new things at home. Plus, I work for a great company that values my personal time.

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

A. We will take our concepts to the next level with restaurant-quality food through innovation. Restaurants will never be what they were, so how can we fill that void in the guests’ eyes to be higher end with restaurant-quality food? We were lucky, as we had amazing sales throughout COVID. We also will take our Originals to the next level and implement a new store format that is opening this fall.

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

A. Social media has always been there but the new trend with TikTok and food is changing the game. I saw a feta cheese recipe go viral, with those cheese sales experiencing a 500% increase. Something simple like that is changing the game.

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

A. The deli guests are in more of a rush than before. When I started at Genuardi’s, we had stores with 40 feet of lunch meat and not as much prepackaged prepared foods; that’s shifted. A lot of the business is in presliced meat.

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

A. Over the last year with COVID, our team of category managers have done an amazing job of rerouting trucks, finding replacement products and staying safe in the field as merchandisers. Everyone was thinking differently in order to take care of guests but not diminish quality or service. As we gained business, we had to hire, but couldn’t do full-on training. We had to utilize technology to train new hires.

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

A. Shanon is my wife, and we have been married for 20 years. I have two sons, Mike, who is 21 and Tyson is 16. My daughter Cali is 14. They are my biggest fans and my hardest critics when it comes to food. 

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