Farm To Aisle
New Seasons’ new leader sows success in a fertile field-to-table connection.
Lisa Sedlar begins her day at 7:30 a.m., tending twelve chickens, five horses, four goats, a sheep, a duck, and a cow on her family’s 10-acre farm in Beavercreek. But by 9 a.m., she shape-shifts into Converse All-Stars and stylish specs as she slides into her day job running New Seasons Market, the local grocery mini-empire. As a former chef, part-time farmer, and one-time regional director for Whole Foods, the 44-year-old Michigan native has the perfect countrypolitan rêsumê to lead a company synonymous with Portland’s locavore obsessions.
“I thought I knew a lot about food before I moved to Portland,” Sedlar says. “We have the most educated customers anywhere.”
Sedlar joined New Seasons as president in 2005. Earlier this year, she took the helm when Brian Rohter, the company’s near-iconic co-founder, stepped down as CEO. (Sedlar officially holds the title president/COO; she’s searching for a new COO.) The fact that many outsiders think Rohter still runs the company testifies to a smooth transition. So, too, does New Seasons’ weathering of the recession with zero layoffs and no shift cuts among its staff of nearly 2,000. Meanwhile, the company sold a minority share to the Portland equity firm Endeavour Capital. (Endeavour requires partners to earn $5 million to $25 million.)
Sedlar sees the Endeavour move as a key step to long-term success. “A lot of grocery companies get to our size and then can’t sustain it,” she says. “Our goal is to be around for generations to come.” The equity firm is also advising on ways New Seasons can give its employees and customers some stake in the company—possibilities that demand continued growth. And, indeed, the 10th and 11th New Seasons stores will open soon at SE 42nd Avenue and Hawthorne Boulevard and in Beaverton.
Amid all this behind-the-scenes change, the average New Seasons produce aisle still feels something like a rural farmstand, thanks to the company’s umbilical connection to area growers. Sometime in the next month, New Seasons will unveil a smart-phone app that tracks individual items from shelf back to producer. “Transparency is the wave of the future,” Sedlar says, “but first and foremost, taste is important.”