Gus Lebiak came into his presidency at Krasdale Foods armed with more than 40 years’ experience — and he’s counting on all of it to get the job done during a particularly challenging time for the wholesale grocery industry. But Lebiak is simultaneously looking to grow his White Plains-based company, with strategies and initiatives across practically all internal divisions, which he discussed with 914INC. during a recent sit-down.
I became COO of Krasdale in October 2020 and president on January 1, 2021. I joined the company nine years ago, as a vice president, and two years ago was promoted to chief operating officer at Alpha 1 Marketing, an affiliate of Krasdale Foods. As COO of Alpha 1, I oversaw key departments, including advertising, digital services, customer service, community relations, retail operations, marketing, meat-and-produce merchandising, as well as retail regulatory compliance and training. I began my career working in-store at Mayfair Supermarkets before moving to the wholesale side of the business, as a category manager at Twin County Grocers. I also launched Allegiance, a supermarket cooperative, where I served as director of grocery and then vice president of center store. In total, I have more than 40 years of grocery-industry experience.
Even before becoming president, for a year and half prior, I started to focus a lot on growth and maximizing the internal resources we have, identifying employees with backgrounds and skillsets for advancement. Since my promotion last year, I’ve continued to work closely with management to develop teams and create long-term, consistent growth across all areas of the business. Over the past year, we’ve obviously had a lot of strategic challenges, so that’s been a big focus, along with how to better serve our customers.
What we’ve been seeing over the past six months is very different than what we experienced at the start of the pandemic. Last year, it was demand-based. Now, we’re facing supply and labor shortages, notably a national shortage of truck drivers. These issues are reverberating throughout the supply chain, to where we’re having difficulty stocking juices and drinks, anything in cans. Before COVID, if a truck didn’t show up, you could expect one the following day. Now, it could take a week or more. I’ve never seen anything like it.
We’re simply not getting the product, so we’re not able to sell it. Again, it’s a very tricky balancing act. When prices go up, we need to offset them, but we don’t want to hurt the customer. And it’s not just food prices; it’s labor costs, insurance, et cetera.
Inflation could be a problem. In the grocery business, margins are thin, and, as costs go up, you’re going to need to pass them along to the customer. The grocery business is a relatively inelastic business, in that people need food, but they can find ways to cut back or trade down, so it’s a fine line.
We supply DeCicco & Sons and one of our banners, CTown, to name two.
We’re working with PowerFlex, a national provider of solar energy and solar-plus storage systems, to add 2.7-million-watt solar panels to the rooftop of our Bronx warehouse. When it’s completed, sometime next year, we’ll have 6,000 panels that offset 5.3 million pounds of carbon dioxide, or the equivalent of 524 automobiles.
All the COVID protocols we enacted are still in effect, including plexiglass shields, masking, and ensuring our buildings remain below capacity — in keeping with state guidelines. We continue to comply with the New York State Heroes Act. Because we’ve been strict with the rules all along, we’ve managed well throughout the pandemic and have had very few issues with regard to outbreaks.