Citing a “disruptive retail landscape”—and shaken by internal disputes over its status as a “B-Corp” dedicated to social good—New Seasons Market announced a restructuring under which it said three stores in development would not open, one store would close after just five months in business, and that CEO Wendy Collie would depart the company.
Under a new “team-based” administrative structure, Kristi McFarland, New Seasons’ current chief people officer, and Forrest Hoffmaster, CFO, would assume the role of co-presidents upon Collie’s departure this month.
Collie joined New Seasons as CEO in 2012 and more than doubled the size of the Portland, Ore.-based company from 12 to 25 stores, including the acquisition of the New Leaf Community Markets chain in California. Collie in 2013 led a high-profile effort to have New Seasons certified as one of the only grocery chains in the U.S. that's a “B Corporation,” a leading international standard for social and environmental responsibility. New Seasons was recertified in September.
New Seasons said the restructuring would focus investment on stores in its core Northwest market. It said it would close a store that opened in August in Sunnyvale, Calif., and would not proceed with planned sites in San Francisco, Carmel and Emeryville as originally planned. Its operations in California would continue under the New Leaf banner on the Central Coast, with a planned New Leaf store in Aptos, still set for an opening this fall.
“Closing the Sunnyvale store is a tough decision for us. This location proved to be a challenge for several reasons,” McFarland said in a statement. “We are immensely proud of the staff who worked at the Sunnyvale store, and we’ll ensure they have support through this transition.”
Some employees late last year charged Collie and the company with violating terms of its B Corp status by discouraging an employee unionization effort. In a written statement Tuesday one employee, Zoe Dye, said Collie’s tenure “was marred by poor decisions that hurt employees, drove down morale in the stores and challenged the very ethos of the grocery chain.” The chain over the years has faced opposition from United Food and Commercial Workers locals in several locations including Seattle.
Collie in a statement Tuesday said she participated in and supported the decision of the board on the restructuring and the leadership change at New Seasons.
“It is never easy to leave a company you love,” Collie said. “I truly love the amazing people who are the very heart and soul of our company. I feel very confident that the company is in good hands with the team that I have built and with Kristi and Forrest at the helm, who are both dedicated to our mission and have the leadership skills and expertise to ensure New Seasons remains a thriving company.”
The company also issued statements of support for Collie from Stan Amy, a board member and New Seasons’ co-founder, and from Endeavour Capital, the private fund that is a majority owner of the chain.
“Today’s disruptive retail landscape has inspired many companies such as ours to reevaluate their organizational structure and strategy,” Collie said. “The board and I have made the decision to redirect resources to support our core business, fund improvements for existing stores and invest in developing programs and services that will best meet the changing needs of our customers and communities.”
Some employees at New Seasons in November said they were organizing to win representation as a union in response to what they said were “healthcare rollbacks, deteriorating safety conditions and pressures to work while sick.” Workers said the company had refused to grant the workers’ request for a dialogue with Collie and filed an unfair labor charge with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging it illegally retaliated against and attempted to intimidate organizing employees. The status of the NLRB complaint was not immediately clear.
New Seasons last month announced a revamped family leave policy providing four weeks of paid parental leave to eligible staff for birth, adoption and long-term guardianship of foster placement of children, saying it was one of the first grocery chains in the country to do so.