New Seasons Grocery Chain Sells to Emart of South Korea: Independents Face Retail Mergers and Big Food Acquiring Smaller Brands

Abigail R. Harris
December 19th 2019

by Abigail Harris

For those of us in the Pacific Northwest natural foods industry – the biggest news of this holiday season is the announcement that New Seasons Market of Portland, OR, has sold to Emart of South Korea.

This sale to a global retailer is the main topic of conversation in many break rooms of Provender member businesses. New Seasons was originally revered as a local business that “made good” in a competitive market place crowded with Whole Foods (AKA Amazon) stores.

The impact of this sale is a massive issue for independent, integrity-based businesses, and the effect on them from buyouts and competition from larger national and global companies.

The New Seasons sale affects Provender members in a myriad of ways. Many of our manufacturers count on selling their products in New Seasons stores, while many of our independent grocers and natural foods co-ops feel direct competition from the 21-store regional chain.

One paragraph in the Oregon Live article about the sale to the South Korean retailer caught my eye in particular:

“Before selling to Emart, [CEO Forrest] Hoffmaster said, New Seasons considered selling to other private equity firms, competitors and seeking to be owned by employees and the local community. He said employee ownership was too complex.”

Too complex? It’s interesting to note that Organically Grown Company has gone in the complete opposite direction, and has guaranteed in perpetuity an ownership structure of a Perpetual Trust. Ownership of this organic produce distributor will never sell to the highest bidder. You can read more about this groundbreaking transition and how it bodes well for a new paradigm of ownership in the future.

Other good reads that you’ll find in the Winter 2019 e-Journal feature “Voices of Independent Integrity” articles from the Provender Alliance community. These articles showcase the proactive projects of Provender members that exemplify substantial efforts towards regenerative organic agriculture and a just food system for our planet and its inhabitants.

To this end, please check out how How an Organic Food Distribution Company Helped Save a 60-Acre Organic Hazelnut Orchard and the New International Guide to Fair Trade Labels to understand the difference between all the fair trade labels that you find in the marketplace.

Looking ahead to 2020, Provender Alliance will be introducing some exciting member benefits that will be rolling out during the year. Behind the scenes, an Advisory board is forming, and fresh ideas for meaningful programs are shaping up.

One of the more valuable offerings that Provender can provide is to help its members flourish with independent integrity, even while facing the competitive marketplace of retail mergers and large corporations acquiring independent product brands.

Abigail Harris
Executive Director, Provender Alliance