Sri Lanka’s Cargills Group had a distinguished visitor this week – 76 year-old Thomas S. Haggai, Chairman of the Board at the US-based International Grocers Alliance (IGA) and seen as the doyen of grocers across the world.
The ICA is working with the Cargills chain of Food City stores to create a product that will see the transformation of supermarkets to community centres, with a closer relationship with the people.
Dr Haggai, Chairman and CEO since 1976, stepped down from day-to-day operations in January this year but continues to chair the board.
On a whistle-stop visit to Sri Lanka – arriving on Tuesday morning; driving straight from the airport to visit Cargills farmers in Norochcholai and Anamaduwa; spending a full day with Cargills management and staff on Wednesday and flying out the same night, Dr Haggai was sprightly and jovial, not looking tired, when the Business Times caught up with him at the Food City at Rajagiriya.
“Cargills has a great product in Sri Lanka where the farmer doesn’t have to worry about the price; he gets a steady income. Ranjit Page (Cargills Deputy Chairman) is a great believer of our concept (of caring for the community). He loves Sri Lanka and fits our profile of a caring person. We plan to do a lot of business together,” he said, adding that the IGA has a lot of programmes around children and education and works in 40 countries with thousands of stories operating under the IGA label.
IGA was founded in 1926, bringing together independent grocers across the United States to ensure that the trusted, family-owned local grocery store remained strong in the face of growing chain competition, according to an IGA statement.
IGA will work with the Cargills-affliated Albert S. Page Institute to develop the organization on the lines of the IGA concept.
“When people come into our stores, they want a warmer feeling. And that’s what they get from this alliance founded 84 years ago. If you walk into an IGA store and say you have lost your mother; your house has got torched or you lost your job … they (store) are going to do something for you,” Mr Haggai said.
IGA has many schemes to help the community including one where 20 % of its proceeds goes for community programmes
The IGA chief says every store is modeled on the lines of a warm and caring community centre. “We want people to feel that it’s their store,” he says.
The IGA concept is built around three groups: Sunrise – children; Sunset – older folk, and ‘Those in the shadows; - the handicapped with special needs.
IGA stores have a kids playground while elder citizens who don’t want to be rushed in their shopping have a special place to sit and rest and refresh themselves with a free coffee. “We offer free coffee. Now if you want to buy coffee, that’s fine with us but why not try our coffee too,” Mr Haggai added.