“They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.”

– Dinos Christianopoulos


In 1978, Greek poet, Dinos Christianopoulos, penned a powerful metaphor about a resilient seed that emerges from the ground full of life after being buried and forgotten by a larger force. The poet’s lines often replay in my mind as I think about the retailers and team I work with at Associated Food Stores.

Having invested most of my career since 1978 working with and for independent retailers, we, the seed, have been written off countless times to the growth of Wal-Mart Super Centers, Amazon, and chain mergers where the big get bigger still. Each time, what independent retailers have done was observe, learn and adapt with innovation to nullify the strengths of the competitor or to develop unique products and services to keep and attract guests.

Rather than throwing their hands up in defeat, many retailers have instead opted to remodel and expand their stores to provide their teams with the tools they need to continue to be the preferred store in the market.

Before my career at AFS, I worked for 13 years at Supervalu, a large publicly traded supplier that proclaimed to its team and retailers that only large suppliers like themselves with the financial wherewithal and national footprint would survive in the end and that small suppliers, especially co-ops, would succumb to the pressures of the market. Fast forwarding to 2023, I find that my past employer (and its larger competitor, Fleming) is no longer in existence. The same entrepreneurship and innovation found in our retailers courses through the corporate team they’ve entrusted to operate the wholesale side of the business.

How is this entrepreneurship fostered?

There is a unique and special relationship at AFS that strengthens the system: the powerful way retailers and the wholesale team work together to innovate the approach to the market.  In the next two weeks, dozens of retailers and corporate team members will participate in several board and advisory committee meetings to discuss progress on previously presented strategies while initiating discussion on future ventures to explore for the health of the system. This broadly open dialog is where ideas of all sorts are seeded and sprout, from advertising strategy, to aggregating retailers for a master pharmaceutical contract, to acquiring and opening a 1.3 million-square-foot former Rite Aid facility in Farr West and, years later, to the multi-million-dollar modernization of that facility in Project ROAR!

Christianopoulos’ metaphor should not only be empowering and instill hope in us, the little guys, the little seed. It should also act as a proclamation to those who pursue the markets and guests that we have carefully tended to over the years.

Eliseo is the vice president of pharmacy administration and has worked at Associated Food Stores for 18 years.