Over the past 60 years, Associated Grocers of Baton Rouge has had just four chief executives at its helm. And in late May, a fifth was named: Manard Lagasse Jr.
Like most of his predecessors, Lagasse is not a newcomer to AG—one of the largest and oldest local businesses in the Capital City—and he’s unwavering in his commitment to the wholesale company’s focus on supporting independent grocers, despite an increasingly competitive and challenging food retail landscape.
“At our core is independent retailers. We’ll stick to that,” Lagasse says. “There is a place for the independent grocery retailers. They’re much more flexible. They really know and can take care of their customers.”
So, for now at least, Lagasse doesn’t have plans for any major changes at AG, and he’s optimistic the company will see internal growth under its current business strategy.
Last year, AG did report a slight bump in total revenues, which will be released next week in Business Report’s Top 100 Private Companies issue. The increase comes after previous years of declines for the company. AG reported revenues of $630 million in 2017, down about 2.3% from 2016.
Still, AG consistently ranks among the top 10 highest-earning private companies in Baton Rouge, with more than 600 local employees.
The company’s growth in 2018 was internal, Lagasse says, stemming not from new business but from the growth of the existing 200 independent retailers AG supports throughout Louisiana, east Texas and Mississippi.
And any growth is notable in such a challenging environment, with ever-changing consumer preferences and fierce competition from major national retailers and online delivery giants like Amazon. The market is especially tight in cities like Baton Rouge, where local grocers compete with major players like Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and—most recently—Sprouts.
“Competition today is totally different than it was 10 years ago,” Lagasse says. “But that’s where independent retailers have to know and can know their customers—that’s what gives them the advantage they need.”
Lagasse joined AG in 2007 as the company’s general counsel, a position he’s held until assuming the role of president and CEO this year. His years of involvement with AG has enabled a smooth transition into the top C-suite.
“I know our retailers, I know our employees and I know our board,” Lagasse says. “I’ve been a part of AG for a long time.”
But he does have big shoes to fill, as his predecessors are among some of the most well-known businessmen in Baton Rouge, including Sam Politz, Hillar Moore Jr., Jay Campbell and, most recently, Emile Breaux.
“I’ve been fortunate to spend quality time with guys like Jay Campbell and Emile Breaux, who helped me to get where I am,” Lagasse says. “I’m excited to be here. I’m excited for our future.”