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Hanover Co-op general manager to depart

  • Ed Fox, the new general manager of Co-op Foodstores, meets with customers at the White River Junction, Vt., store on November 17, 2016. Fox was hired from a pool of 70 candidates and has a background as a former executive at the Vermont Foodbank. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Business Writer
Published: 2/21/2020 1:22:02 PM
Modified: 2/21/2020 6:01:01 PM

HANOVER — In a surprise announcement, the Hanover Co-op’s general manager said he will be leave in mid-April for a “new professional opportunity” that he has not disclosed.

Ed Fox, who joined the Co-op in 2016, informed the Co-op’s directors on Thursday, he said in a note to employees, saying “this decision wasn’t an easy one, and comes after a great deal of thought and reflection.”

Fox’s departure leaves the Co-op’s nine-member board suddenly tasked with finding a replacement only three years after it hired Fox, 58, to succeed longtime Co-op head Terry Appleby. Fox, a Vermont resident, came to the Co-op from Boston-based nonprofit Cradles to Crayons, where he was vice president of operations. Previously he had been chief operations officer of the Vermont Food Bank for 10 years.

Rosemary Fifield, president of the Hanover Consumer Cooperative Society and a board member, said the board will select an interim general manager at its meeting next week and will form a search committee to find a new general manager.

“It took us by surprise,” Fifield said Friday. “He just gave the board a six-year plan for upgrading infrastructure ... he’s accomplished a lot in three years.”

Fox’s pending departure comes just before he is set to present the board with the Co-op’s annual report and the board receives the Co-op audited financial results for 2019, “which we’ve heard is very good and very positive,” Fifield said.

Fox did not respond to messages for comment.

Fox stepped into the Co-op at a difficult time. The 80-year-old organization of 25,000 members, 400 employees and annual sales of more than $70 million had been roiled over the firings of two workers and internecine quarreling among employees, activist members, management and board members.

Among the first projects Fox spearheaded was a redraft of the employee handbook that eliminated “at-will” language setting the terms of employment, which had been protested by employees and various Co-op members.

“He took that one by the horns,” Fifield said.

He also oversaw the elimination of plastic bags at the Co-op, relocation of the business staff offices from Buck Road in Hanover to a business park on Sykes Mountain Avenue in White River Junction, and the opening of a second auto service center at the site of the former Car Store Subaru dealership in Norwich.

The Co-op’s financial results for 2019 have not yet been reported. But last year, after swinging back to an operating profit after two consecutive years of losses, the Co-op was able to restore a “patronage refund” to members for the first time since 2014. Operating income in 2018, the most recent year for which results are available, was $444,000 on $74.7 million compared with an operating loss of $36,000 on $72 million in revenue in 2017.

Despite the improved performance, however, the Co-op’s operating income was only about half what it was four years earlier, indicating how major supermarket chains have been siphoning off Co-op shoppers by offering more “organic” choices in the food aisles.

“Ed tackled a lot of things while he was here,” Fifield said. “I was really looking forward to doing more with him.”

John Lippman can be reached at jlippman@vnews.com.




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