by Michael Sansolo

LAS VEGAS - The National Grocers Association (NGA) kicked off its 2018 convention with a general session featuring optimism for the independent operators and questions for the nation as a whole.

NGA President Peter Larkin detailed some of the association’s initiatives and led a quick video tour of three small retailers demonstrating how size is no impediment to serving emerging consumer needs from shifting demographics to e-commerce solutions. In addition, Larkin introduce Cheryl Sommer of Kaune’s Market in Santa Fe, NM, who is taking over as NGA chair.

Larkin welcomed John Ross, the new CEO of IGA, which co-locates its annual rally with the NGA show. Ross detailed the many reasons he believes that the current environment favors small operators, thanks to their community ties and flexibility to jump on emerging issues and consumer desires from service to local business ties.

NGA’s opening general session featured two keynote speakers: Sonny Perdue, the current Secretary of Agriculture, and retired General Michael Hayden, who served as head of the National Security Agency (NSA) and the CIA in the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations. Perdue outlined the many positive steps he sees from the current administration in relaxing or eliminating onerous regulations on small businesses like the NGA membership. He also hinted that President Trump is soon to release budget proposals that will seek to cut government waste and could have significant impact on the food stamp program.

Hayden’s take on the current administration was far more nuanced as he detailed the many percolating security issues around the globe from the Koreas to the Middle East and NATO. In Hayden’s opinion, the world has been more dangerous in the past than it is today, but that the big shift is in the increasing complexity of the world, the immediacy of communication and the ripple effect of countless issues.

In a brief question-and-answer period, Hayden opined that the Mueller investigation into collusion on the 2016 election is likely to come to an ambiguous and “unsatisfying” close. Hayden suggested that attendees Google a website called “Hamilton68” to get a sense of how widespread Russian bot activity continues in influencing US social media discussion. Hayden didn’t take any specific position on the current political state aside from suggesting that a president tweeting his thoughts on key policy issues is something that should stop for national security reasons.