Class of 2016
By Vicki Ikeogu
Originally published: Jan. 8, 2017
SARTELL — She is much more than the CEO's daughter.
She's driven. She's determined. And she's ready to leave her own mark on the Central Minnesota company her family founded in 1921.
Emily Coborn has played a lot of roles in the family grocery business.
From a cashier at the Sauk Rapids Coborn's during her high school days, to floral artist at the Pinecone Road Coborn's in Sartell and a gas attendant at a Holiday StationStore in St. Joseph in college, Coborn is no stranger to the day-to-day life of the more than 8,000 people currently employed by the St. Cloud-based company.
But after graduating from the College of St. Benedict in 2008, Coborn was not sure if she wanted to continue the family's legacy.
"After college my parents were really encouraging, especially since I stayed close to home," Coborn said. "I wanted to spread my wings a bit and just go see what else was out there."
By securing an internship — and later a communications position — at Eden Prairie-based SuperValu and then working directly with retail stores for Cub Foods in Stillwater, Coborn rediscovered her passion for grocery.
"This was a great opportunity to find my way into grocery through a different avenue," she said. "It was at that point I felt that I had the opportunity to really understand what grocery is all about."
In 2012 she became the Coborn's communications manager, and since then she has worked her way back into the family business through several key positions in the growing grocery giant, re-imagining the consumer shopping experience at a number of stores. .
Because of the dynamic leadership Coborn brings to the well-known family business, she has been selected for the 5 Under 40 Class of 2016. The Times talked with Coborn about her successes at the newly remodeled Coborn's location in Sartell.
Question: What does your role as vice president of fresh merchandising at Coborn's look like?
Answer: The areas that I'm responsible for overseeing are produce and floral, meat and seafood, deli and bakery and all of our registered dieticians.
Q: What made you decide to come back to the family business?
A: At the time SuperValu was going through a centralization of all of its merchandising, marketing and other departments. At the same time as that instability (with SuperValu), Coborn's had a communications manager position open up. So it was really good timing for me to rejoin Coborn's, which was growing and performing well.
Q: For years Coborn's has been a leader in the grocery store industry in Central Minnesota. How do you plan on keeping up with the changing times and consumer patterns?
A: What we are seeing in terms of consumer trends right now is that consumers are exhibiting three primary trends. The first is health and wellness. They have a desire to eat better so they can live longer. The second is transparency. Consumers are much more interested in the farm-to-fork movement. And they not only want to be able to purchase food, they want to know where it came from, how the product was grown or how it was raised and treated and how it ultimately ended up on the shelf. And they are also interested in exploring global palates. They are interested in discovering flavors beyond the ones that they grew up with. Today's consumer doesn't want to cook from scratch. It's just not where they want to spend their time. And so with those trends in mind we wanted to re-imagine grocery shopping knowing that we needed to give people an experience where they really enjoy. So when people come to Coborn's, we want them to enjoy restaurant-inspired food. Healthy offerings that they can either eat in store or bring home to their families and feel good about eating every day of the week.
Q: What are your hopes for the future of Coborn's, and where do you see your role fitting in?
A: We plan to continue to reinvest in our stores and reinvest in our people in the years to come. We are in an industry that is trending toward consolidation. But if we continue to grow, we're going to continue to build out our footprint throughout the Midwest. And I really love my current role. I'm a foodie. So I'm just in my glory being able to re-imagine all these different fresh departments. But I plan to continue in the role that I'm in until another opportunity comes up. I am probably in the most challenging role I've ever been in. But I look forward to my work everyday.
Q: What has been the most challenging part of having the last name Coborn when that name is so closely tied to this particular industry?
A: Probably what's been the toughest with that last name comes with expectations that people have of what type of a leader or a person that I am. My dad, Chris Coborn, has his own strengths. And they're different from mine. And so when people meet me, it's important that I'm really comfortable with my own strengths and the value that I can bring as Emily Coborn rather than trying to fill the shoes of Chris Coborn. Because I'll never be that same person.
Q: Why have you chosen specifically Second Harvest Heartland and United Way of Central Minnesota to become actively involved with?
A: I'm passionate about (Second Harvest's) mission to end hunger. Second Harvest is a very innovative organization. The work that they're doing around food rescue from retailers, I find that innovative work to really be the solution to closing the meal gap. And so it's exciting to be a part of an organization that is really focused on ending hunger and not just fighting hunger. For United Way, as an organization, we have a history of supporting United Way. I see United Way as being that mortar to the bricks of all the different players in the community. So that role of being a connector is powerful.
Q: What advice would you give to other young professionals who are aspiring to make a difference in their community?
A: I don't think that it's all that important that you get fancy awards and fancy recognition. I think what's most important is that you bring out the best in others and together you can achieve really great results. First and foremost, really focus on finding something that fuels your fire. Because unless you are passionate about whatever you're doing, you're not really going to achieve great results. And then really believe in yourself. Many of these roles really stretched me. But I was able to do it because people believed in me. And I think that if I believed in myself, even a little bit more, earlier on, it wouldn't be such a shock. But I think just believing in yourself and just let yourself have it.
Occupation: Vice president of Fresh Merchandising with Coborn's Inc.
Education: Bachelor's degree in communications and Spanish from College of St. Benedict's and a master's degree in business from Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.
Family: Boyfriend, Erik Rorvick.
Hometown: St. Cloud.
Community involvement: Board member of United Way of Central Minnesota and board member of Second Harvest Heartland.