After 12 years with Associated Grocers, Manard M. Lagasse Jr. is putting a legal and food distribution background to use as president and chief executive officer for the Baton Rouge-based business that offers a range of services to more than 180 independent grocery stores stretching from east Texas to south Mississippi and up through central Louisiana.

Lagasse, 50, is the fifth person to head Associated Grocers over nearly 60 years. 

Among the stores it supplies in Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Lafayette are Robért Fresh Market, Breaux Mart, Calandro's, Matherne's, Hi-Nabor and NuNu's.

“The people who made this place built something really good,” said Lagasse, sitting back in his office off Anselmo Lane. “I have an obligation to keep this thing going and make it better at the same time.”

He replaced Emile Breaux, who stepped down at the end of May for personal reasons.

Lagasse was raised in New Orleans and earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and his law degree from St. Mary's University School of Law in San Antonio. Before he joined Associated Grocers, he worked as an attorney with Allen & Gooch Law Firm and Juneau David, both in Lafayette. He worked for Schilling Distributing Co., a Lafayette wholesale beer distributor, for more than a decade.

He joined Associated Grocers in 2007. “I had an opportunity to come to Associated Grocers and do in-house legal work,” he said. That was an appealing mix for him because of his background as an attorney and in the food distribution business.

For his first seven years at Associated Grocers, Lagasse worked directly for Jay Campbell, the former longtime president and chief executive officer of the company. He worked in an office next to Campbell.

“That gave me a big responsibility and duty to take care of employees and customers,” Lagasse said.

Associated Grocers has annual sales of more than $700 million and more than 600 employees, with most working in Baton Rouge. It supplies food and products to stores, including customized software for supermarkets. It sells everything from refrigeration equipment to shelves. The company does payroll and accounting for supermarkets, providing marketing and advertising support with sophisticated business analytics.

“Those independent stores are what keeps our communities going,” he said. “They’re a lifeline. Without them there is no us.”

Lagasse said independent grocery stores are more mobile and able to get onto trends much quicker. Several local Associated Grocers stores have started their own grocery delivery service and are looking at expanding into home deliveries of alcohol under new state regulations.

“The independent retailers that we have do a really good job of taking care of their customers,” he said. “They know what the customer needs and wants better than everybody else would know.”

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Email Timothy Boone at tboone@theadvocate.com.