State grocery champ looks to bag national title

By Ben Moger-Williams
Observer staff

As the Olympics kick off in Torino, Italy, this week, another highly competitive yet largely overlooked competition is taking place in Las Vegas: The National Best Bagger Contest. And this year, Williston has a contender.

In September, 20-year-old Ethan Abar of Williston beat out eight other competitors from Vermont in the Vermont Grocer’s Association bagging contest at the Champlain Valley Exposition. He had to fill two paper bags with the same grocery store items and scored best on time, attitude and weight distribution. Abar has worked at Shaw’s in Williston for four years and is a junior at Champlain College.

Abar said he has not been training too hard for the contest, but last Saturday a Shaw’s corporate employee was on hand to offer coaching tips while Abar bagged.

“I don’t want to get too worked up about it,” Abar said. “I’m trying to stay somewhat cool and level-headed about it.”

As the state bagging champion, Abar and a guest (best friend Chrissy Smith) are being sponsored by the Vermont Grocer’s Association to go to the National Grocers’ Association convention in Las Vegas. Abar said his parents were also joining him and the Vermont Grocer’s delegation.

Donna Hogan, director of communication and events for the association, said the organization is rooting for Abar.

“We hope he’s going to place well,” Hogan said. “ Vermont in the past has really done well.”

Vermont first began featuring the bagging contest in 1988 as part of their annual fall convention and expo, Hogan said. The competition is designed to promote the importance of "front end personnel” in grocery stores, she said.

The Vermont Grocers' Association is a nonprofit group of merchants, retailers and suppliers involved n the food industry. It was founded in 1934 and represents approximately 680 retail stores and 250 suppliers from across the state, Hogan said.

Abar, an accounting major, said he wasn’t sure he would go into the grocery industry, but he wouldn’t rule it out, either.

“Right now, for the moment it works for me,” he said.

This year marks the 20 th year for the national contest, part of the annual National Grocer’s Association convention, which runs Feb. 7-10. The winner receives a bag-shaped trophy and a check for $2,000. Last year’s winner was Emily Jensen, representing the Utah grocery store, Macey's.

In past years, winners have appeared on “The Late Show with David Letterman,” but Hogan was unsure if that was the case this year.

The competition takes place from 3:30-5 p.m. on Feb. 9.