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Donna Tweeten, executive vice president and chief marketing officer, Hy-Vee

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MMR’s Seven Executives Who Made a Difference

WEST DES MOINES, Iowa — Hy-Vee has one of the oldest — if not the oldest — taglines or jingles ever deployed by a U.S. company to insinuate itself into the hearts and minds of shoppers. The grocer has been using “A helpful smile in every aisle” for a half century — it’s possible that Moline, Ill.-based tractor maker Deere & Co.’s “Nothing runs like a Deere” tagline has been around longer, but ad industry insiders still aren’t entirely sure which came first.

Donna Tweeten

Donna Tweeten

Hy-Vee introduced the tagline when it was a regional grocer deeply anchored in the small-town values of its founders, who in 1930 opened a store in Beaconsfield, Iowa, with the goal of providing “good merchandise, appreciative service and low prices.” Today, Hy-Vee is a more multifaceted company. Although still centered in the Midwest, Hy-Vee has a growing national profile as a progressive grocer and a pacesetter in the movement to make the supermarket a hub of culinary excellence, a place where shoppers can go to get great food and ideas about how to prepare it.

The task of updating the brand to reflect modern realities while still honoring Hy-Vee’s heritage is the responsibility of Donna Tweeten, executive vice president and chief marketing officer at Hy-Vee.

“More than ever, ‘A helpful smile in every aisle’ is absolutely critical because we’re taking that tagline beyond the in-store experience,” Tweeten says. “Every day, we are figuring out ways to take that smile, that friendliness and that helpfulness that we are known for and find ways to extend it beyond the aisle. We want our fundamentals to be reflected in everything that we do — from our e-commerce to our social media and online platforms. For example, we want our customers to have an amazing customer experience when they interact with our Aisles Online program, our online grocery ordering site, or through the service we perform in our communities — whether it be donating food to the local food bank or volunteering at a charity event. We will always differentiate ourselves from competitors by our customer service and our brand promise to be more helpful than any other retailer.”

In recognition of her marketing efforts and creativity, the editors at MMR are honoring Tweeten as one of Seven Executives Who Made a Difference in 2016.

Tweeten has been promoting the Hy-Vee brand for more than three decades, initially as an executive with The Meyocks Group, an advertising firm that once was owned by Hy-Vee. Among Tweeten’s early clients was the director of operations for Hy-Vee’s Kansas City stores, Randy Edeker, who would later become her boss and the company’s chairman, chief executive officer and president.

“When I first got to know him, I remember being enamored with the way he saw the world,” Tweeten says. “Because of my profession and, working for ad agencies in Chicago and offices in Dallas and Des Moines, I’d been fortunate to be around ridiculously creative people that inspired me. And I like to think I have a fairly strong creative muscle myself. But while Randy Edeker will many times refer to himself as ‘just a grocery guy’ in a humbling way, he is absolutely brilliant. He really understands how to get out in front of an issue. It’s fascinating to watch how his mind works and how he processes information and pounces on an opportunity. Personally, he really pushed me outside of my own wheelhouse and comfort zone. And he has made me, more than any other professional in my life, a better marketer. I always say when it comes to marketing, ‘no guts, no glory’ and he’s one of the people that I know who not only says that, but lives that.”

As an example of a marketing initiative that took Hy-Vee out of its comfort zone, Tweeten points to the 2011 decision to make celebrity chef Curtis Stone a centerpiece of the company’s TV commercials, print ads and in-store promotional materials. Stone, a native of Australia who trained in London, at the time was the host of “Top Chef Masters” on the Bravo cable network and a regular on NBC’s “America’s Next Great ­Restaurant.”

“Not only did the relationship with Curtis Stone legitimize us as culinary experts in the eyes of the consumer, but it did tremendous wonders with our employees in terms of how we merchandise, specifically within our food service and perishable department offerings,” says Tweeten. “It raised our game. That’s an example of how we evolved our brand with consistency, across all markets. It didn’t matter if a Hy-Vee store was located in a small town in rural Iowa or in the heart of Kansas City. We featured Curtis Stone in all of our designated market areas, not just in the urban ones or markets with higher household incomes.”

Hy-Vee’s decision to promote sustainable seafood is another move that is paying dividends. Last year, the company placed third (behind Whole Foods Market Inc. and Wegmans Food Markets Inc.) in a ranking by environmental group Greenpeace of U.S. supermarket efforts to protect oceans and seafood industry workers.

“When you do things like that for the environment and global well-being in general, it’s not hard for customers to take note of what you’re doing and for them to appreciate it and get behind you and support the effort,” says Tweeten.

Just this year, Hy-Vee also became the first Midwest retailer to feature F&F, a British-inspired international fashion label, which offers an affordable, quality clothing line for men, women and children, in its stores. This summer, F&F locations opened inside several new Hy-Vee stores, and more locations will be opening soon.

“One of the reasons why it made perfect sense for us to put a clothing department in our stores is because it fit our mission, which is to make people’s lives easier, healthier and happier. Ease and convenience continues to be a main focus of our customers, more so than any other time in our history. Providing the opportunity for a busy individual, like the time-starved working mom and/or young mom, to do both their traditional grocery shopping and clothes shopping within one stop is a simple solution for them and a smart move for us.”

Hy-Vee is not the only retailer to thrive as it adapts to changing times, of course. But to a remarkable degree, Hy-Vee is managing to grow without morphing into a brand that is completely new and different or unfamiliar to the customer, Tweeten says.


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