McMullen: Doing good plays big part in Kroger doing well

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NEW YORK — Rodney McMullen, chairman and chief executive officer of Kroger Co., shared insights into the supermarket retailer’s purpose of “feeding the human spirit” in a marquee session at the NRF Big Show earlier this month.

“At Kroger, we succeed by giving a great experience to the customer, investing in associates and making an impact in the communities we serve,” McMullen told conferees attending an on-stage discussion with Matthew Shay, NRF’s president and CEO.

McMullen credited Kroger’s more than 420,000 associates for the grocer’s outstanding customer service and community impact, especially their commitment to support the mission to create communities free from hunger and food waste through Kroger’s signature Zero Hunger | Zero Waste plan.

McMullen said that since the launch of Zero Hunger | Zero Waste, in 2017, Kroger has donated billions of meals to help end hunger and millions of pounds of surplus fresh food to avoid waste.

Kroger seeks to deliver a convenient, seamless experience that molds to customers’ daily needs, with zero compromise on value and convenience, promising fresh products that help customers stretch their dollars, McMullen explained.

He also recounted how the coronavirus pandemic accelerated the digital shopping and delivery trend, from a three-year horizon into a two-week period. These omnichannel options remain a necessity for customers as they continue to cook at home and look for savings under the squeeze of inflation, McMullen said.

“A lot of people learned to cook during the pandemic, and when we talk to our customers, they are telling us they really like it, both in terms of eating together and showing off for their family and friends,” he said. “When families eat together, it improves so many aspects of their lives. As customers’ lives begin to fill with soccer games, band practices and the busyness of daily life, we still see them making time to cook at home.”

McMullen also shared details of efforts undertaken by Kroger to keep associates and customers safe in the pandemic’s early days. “When we thought we should do something, we did it,” he said. “We implemented over 30 different things, for lack of a better word, on whatever we thought could help keep somebody safe. We used our technology to make sure there was a certain number of people in the store at any point in time. Just on and on and on. But you’re doing everything you can.”

Shay noted that Kroger’s investments in its associates, communities and its supply chain led to the retailer being recognized by Newsweek as one of America’s Most Responsible Companies in each of the last four years.

“You have a wonderful day when you help others. And our associates experience that every single day,” McMullen said. “I’m just super proud of the whole team. And every single day you just try to help make the world a better place.”

McMullen revealed that the company is working with suppliers to find ways to help customers cope with rising food prices. ““About half of our customers are under a lot of strain from a financial perspective,” he said. “Their wages haven’t kept up with the inflation they’ve incurred.”

Kroger’s investments in technology are a big help in this regard, he said. “For us, we’re constantly focusing on how we’re using technology to make it easier for the customer, to inspire them on what’s for dinner, to help stretch their budget a little bit, and to get groceries how they want to get them.”

Digital coupons are one tool the grocer is using to bring more value to consumers, McMullen said. “I think it’s up to over a trillion coupons that have been downloaded since we started, well over multiple billions a year, and we will curate that experience based on your household. What we’re predicting are things that will help you stretch your budget.”

Kroger’s store brands are also helping customers manage food costs, he said. “Our Brands is gaining a meaningful share of market, and what we find is when customers switch to Our Brands — initially to save money — the experience is so good that they stay with us, even when their budget is a little less strained. We’re not going to put our name on something if the experience isn’t as good or better than the national brand.”

Kroger this month marked the 10th anniversary of its Simple Truth brand of natural and organic food with a marketing campaign that delivered special deals for shoppers using digital coupons on purchases of Simple Truth and Simple Truth Organic items. The Our Brands portfolio comprises more than 14,000 items across about 20 brands. Four of the labels are billion-dollar brands.



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