Grocery Initiatives Should Always Focus on Helping People

Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen shares his views on taking care of the customer
Emily Crowe
Multimedia Editor
Emily Crowe
Kroger McMullen
Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen stressed the importance of taking care of customers during last week's Grocery Industry Week.

The grocery industry represents different things to different people, and for The Kroger Co. CEO Rodney McMullen, everything he does in his job is geared toward finding new ways to take care of his customers. During McMullen’s chat with Progressive Grocer Editor-in-Chief Gina Acosta during last week’s Grocery Industry Week, in Orlando, Fla., a common thread emerged as he discussed the goings-on at Kroger: helping people.

When it comes to e-commerce, for example, McMullen said that the company looks at it as more than just creating a seamless experience. “How do we take care of the customer, and their needs, and feeding them the way they want to be fed?” he asked. 

As McMullen further explained, Kroger has found that after its customers begin using online order fulfillment, they tend to make trips into the company’s physical stores more often than they did before becoming online shoppers. In other industries, however, customers stop going into physical stores once they start using e-commerce.

“Technology is the glue that connects all the pieces,” McMullen said. “If you look at the digital strategy itself, obviously when a customer comes in to shop in the store, they put their labor into putting items into a cart and checking out. When they shop online, that labor becomes our expense.”

Kroger’s investment in grocery sheds and micro-fulfillment centers is part of the key behind keeping economics the same for customers, regardless of which channel they’re using to shop, McMullen said, and using insights and data allows the company to make that experience more seamless while also inspiring shoppers.

Whether it’s giving people the ingredients they need to show off their new cooking skills learned during the pandemic, or helping customers through tough economic times with its private label offerings, Kroger puts a premium on bringing people and families together.

“When you think about our purpose, and Kroger’s purpose, it’s to feed the human spirit,” McMullen said. “Everybody in this room, your purpose is to help others. I think that’s the reason people fall in love with this industry.”

In speaking about Kroger’s Zero Hunger | Zero Waste initiative, McMullen shared that the company is willing to partner with any organization, even a competitor, to help feed people and lessen its environmental footprint. “Our commitment is that if we operate somewhere, we aspire to have zero hunger in that market,” he said. “It’s just our aspiration, and we know we can’t do it on our own.”

McMullen also discussed the food-as-medicine movement and Kroger’s further commitment to helping people make better food choices through research, partnerships, its OptUp nutrition program, and more. “If you can help people understand how to eat better, that’s good for everyone. We fundamentally believe we can do that,” he explained.

Merging with The Albertsons Cos. is a way that Kroger plans to bring even more change to the shoppers it serves, McMullen said, thanks to a larger scale and even more resources.

“When you look at a $200 billion company and how you use that data for the benefit of the customer and associates – we’re just getting started,” he explained. “You don’t do anything individually in this business. You know together you’re doing something that, individually, none of us could’ve done.”

Serving 60 million households annually nationwide through a digital shopping experience, and almost 2,800 retail food stores under a variety of banner names, Cincinnati-based Kroger is No. 4 on The PG 100, Progressive Grocer’s 2022 list of the top food and consumables retailers in North America. Boise, Idaho-based Albertsons, operating more than 2,200 retail stores with 1,700-plus pharmacies, 402 associated fuel centers, 22 dedicated distribution centers and 20 manufacturing facilities, is No. 9 on PG’s list.

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