TWIG 2023 Hero Article

Hy-Vee President Named 2023 Top Women in Grocery Trailblazer

Donna Tweeten, the grocer's highest-ranking woman executive, details the value of leading with grace and compassion
Gina Acosta, Progressive Grocer

As the highest-ranking woman leader at the Iowa grocery powerhouse Hy-Vee, President Donna Tweeten has made countless impacts at the retailer over her 20-year career there, overseeing all aspects of marketing and digital development, as well as private brands and merchandising at the $13 billion grocery chain. Tweeten has led all aspects of the retailer’s private-brand strategy, from deciding on offerings and go-to-market approaches to how private-brand products are marketed to increase customer interest. She works to drive creativity and innovation, and has positioned Hy-Vee’s store brands as experiential, value-driven and customer-focused.

Part of the marketing evolution at Hy-Vee involved the expansion of its private brands. To that end, Tweeten and her team have curated a lineup of private brands that meet a wide variety of consumer needs in nearly every category, including canned goods, bread, snacks, drinks, health and wellness, meal solutions, and premium products. Under her leadership, Hy-Vee has expanded into sports marketing and negotiated key partnerships with Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce and Kirk Cousins. Last year, Hy-Vee sponsored the NTT INDYCAR SERIES doubleheader races, in Newton, Iowa, which offered a festival-like atmosphere with music, food and family-focused entertainment. The weekend was one of the most attended races of the series last year, with the exception of the Indianapolis 500. 

hy-vee president
Donna Tweeten

Progressive Grocer: You’ve got a big job, Donna, and we’ll get into the details of all of it, but before we do, take a minute to think back: What was appealing to you about marketing and communications as a college student?

Donna Tweeten: Marketing allowed me to use my strengths in combination with one another. I’ve always been a planner. Planners by nature are strategic, and most marketers find their strategic mindset is what guides them. My other asset is being innately pulled to creative thought and ideation and looking for unique ways to present messaging in both the written and visual form of communication.

PG: What do you remember about those first few days after college and getting a job, the work and interacting with customers?

DT: I feel very fortunate to find a job in the field that I went to college to learn, which eventually turned into a profession. Working in an advertising agency was my goal and my dream job. I started living my dream very early on in my career. 

PG: Can you elaborate on the time when you realized you were going to make a career in the world of food retailing?

DT: It was 1994 and the agency I worked for landed the Hy-Vee account. I was chosen to be the creative lead on the business, and by the end of 1994, Hy-Vee purchased the agency. That’s when I thought my business relationship with the food retailing industry might last a while — and I was right. 

PG: Talk about some of your early influences, who they were and what lessons you learned from them. Were there women role models that you looked up to early on?

DT: I worked for an advertising agency in Chicago named Davis Harrison Dion. Sue Harrison was a partner/owner in the firm and my boss. She taught me how to lead people, and how to have critical conversations coupled with grace and compassion. It’s important to also mention that Hy-Vee Executive Chairman Randy Edeker influenced my creative thinking process and to think bigger at all costs. 

PG: You’ve spent a lot of time in stores and know how they operate. How can you tell whether a store is well run when you first enter the building?

DT: I can see it in the employees the second I walk in the door. A well-run store has an energy that you can see and feel, and it’s displayed in the behavior of the employees. In a well-run store, employees are aggressive in a good way. They ask how your day is going and if you need help finding anything. They look you in the eye and smile with confidence. 

PG: How would you describe your leadership style, and how was it developed?

DT: I am very trusting. I give people a long leash, and I don’t micromanage. However, I’m not afraid to get into the weeds if I’m being called upon or my guidance is being requested. 

PG: How do you strive to inspire others, to instill a spirit of helpfulness and service to the customer — “A helpful smile in every aisle” — that drives retail success regardless of how shoppers engage with Hy-Vee?

DT: I follow Hy-Vee’s mission, which guides my decision-making, period. That mission is to make people’s lives easier, healthier and happier no matter what, even if they are not a customer.

PG: Which one new retail technology or trend do you believe will have the biggest impact on the grocery industry, and why?

DT: Retail media networks. They will singlehandedly influence how brands sell their goods, services, features and benefits to consumers. These networks will impact how they reach them, entice them and talk to them in order to forge a business-to-consumer relationship. 

PG: What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Hy-Vee?

DT: Highlights would be helping to position the company as a mid-major regional grocery chain that has the operational savviness of any national retailer and the service model to compete against any retailer. In doing so, we gained the attention of influencers and celebrities who were willing to align their brand with ours, including Mark Wahlberg, Oprah Winfrey, Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, Drew Barrymore, Curtis Stone, Caitlin Clark and Pink. 

PG: If you had a teenage daughter going to work as an hourly associate in a Hy-Vee store today, what advice would you give her as she headed out the door to begin her first day?

DT: Make a difference today and make someone’s day. And know you have the power to do both every day. 

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