Lynn Marmer, group VP for corporate affairs at The Kroger Co., has announced her plans to retire in early 2016 after 18 years with the nation’s largest traditional grocer.
The company’s first female corporate officer, Marmer joined Cincinnati-based Kroger as a senior attorney in the legal department in 1997 after a decade in private law practice.
“Lynn has been a trusted counselor and advisor to three CEOs during a period of significant change in food retail. We wish her and her family all the best in retirement,” said Rodney McMullen, Kroger’s chairman and CEO. “Lynn has always appreciated the power of our industry to connect with people’s everyday lives. Her leadership has helped advance Kroger as a leader in community engagement – especially through our partnership with local food banks – and in sustainability, customer relations, and always connecting our external relations efforts to our Customer 1st business strategy.”
Marmer’s successor will be announced at a later date, the company announced.
Lynn Marmer: A real trailblazer
In 2012, Marmer was honored as the first-ever recipient of the Top Women in Grocery Trailblazer Award from Progressive Grocer and the Network of Executive Women (NEW), which pays tribute to a single food industry executive whose leadership, vision and influence have had profound influences on blazing new trails for women in the retail food industry.
“We couldn’t have chosen a more suitable inaugural Trailblazer recipient than Lynn, who has been a true architect of change in a business where men have traditionally far outnumbered women in all capacities, save clerk,” Meg Major, PG’s chief content editor, said of Marmer, a past PG Top Women in Grocery winner and a staunch supporter of what's since grown to become the retail food industry's premier women's leadership recognition program since its inception a decade ago.
“Lynn's leadership and tireless efforts to advance women through the ranks at the nation’s leading supermarket chain, coupled with her commitment to advancing worthwhile causes on behalf of The Kroger Co., as well as those close to her heart in her local community, have been nothing short of remarkable,” Major said. “Lynn is in a league of her own, and her influence on the industry will be felt for years to come.”
Testifying to Marmer’s impact at Kroger – particularly its foremost goal to alleviate food insecurity facing one in six people – during her Trailblazer Award presentation in 2012, the retailer’s former chairman and CEO, David Dillon, said: “When I look at identifying a single woman across all of America who’s made a difference to our industry, company and communities, Lynn would be my top choice, not only because she’s had a big impact on Kroger, but also on all of the communities that we serve across the country.”
Singularly crediting Marmer “as the steward of Kroger’s reputation” in countless local communities from coast to coast, Dillon relayed his deep admiration for her tireless work to serve the many and diverse communities the chain serves at the division-level “to roll out our ideas and programs that touch many, many millions of lives," Major recalled. "David spoke for all of us when he said, “We’re all really proud of Lynn.”
FMI President and CEO Leslie G. Sarasin said Marmer has been "stalwart in her many contributions to the retail food industry, including in her commitment to sustainability and corporate responsibility. Of particular note is her service to the communities in which Kroger operates and her leadership in making Kroger among Feeding America’s leading corporate partners. Her work not only helped improve Kroger’s fresh food donations to Feeding America food banks, but also blazed the way in making it easier for other food retailers to do likewise.
"As a fellow lawyer, Lynn has adeptly utilized her legal background to communicate clearly and persuasively, especially on important public policy issues affecting the industry," Sarasin continued. "Her many contributions will pay dividends for Kroger for a long time as she departs the company and I certainly wish her all the best in her much-deserved opportunity to move to whatever the future holds for her."
Reputation, responsibility, philanthropy
Appointed to her current position in 1998, Marmer focuses on reputation management and leveraging and protecting Kroger’s brand. She leads external communications and brand public relations; media; government and regulatory affairs; corporate social responsibility and environmental sustainability; community relations and customer service centers; crisis management; cause-marketing and corporate philanthropy. She also serves as president of The Kroger Foundation.
Marmer is responsible for growing Kroger’s supplier diversity program to $1 billion annually, creating a national program of fresh food rescue that donates 200 million meals annually to food banks across the United States, and creating four award-winning cause marketing campaigns that contribute millions of dollars to Kroger’s signature community programs. In 2011, Forbes magazine named Kroger the most generous company in America.
“Lynn Marmer has been a consistent champion for people who struggle with hunger," said Matt Knott, president of Feeding America, nothing that Marmer served on the Feeding America national board of directors from 2004 to 2012 and was a huge advocate of Kroger's retail store donation program to food banks, which provides millions of meals to those in need each year. "She also encouraged our network to build a strong national brand and to continue to strengthen our food safety standards to remain in step with the food industry," Knott said. "We will miss working with Lynn, but are deeply grateful for all that she has done for Feeding America, our member food banks and the agencies and people we serve.”
In addition to her industry leadership, Marmer has been deeply involved in nonprofit boards and civic problem-solving groups. She currently is a member of the boards of the Cincinnati Zoo, Interact for Health, CRBC (Cincinnati Regional Business Committee), the Cincinnati Business Committee Education Task Force, Leadership Scholars, Carpe Diem (charter school), the Finance Committee of the Center City Development Corporation (3CDC), and is Chair of the Port Authority of Greater Cincinnati.
Leading strategic initiatives
At Kroger, Marmer guides a team of public affairs leaders located within each of Kroger’s operating divisions as well as a professional staff in Kroger’s general office.
During her tenure, Kroger focused its community engagement on a targeted number of strategic priorities: feeding the hungry and supporting local food banks, inspiring hope for women with breast cancer, partnering with the USO to support U.S. troops and their families, and rewarding local organizations selected by customers through a grassroots Community Rewards program.
Marmer led several important innovations, including formalizing supplier diversity within the company and leading it to its recognition as a national leader, purchasing more than $1 billion in goods and services from companies owned by women and people of color.
Along with the company’s merchants and suppliers, Marmer initiated successful causing marketing programs raising $30 million for breast cancer research and support, $12 million for the USO, and more than 800 million meals in food and funds for nearly 100 food banks over the past five years.
Marmer also led innovations in caring for associates with the creation of the Helping Hands fund, which has distributed $10 million to Kroger associates and, through the Kroger Foundation, funding more than 2,500 scholarships for the children of associates.
Nearly 10 years ago, Marmer worked with senior leadership to formalize Kroger’s approach to sustainability, recognizing early on the opportunity to both save money and also improve the company’s environmental footprint. Today, Kroger has a formal sustainability roundtable with representatives from most areas of the business and is recognized for its leadership on the prestigious Dow Jones Sustainability Index. To increase transparency, Kroger has published nine annual sustainability reports covering environmental, social, economic and supply chain impacts, goals and progress. Today, Kroger is a leader in several areas, including zero waste in plants and stores, selling and supporting sustainable seafood, energy conservation, recycling, and partnerships with key NGOs, including the World Wildlife Fund.
Marmer, along with food safety and operations teams, created a national program to rescue safe food from our grocery stores and donate it to food banks. This program was shared via Feeding America to other grocery retailers across the country. In 2014, more than 65 million meals were donated to Feeding America food banks using the Kroger Perishable Donations program and processes. Kroger's family of stores has donated nearly 240 million meals of fresh food through PDP since 2008.
The grocery industry has evolved during the past decade to recognize the importance of women as industry leaders. Marmer was among the small core of leaders who started the Network of Executive Women. At Kroger, Marmer has been the executive sponsor of EDGE, Kroger’s women’s associate resource group at the company’s general office. She has been a trusted mentor and confidante to women throughout the business.
Marmer has also been honored by YWCA Career Women of Achievement; Girl Scouts of Western Ohio Women of Distinction award; and Cincinnati Enquirer’s Women of the Year. In 2015, Marmer was honored by the National Retail Federation as a key industry influencer.
She joined the Kroger law department in 1997, after 10 years of practicing commercial and real estate law, including as a partner in the Cincinnati law firm of Dinsmore and Shohl. Marmer earned a BS degree in education, an MA in urban planning and her law degree from the University of Cincinnati. She also completed The University of Cambridge (England) Programme for Sustainable Leadership.
Kroger operates 2,626 supermarkets and multidepartment stores in 34 states and the District of Columbia under two dozen local banner names including Kroger, City Market, Dillons, Food 4 Less, Fred Meyer, Fry's, Harris Teeter, Jay C, King Soopers, QFC, Ralphs and Smith’s.