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Kroger’s retail school is now in session

Columnist David Orgel writes about how the retailer, in response to the pandemic, is sharing best practices with all stakeholders — suppliers, employees, customers and even competitors — knowing that it will benefit the industry.
David Orgel
Principal, David Orgel Consulting

Longtime observers know that leading retail companies tend to keep things close to the vest. 

This business is ultra-competitive and food and drug retailers generally avoid publicly sharing too much strategic information. 

That’s why it’s stunning that Kroger recently has been sharing so many best practices with the rest of the industry. 

From a manual on key pandemic lessons to resources for small businesses, Kroger has put a premium on education. 

Has Kroger somehow lost its senses with all this sharing? Hardly. 

The giant retailer understands that lifting all stakeholders — including suppliers, employees, customers and even competitors — benefits the industry and solidifies its own leadership position. 

That’s a good lesson for other retailers to take in. And it doesn’t mean you need to give away all your proprietary information — sharing can be selective.

Let’s take a look at some of what Kroger has been sharing. 

Guidance for the Pandemic
Kroger unveiled a remarkable report last year called “Sharing What We’ve Learned: A Blueprint for Businesses.” This eye-popping 79-page document amounts to a complete playbook for how to respond to the pandemic, with useful information even for companies outside of the food industry. Topics covered included response teams and decision-making, leveraging data, educating employees and customers and communications best practices — with a list of suggested tools. 

In an introduction to the report, Rodney McMullen, Kroger’s chairman and CEO, explained the goal.

“We want to share what we’ve learned and best practices with other businesses, so they can take steps now to develop protocols and procedures to reopen safely and continue to flatten the curve.”

Guide for Small Businesses 
Kroger launched a “Small Business Resource Guide” in May of 2021 that outlined how entrepreneurial suppliers can get their start in retail.

The guide is tied to Kroger’s plan unveiled last fall called “Framework for Action: Diversity, Equity & Inclusion.”

Kroger’s guidance in the small business report covers topics such as product development, pricing, partnership development and promotion. 

As the report’s introduction states, “This guide focuses on best practices to land retail product placement and is intended to offer helpful insights to small brands that are looking to pitch Kroger — or any other retailer.”

Food Trends and Predictions 
Retailers are known for sharing food trends with suppliers and partners, but not necessarily for widely disseminating trends and forecasts. After all, this can be viewed as releasing competitive information. Nevertheless, Kroger puts a priority on this type of transparency.

In December of last year it released its “Top 10 Trending Foods of 2020,” based on year-over-year sales growth across Kroger's business, including nearly 2,800 retail stores and pickup, delivery and ship. Topping the list were zero-calorie soft drinks, shredded cheese, flavored potato chips and sauvignon blanc wine. 

It also unveiled food trend predictions for 2021 — even spotlighting Kroger items that line up with each trend as a bit of an advertisement.

The focus on Kroger isn’t meant to take anything away from other leading retailers. Most have handled themselves exceptionally well during the pandemic and launched highly commendable initiatives for sustainability, diversity and inclusion, feeding assistance, health and well-being — and of course administering COVID-19 vaccines. 

However, it’s important to call out Kroger’s approaches as unique, both in direction and scale. The retailer has become a sort of university for the industry — a stance that ultimately benefits everyone. There’s additional room for other retailers to put their own novel spins on this concept. 

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