Anil Aggarwal, Founder and CEO, Shoptalk/Groceryshop
If the technologist and the shopkeeper had a baby—and don’t look now, but they have—its playpen would be Shoptalk. The conference, founded in 2015 by Anil Aggarwal, has grown into a unique event drawing disparate players whose interests have come together at digital retail, from investors to inventors and retailers to real estate people. Aggarwal has a long association with retail and technology, having spent many years in the card and payments field as those industries went digital. In addition to founding Shoptalk and its sister Groceryshop, Aggarwal is an investor and in the healthcare and financial technology industries and a founder of networking events in those fields as well.
Jag Bath, Chief Digital Officer, H-E-B; president and CEO of its wholly owned subsidiary Favor
Of the many things Jag Bath’s on-demand delivery company Favor achieved, one of them was the realization that delivery workers who used emojis in their texts with customers tended to see bigger tips. The lesson: In the age of technology, human relationships still carry worth. Seeking to create the same kind of rapport with its shoppers, the Texas-based grocery giant HEB acquired Favor earlier this year and installed Bath as its new chief digital officer. The international executive with experience in well-loved startups such as Favor, Gilt and RetailMeNot says his goal is to accelerate H-E-B’s efforts to become the digital industry leader in Texas.
Yael Cosset, Chief Digital Officer, The Kroger Co.
Described as “a passionate advocate for using customer science to make a difference in the lives of our customers,” Yael Cosset is in the right place at Kroger, where the launch of its Restock strategy this this year is directing millions toward innovation, including an exclusive partnership with online grocery supermarket Ocado; a merger with Home Chef; launch of the new Kroger Ship business; and the establishment of a new digital headquarters. A native of France, Cosset came to Kroger through its data highly regarded analytics firms Dunnhumby USA and its successor, 84.51.
Jim Donald, President and CEO, Albertsons Cos.
As one of the most admired execs in the food industry, the passionate, plain-spoken Jim Donald has enjoyed a storied career. While it would be easy to assume the former CEO of Starbucks, Haggen Food & Pharmacy and Extended Stay Hotels would be content playing the back nine at this point, Donald is back in the president-and-CEO saddle at Albertsons, where he joined in March as president and COO. With nearly five decades of watching, listening, learning and executing strategies and lessons from employees and retail icons under his belt, Donald’s destiny was defined in the early years of his career by being handpicked by Walmart founder Sam Walton to help build its Supercenter division. Upon being named to his latest post, Donald’s former boss and Albertsons’ company chairman Bob Miller relayed confidence in his successor when stating, “There is no better leader for Albertsons Cos. at this stage in our evolution.”
Johannes Fieber, President and CEO, Lidl U.S.
While its planned invasion of the U.S. wasn’t quite the success that might have been imagined, Lidl isn’t heading back to Europe. Instead, it’s working on a version 2.0 behind a new U.S. CEO, Johannes Fieber. Sources indicate Fieber, a former leader at successful Lidl divisions in Sweden and Italy, has a powerful ally in parent Schwarz Group CEO Klaus Gehrig and is likely to emphasize the chain’s traditional strengths to overcome challenges related to locations that were likely too large and poorly located to successfully exploit the impact that its prices and selection might otherwise have so far had. Stay tuned.
J.J. Fleeman, President, Peapod Digital Labs; chief e-commerce officer, Ahold Delhaize USA
Virtual grocery retailers, not unlike their physical counterparts, need a bit of reinvention from time to time. The venerable Peapod brand of Ahold Delhaize appears to be undergoing such a reinvention now under J.J. Fleeman, the new chief e-commerce officer and president of newly christened Peapod Digital Labs for parent Ahold Delhaize. Fleeman, who has worked with Delhaize and its brands in various roles since 1990, promises the revamped Peapod “will drive market-leading digital and e-commerce capabilities to power the company’s six local brands as they create best-in-class customer experiences.” That indicates the brand will extend to newly integrated banners Hannaford and Food Lion, which have long benefited from Fleeman’s touch in areas such as marketing, operations and merchandising.
Jason Hart, CEO, Aldi U.S.
Aldi U.S. CEO Jason Hart is ably steering a five-year plan that aims to fulfill a vision to vault the small-format, value-focused chain into the third-largest grocer with more than 2,500 stores by 2022, directly behind Walmart and Kroger. At the helm of the Batavia, Ill.-based retailer since 2015 after joining the company in 1993 as a management trainee, Hart has ascended through the ranks mirroring Aldi’s sure and steady expansion and ongoing progression into more suburban middle-class and upper-middle-class neighborhoods. Midway through a $5.3 billion cap-ex purse to remodel its existing more than 1,800 stores and build an additional 800 new locations, Hart’s confident vision was captured in a single statement he made earlier this year: “We’re growing at a time when other retailers are struggling. We are giving our customers what they want, which is more organic produce, antibiotic-free meats and fresh healthier options across the store, all at unmatched prices up to 50% lower than traditional grocery stores.”
Gary and Sterling Hawkins, Founder and CEO and Co-founder, Center for Advancing Retail Technology (CART)
The father and son team of Gary and Sterling Hawkins has emerged as a one-stop shop of aptitude, intelligence and sagacious know-how for retail trading partners to access from its collaborative platform that’s better known by its CART moniker than by its formal Center for Advancing Retail & Technology surname. Connecting the industry to innovation with an astute grasp and perceptive knowledge of the various disruptive forces occurring across the retail supply chain, Hawkins’ CART has become an invaluable resource for helping retail supply chain partners—particularly independents and startups—fast-track their way to being a viable part of the industry transformation, as opposed to being a casualty of it.
Chris Lane, EVP, Wakefern Food Corp.
A pharmacist by trade, Chris Lane has a prescription for Wakefern that involves a generous mix of the entrepreneurial spirit of the co-op’s member-owners and a spoonful of innovation. When hired in his current role nearly two years ago, “our goal was to select an individual who would honor our past and, at the same time, challenge the status quo to ensure a bright future for Wakefern and our members,” said Joe Sheridan, president and COO. “Chris is innovative, forward-thinking and willing to take the calculated risks required to navigate a challenging, competitive environment where emerging technologies and changing consumer preferences require us to be nimble and able to respond with urgency.”
Bo and Trish Sharon, Co-founders, Lucky’s Market
Bo and Trish Sharon met in cooking school and turned their shared passion for food into a Boulder, Colo.-based grocery store that once belonged to Trish’s family. Today, they’re the husband-and-wife team behind Lucky’s Markets, the innovative fresh food store growing rapidly behind new investment from Kroger. Lucky’s combines the indulgent spin on natural/organic and prepared foods offered at stores such as Whole Foods with a focus on sharp pricing that’s not unlike Sprouts, all with a lively personality of its own. Lucky’s has nearly doubled in size since the Kroger investment, today operating 34 stores, with more on the way.
Steve Kessel, SVP, Amazon
Amazon isn’t trusting the crucial expansion of the grocery to just anyone. SVP Steve Kessel is one of a small handful of executives reporting directly to founder and CEO Jeff Bezos. Late last year, he took charge of Amazon’s nascent food retailing efforts including Prime Now and Amazon Fresh businesses and its newly acquired retail brand, Whole Foods. Kessel’s track record at Amazon includes leading teams that developed its e-reader and tablets and headed up creation of physical bookstores and its innovative Amazon Go concept. In Whole Foods, Kessel has a canvas upon which to “Amazon-ize” the grocery business—and, sources note, a culture gap to bridge.
Terry Ledbetter, Chief Information Officer, Meijer Inc.
Beyond its pioneering role with supercenters, Meijer was an early adopter of digital marketing with its nine-year-old mPerks platform, which continues to evolve under the guidance of the retailer’s CIO, Terry Ledbetter. After joining the Grand Rapids, Mich.-based chain in 2015, Ledbetter has overhauled the retailer’s technology platforms and infrastructure alongside a series of initiatives and significant investments to further strengthen its increasingly sophisticated use of advanced data and analytics across e-commerce, delivery, marketing, merchandising, personalization and localization.
Marc Lore, President and CEO, Walmart eCommerce U.S.
A linchpin in Walmart’s full-bore ambitions to go toe-to-toe with Amazon—and the rest of the retail world as well—is Marc Lore, who helms the retailer’s U.S. e-commerce efforts. Appointed to his post in September 2016 after the Bentonville, Ark.-based chain acquired his Jet.com, Lore is described as “the digital embodiment of Walmart.” As his quest to galvanize the company’s corporate culture leads with an emboldened mindset bent on capturing sales—not only from its established and transitory customers but also from the next generation of shoppers in as many ways possible across its apps, sites and stores—Lore gets to add another feather in his cap as Grocery Game Changer, alongside his previous accolades as E&Y’s Entrepreneur of the Year regional winner and Fortune’s Smartest People in Technology.
Amin Maredia, CEO, Sprouts Farmers Markets
A merchant descended from a long line of farmers, Amin Maredia has a background as a bean counter and a health-food enthusiast who began in the kitchen of a Kentucky Fried Chicken that has prepared him well for his CEO role at Sprouts Farmers Markets. The company has grown to more than 300 stores in Sprouts’ 16th year of operation—including the opening of its first location over the Mason-Dixon Line in Philadelphia last month. Maredia has led Sprouts through a period of rapid expansion, ambitious growth and strong financial results, all of which factored heavily in the Phoenix-based chain’s selection as WGB’s 2018 Grocery Business of the Year. Maredia effuses contagious confidence in the chain’s 27,000 associates when evangelizing the company’s creed: “We believe healthy living is a journey and every meal is a choice. We love to inspire, educate and empower every person to eat healthier and live a better life.”
Apoorva Mehta, CEO, Instacart
Apoorva Mehta once told an interviewer he’d started about 20 companies—all of them failures—before hitting the jackpot with Instacart, the crowdsourced shopping app now serving thousands of stores and still growing. A key to Instacart’s success, Mehta says, is faith in its ability to solve real problems for both stores and their shoppers: The latter wants easier ways to shop; the former needs a way to do it affordably.
Steven Spinner, Chairman and CEO, UNFI
Steven Spinner has demonstrated at United Natural Foods that simply being in the right place isn’t enough. While the distributor has long benefited from growth of its namesake categories, Spinner over the past decade has devoted his energies to expanding UNFI’s reach, transforming it first to a diversified supplier of fresh and specialty items, and now into a mainstream supermarket supplier with the bold acquisition of Supervalu and its thousands of wholesale accounts.
John Ross, CEO, IGA
Armed with can-do energy, a fresh set of eyes and ample experience from his extensive background in marketing, retail and shopper science, John Ross wasted little time designing a new plan to transform IGA and its local independents after his arrival as CEO in September 2017. One year later, Ross has invigorated the member-owners of the world’s largest group of independent grocers with the rollout of a series of major transformational initiatives that collectively represent the largest simultaneous program development project in IGA’s history. Highly regarded for his analytical thinking and pragmatic optimism, Ross is sharing his penchant for data and insights to paint a future that is both bright and obtainable while advocating for a complete modernization of IGA—from the corporate level and onward to the retailers themselves.
Donna Tweeten, EVP, CMO and CCO, Hy-Vee Inc.
As the solo female Grocery Game Changer, Donna Tweeten, EVP and chief marketing officer for Hy-Vee Inc., is a seasoned brand steward for the $10 billion, 245-store regional retailer. A former advertising agency executive whose largest client was Hy-Vee (which subsequently purchased the agency), Tweeten saw her responsibilities grow commensurately with Hy-Vee’s foray into new markets, formats, facilities, services and digital capabilities. At the heart of her broad role is overseeing adaptive branding, marketing and communications strategies that resonate with shoppers’ changing needs and wants, including a new approach Hy-Vee took last year to taper weekly full-color, multipage weekly circulars in favor of a more diverse mix for which digitally based communications are a top priority.