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OPINIONRetailers

Why We Chose Ahold Delhaize as Our 2019 Grocery Business of the Year

Thoughtful, thorough integration of former rivals in grocery make the conglomerate and its brands a potent force.
Stop and Shop
Photograph by WGB Staff

major observations

As anyone who has spent time with members of Ahold Delhaize USA’s leadership team over the past year will readily attest, their palpable spirit of pride and joy is a direct reflection of the vibrant tempo of their three-year-old post-merger strategy that’s decidedly clicked.

And by all indications, the best is yet to come for Ahold Delhaize USA and its extended family of associates, which have been unanimously chosen as Winsight’s 2019 Grocery Business of the Year.

The series of impressive achievements logged by the company during the past 15 months were made possible in no small part by the thoughtful and thorough integration of the former international rivals under the guidance of one of the most talented and capable contingents of corporate and divisional retail leaders in the grocery business today, including Frans Muller, Kevin Holt, J.J. Fleeman, Roger Wheeler, Meg Ham, Nick Bertram, Gordon Reid, Mark McGowan, Mike Vail and Selma Postma.

These retail leaders are well on their way to furthering the cornerstone of their “Leading Together” strategy to hasten growth and raise the local clout of its regional family of brands, including Stop & Shop, Giant Food, Food Lion, Giant Food Stores, Hannaford and Peapod. To that end, Executive Editor Jon Springer has produced an illuminating profile detailing the impetus that led us to choose Ahold Delhaize with our most significant annual honor.

In our April print edition's cover edition Jon precisely captures the essence of Ahold Delhaize’s excellent adventure, which, it bears repeating, is underscored by a spot-on blend of exceptional top leaders, a highly talented bench of division presidents and an increasingly energized base of thousands of dedicated associates in countless roles companywide.

The synchronicity of having the right people in the right roles at the right time was not only essential to orchestrating a complex integration in near record time—it was also “remarkable,” Ahold Delhaize’s CEO Frans Muller told Jon during their one-on-one interview last month: “We had no disruption, no distraction from the underlying business, and we delivered the synergies exactly as promised.” The creative construction process, meanwhile, was also “sensational ... as a result of a forward-looking stance from everybody at the company who said, ‘We’re going to be stronger together; we’ll forget the past and we’ll focus on the future.’”

Muller speaks volumes when declaring the harmonious integration “a very rare phenomenon in the M&A landscape”—let alone in the retail food space, which, as history shows, is rife with numerous examples detailing the perilous stakes and less-than-stellar results of large-scale mergers of former rivals.

As for what he found to be among the most enlightening nuggets of his interviews with the retailer’s executive team, Jon cites two things: Muller’s account “of getting a brand in a flywheel and how and why they set things up the way they did,” the latter of which was galvanized by Ahold Delhaize’s new-age central services support organization, Retail Business Services (RBS). Impressive to note about the RBS model, Jon says, “is the way it was created as an individual company—with its own philosophy and ability to make its own contributions—as part of a larger partnership model,” which, as Roger Wheeler affirms, has succeeded in meeting the expectations of the original vision to give “associates within Retail Business Services ... an identity ... not [as] a cost center” but as a “solutions provider” across all functions of the company.

The retailer’s shared services support center model is, in fact, “not unlike what’s happening for all of its brands,” adds Jon, alluding to the how all of the company’s brands are now locally run and managed. “For the first time in many years, Stop & Shop and Giant Food will look entirely different from one another,” he said.

For his part, Ahold Delhaize USA CEO Kevin Holt—whom we’re delighted to spotlight on both our April cover and inside profile story—is confident in the company’s locally driven, brand-centric approach, and backs it up when fessing up about being “a strong believer that brands win.”

On behalf of the entire WBG staff, we wholeheartedly congratulate Ahold Delhaize as our 2019 Grocery Business of the Year as we look forward to seeing what comes next.

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