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Kroger CEO takes the stage at NRF Big Show

Rodney McMullen and Matthew Shay
From left, Matthew Shay, NRF president and CEO of National Retail Federation, and Rodney McMullen, chairman and CEO of The Kroger Co. (Photo by Jason Dixson Photography)

The chairman and CEO of the nation’s largest grocer shared insights gleaned from his long career and vision for the future at the National Retail Federation’s annual conference.

The Kroger Co.’s Rodney McMullen joined Matthew Shay, NRF president and CEO, for a conversation on “Feeding the Human Spirit” at NRF 2023: Retail’s Big Show in New York City.

McMullen, who joined the company in 1978 as a part-time stock clerk, discussed how Kroger operates with excellence and continues to serve customers and associates in an ever-changing and competitive grocery industry.

"Fundamentally, we know the grocery business will only ever become more competitive — that has proven true for the last century," said  McMullen. "At Kroger, we succeed by giving a great experience to the customer, investing in associates and making an impact in the communities we serve. When we do that really well, we succeed in living Our Purpose to Feed the Human Spirit."

McMullen shared that the constant evolution of retail makes the industry interesting and dynamic. He noted that during the last four decades shopping habits have gone from weekly trips to the store to the myriad of options customers toggle between today.  

Kroger seeks to deliver a convenient, seamless experience that molds to customers' daily needs —with zero compromise on value and convenience, promising fresh products that helps customers stretch their dollars, McMullen explained. The pandemic accelerated the digital shopping and delivery trend from a three-year horizon into a two-week period. These options remain a necessity for customers as they continue to cook at home and look for savings under the squeeze of inflation.

"A lot of people learned to cook during the pandemic, and when we talk to our customers, they are telling us they really like it, both in terms of eating together and showing off for their family and friends," said McMullen. "When families eat together, it improves so many aspects of their lives. As customers' lives begin to fill with soccer games, band practices and the busyness of daily life, we still see them making time to cook at home."

Kroger has continued to explore and implement technology to remove friction, with allocation of resources toward tech “three or four times” what it was even five years ago, according to McMullen said.

“There’s no sign of that slowing down,” he said. “But it has to be effective.”

McMullen credited Kroger's more than 420,000 associates for the grocer's outstanding customer service and community impact — especially their commitment to support the mission to create communities free from hunger and food waste through Kroger's  Zero Hunger | Zero Waste plan.   He noted that since the launch of the program in 2017, Kroger has donated billions of meals to help end hunger and millions of pounds of surplus fresh food to avoid waste.

Shay and McMullen also discussed Kroger's recognition by Newsweek as one of "America's Most Responsible Companies" for 2023. It’s the fourth consecutive year for the honor. (Companies are selected based on publicly available key performance indicators derived from Corporate Responsibility Reports, Corporate Citizen Reports or Sustainability Reports, as well as an independent survey.)

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