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Behind the Scenes at Ahold USA

An interview with Kim Cannon, Director of Internal Communications, Ahold USA

Q. Tell us a little about Ahold USA.

KC: Ahold USA (AUSA) represents the U.S. sector of Koninklije Ahold N.V., a Dutch-based international company with retail grocery in multiple countries. AUSA’s four divisions operate more than 800 stores across the Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions. Our family of stores includes Stop & Shop, Giant Foods and GIANT/MARTIN’S. In addition, Peapod is AUSA’s online grocery business.

AUSA stores put the customers’ constantly changing needs, habits and expectations at the core of our business. Not only do today’s consumers want to eat healthier, they want higher quality, more convenience and to save money. They want to shop in a warm and welcoming environment, but are often too pressed for time to enjoy a casual trip to the supermarket.

To meet these growing expectations, we offer better products, a better environment and better prices. This means containing costs, improving product selection and merchandising, and making sure we have friendly, knowledgeable staff in our stores. The success of our businesses depends on Associates’ commitment and passion. Without their buy-in, our businesses can’t achieve their goals. It’s incredibly important to have each and every Associate on board – and yes, that means supporting 100,000+ Associates to help them understand our markets and strategy and what they can do every day help our customers save money, save time and eat well.

Stop & Shop store

Image source: Stop & Shop on Facebook

Q. How have you traditionally driven Associates’ engagement with the business?

KC: Most division Associates work in retail stores or at distribution centers. They aren’t at computers during the day, and a 9-to-5 schedule isn’t all that typical for them. This means our divisions have to rely on printed materials and manager-led communications to reach and engage with every Associate.

Over the past few years, we have developed a structure to help Associates understand our customers’ constantly changing needs. Our divisions hold quarterly engagement meetings to provide an inside look at our strategy and our expectations of them. Our divisions follow that up with printed communications and other tools such as sales aids, reference guides and posters. Recently, we also implemented recognition programs that reinforce customer service behaviours our divisions expect their employees to exhibit, and reward Associates for exceeding customers’ expectations.

While this infrastructure has worked, we’re excited to continue the transition to digital communications to support store managers and ensure we understand Associate concerns and challenges in real time. This approach allows our businesses to be more informative, interactive and inspiring. A few of the current initiatives underway include:

  • Our divisions are launching an Associate web portal to give in-store Associates the opportunity to receive updates on the company’s success, recognition of associates doing great work and other interesting news without cumbersome processes or logins. Managers and district teams will be able to issue updates in real time, which is a huge advantage for Associates.
  • One of our divisions is piloting an Instagram program with Associates to further spread success stories amongst store locations. Associates can share what’s working in their stores and spotlight recent successes or milestones. This program recognises great work, gets Associates involved and allows stores to copy each other’s success.
  • Our divisions launched an interactive digital career tool that allows Associates to explore all the different directions they can go in the company and meet other Associates who have already advanced along the same or similar career paths. This helps Associates plan and develop the skills they need to grow.

Q. Has going digital been a difficult sell with leadership?

KC: Not at all. Peapod pioneered the online grocery business and our company’s digital strategy is central to its overall business plans. It’s in our DNA. At the same time, our leadership wants to ensure we focus on the right activities and initiatives in this space.

For every digital initiative we consider, there are a host of questions, starting with, “Does it support Associates in focusing on our customers’ needs and expectations?” In addition, we always consider the business case from a financial perspective, as well as the risks, including the unique risks associated with social media. Risks are managed with a thorough discussion of the issues and, where appropriate, detailed mitigation plans to give our executives confidence we’re prepared to address any issues that arise. This lets us focus on the upside of driving engagement with Associates to grow our business.

Q. How will this shift toward digital change Associate communications and business outcomes in the future?

KC: Our digital strategy is designed to give us the opportunity to be more responsive to our customers and our Associates. We will be able to gather more real-time insights from Associates about our customers and about their wants and needs, so the benefits are considerable.

However, we also understand the shift toward digital engagement and communications does not replace and should support and complement in-person interaction. It’s simply an added layer of connectivity, meant to improve the communications already in place. The combination of high-touch and high-tech will create deeper loyalty and commitment among Associates and, ultimately, lead to a better overall customer experience.

This article is a part of MSLGROUP’s Optimising Digital Collaboration from the Inside Out, for more information contact Anthony Poncier T +33 14482 4648 M +33 62334 0881 or Sébastian Faure T +33 14482 4565.

Kim Cannon - Ahold USA


Kim is the Director of Associate Engagement and Internal Communications at Ahold USA (AUSA). She is responsible for informing and engaging employees to become brand ambassadors. Connect with her on Twitter @kim_cannon_ausa.