Q&A: Kroger diversity plan takes action

Dan Ochwat
Executive Editor
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Late last year, Kroger issued a new diversity plan that looked at how it worked with its half a million associates as well as its business partners. The plan aims at building a more inclusive culture at the retailer, develop diverse talent, help them be a better listener, advance diverse partnerships and more.

Angel Colón

Angel Colón, Kroger’s senior director of diversity, equity and inclusion, and supplier inclusion, spoke with Store Brands on how the plan will extend to suppliers of its Our Brands.

Store Brands: Start off by telling us how the Framework for Action: Diversity, Equality & Inclusion came about, what was the process in developing it, how you decided on what to include in the plan of action?
Angel Colón: Kroger has always taken action to stand with our associates, customers and communities as strong allies in the fight against intolerance, injustice and racism and has long prioritized diversity, inclusion and equity across our business. However, after witnessing events of racial and social injustice in 2020, Kroger knew it could not remain silent and must double-down on its diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. This year provided clarity, the opportunity for reflection and revealed how much more work we must do. 

In order to develop the framework, we stopped and listened. We surveyed associates from a variety of backgrounds, geographic divisions and verticals within the business and turned to Kroger’s African American Associate Resource Group for advice on how we can improve. Through months of listening and careful development, Kroger was then able to announce its Framework for Action: Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Plan in October of this year. The plan features both immediate and long-term steps developed in collaboration with our associates and leaders to accelerate and promote greater change in the workplace and in the communities served by the company. The framework supports our commitment to educating and showing our leaders and associates how to be stronger allies — to be more empathetic, supportive and aware of our own unconscious bias. Together, we’re building a better, more inclusive Kroger.

SB: Outline some of the key action items in this framework and how you expect to fulfill them. 
AC: Kroger’s Framework for Action: Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Plan features five focus areas: Create more inclusive culture, develop diverse talent, advance diverse partnerships, advance equitable communities, and deeply listen and report progress. I want to highlight a few foundational actions that have helped Kroger create a more inclusive culture for our 500,000-plus associates.

First, Kroger established a DE&I Advisory Council, featuring associates from across its family of companies and headed by Monica Garnes, retail division president, in order to gather critical feedback and remain accountable to long-term DE&I commitments. The DE&I Advisory Council partners with senior leaders and longstanding associate resource and advocacy groups, representing Black, Latinx, Asian, LGBTQ, and physically and intellectually disabled associates as well as veterans, women, parents and millennials to drive organizational change. This council played an integral role in collaborating and developing the framework. 

Second, Kroger is providing Unconscious Bias training to every leader in 2020 and DE&I training for every associate by May 2021. We are committed to providing foundational and advanced DE&I training to every leader, using custom curriculum developed by DE&I experts. The company is currently preparing a more comprehensive DE&I training program for the nearly 500,000 associates across its organization, which will be introduced in spring 2021.

Many of the commitments outlined in the Framework for Action: Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Plan build off foundational policies already in place at Kroger. The events of this past year acted as a catalyst to accelerate, expand and more deeply invest in our diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. The framework also acts as a forcing function to hold us accountable to our customer and associates. If anything, this year proved that there’s always room to improve and do better.

SB: What are the most important ways this framework can impact suppliers of Kroger’s Our Brands, how are they included?
AC: At Kroger, we are prioritizing the diversification of our suppliers as part of our efforts to forge and advance diverse partnerships. 

We at Kroger have had a longstanding supplier inclusion program, reflecting partnerships with Black, indigenous and people of color, or BIPOC, entrepreneurs, women- and veteran-owned brands and services, and businesses operated by the LGBTQ community as well as business operators with disabilities. The award-winning program supports, promotes and grows diverse-owned enterprises within Kroger’s sizable operation. To further advance this program, Kroger has committed to increase spend with diverse suppliers from $3.4 billion to $10 billion by 2030.

Another way Kroger is advancing diverse partnerships is by ensuring our media partners align with our values in order to reach diverse customers. Kroger is reviewing its current portfolio of partners, expanding existing relationships and developing new partnerships with groups that prioritize coverage of DE&I-related topics, such as Blavity Inc. and Hispanicize. Kroger will also continue to expand its network of BIPOC social influencers, focusing on content creators who write about food, recipes, and health and wellness.

SB: How can diverse suppliers for Kroger Our Brands or potential suppliers get involved with Kroger and be involved in the framework?
AC: We welcome any supplier. There are three easy steps that we recommend a potential supplier complete to be considered, including reviewing our New Supplier Checklist; exploring diverse supplier certifications with the certifying organizations listed in the checklist; and emailing your company’s capability statement to [email protected]

If any supplier has additional questions or concerns, they can email [email protected]

SB: What goals are you setting, specifically in Our Brands, that you hope to achieve with this new framework?
AC: Kroger will apply the same action item of prioritizing the diversification of our suppliers to the Our Brands sourcing process. As the senior director of diversity and inclusion, multicultural development and supplier inclusion, my team works extremely closely with the Our Brands sourcing team. We have policies in place that ensure at least one minority supplier applies to any RFP. Just as we are focusing on expanding minority vendors’ presence on our shelves, Kroger is also creating opportunities for minority vendors and suppliers to participate in the Our Brands sourcing process.

My team works extremely closely with the Our Brands sourcing team. We have policies in place that ensure at least one minority supplier applies to any RFP.

SB: What can we expect to see from Kroger’s Our Brands in the new year, any product trends, innovations as we all look to a better 2021? 
AC: In terms of products, Our Brands is always able to innovate and launch new products that suit the needs of our customers because of the research and reporting produced by 84.51°, Kroger’s data analytics subsidiary. We also will continue to host our Kroger Supplier Innovation Summits, in which we invite select organizations, associations, vendors and businesses to meet with our category managers. We’re incredibly excited to source, meet and work with many new suppliers in 2021 and beyond.  

In addition, Our Brands will remain focused on bringing sustainable, diverse suppliers into its sourcing and supply chain process. We’re also committed to training and developing vendors within our network via webinars and providing business coaching to encourage long-term relationships and mutually beneficial relationships. 

One of the latest Our Brands innovations is the expansion of our exclusive Simple Truth Plant Based collection, including the launch of 50 new, fresh and flavorful plant-based foods at affordable prices, including non-dairy cheeses, oat milk ice cream as well as Emerge fresh chicken-less patties and grinds.