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How Ahold Avoids Imposing the ‘Dutch Way’

How Ahold Avoids Imposing the ‘Dutch Way’

They are two European-based retail companies, headquartered in different countries, with varied go-to-market strategies.

What they have in common is that both operators, Ahold and Tesco, have made big forays into the U.S. market. One succeeded, the other didn’t.

Britain’s Tesco is currently concluding its high-profile Fresh & Easy experiment in the U.S., blamed by observers for never really understanding the American market.

Netherlands-based Ahold, on the other hand, is now marking its 35th anniversary in the U.S., with store banners including Giant-Carlisle and Stop & Shop.

Ahold’s decades-long ride has come with some big bumps, but clearly the company knows something about succeeding in this country. Dick Boer, CEO, provided some insights into Ahold’s approach during a recent interview in SN’s New York offices. He was careful to avoid making any remarks about Tesco or other competitors. 

“You have to be careful [in the U.S.] not to say, ‘This is the Dutch way.’ That’s the last thing I want to do.” — Ahold CEO Dick Boer
“You have to be careful [in the U.S.] not to say, ‘This is the Dutch way.’ That’s the last thing I want to do.” — Ahold CEO Dick Boer

The importance of respecting local needs and culture is a guiding principle, he explained.

“For us, it’s like we have two home markets, in the U.S. and the Netherlands,” Boer said of Ahold’s strategy. “You have to be careful [in the U.S.] not to say, ‘This is the Dutch way.’ That’s the last thing I want to do.”

Boer said being a non-American makes him cautious about expansion decisions here, because he realizes the need to fully understand differences among far-flung regions.

While some other global operators might focus primarily on synergies in operating here, Ahold also puts a premium on bringing value to customers, including through loyalty efforts and expanded offerings, he said.

Not that Ahold discounts synergies. The company has long emphasized efficiencies across divisions, and it attempts to share best practices across different parts of the world.


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Boer pointed to two such Ahold sharing examples: Albert Heijn of the Netherlands adopting some concepts from Giant-Carlisle in relaunching a loyalty program, and U.S. divisions absorbing lessons from European units in developing private-label programs (click here for more from the Ahold interview).

While Ahold faces varied challenges and opportunities by country, there is a common thread. Consumer preferences are changing faster than ever, and shoppers everywhere insist on being in the driver’s seat. Ahold knows it will need to be at the top of its game.

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