One of the most important social issues of our time — racial diversity, equity and inclusion — was the topic for an eye-opening panel discussion Tuesday during the virtual FMI Midwinter Executive Conference.
Sponsored by IRI, and moderated by DEI specialist Sharon Hall of Spencer Stuart, the session focused on what food industry leaders can do to truly make a difference and move toward more diverse, equitable, and inclusive organizations, institutions and approaches and asked what key changes need to be made.
Taking part on the panel were Todd Schnuck, chairman and CEO of Schnuck Markets, a regional chain of 112 stores based in St. Louis; Angela Spence, director of diversity & inclusion at Ahold Delhaize USA, operator of East Coast grocery chains Stop & Shop, The Giant Company, Giant Food, Hannaford and Food Lion; and Steven Williams, CEO of PepsiCo Foods North America.
According to Schnuck, diversity and inclusion are a natural extension of the retailer’s mission. “Our why is to nourish people's lives,” he said. “And if you really think about the extension of that, we're all in the food business obviously, but what can we do to nourish people's lives? And we think working on diversity, equity and inclusion just goes hand in hand with that. And it's just a natural extension for us.”
Schnucks has a long history of supporting community efforts in its market, including diversity initiatives. Schnuck shared some advice for businesses that are now ramping up their efforts.
“Create or designate an individual in your operation, be it large or a single store operation, that is responsible for D&I. It's really important that you have senior level support. In our case, I have a weekly meeting with the three other individuals in our company that are responsible for our activities with D&I, and I think that gives credibility to what you're doing and it shows the importance to the organization,” he said. “Probably one of the most important things is to really start listening, listen to your team and your community and understand others’ life experiences because until you really start to listen and understand, you're not going to determine or really understand the importance of D&I.”
Schnuck (left) recounted a meeting he recently had with Bishop Michael Jones, pastor of the largest congregation of any kind in the St. Louis metro area. “Before we met, I said, ‘Michael, I have to tell you, you're going to be staring at nine white faces.’ And he said, ‘Well, Todd, you're going to have to think about that. And do something about that.’ And a couple of days later I went to Dave Peacock, who's our president and chief operating officer, and I said, ‘Dave, we've got an open marketing position, chief marketing officer, and we need to go out and we need to find a qualified person of color that we can put into that position.
“And we did. And within about a month, we hired an individual who has added a great viewpoint to our organization and it has been a great step.”
Another step Schnucks has taken is participating in listening tours with its team members, including a town hall with the entire organization. “Anybody could join,” Schnuck said. “We had over a thousand people that signed into the town hall and we gave our thoughts and announced our plan and then opened it up to questions from the organization. It was a great step for us.”
At PepsiCo, Williams said, “We have a handful of people we meet with periodically in both the Black and Hispanic community, that help kind of guide our thinking. We met with them. We also met with our external advisory like the NAACP, UnidosUS and the Urban League. And, you know, most importantly, I'll tell you for a big consumer products company, we listened to our consumers. We did real-time social listening. We also did some custom research to really help understand how our consumers were feeling. We used our platform to speak back to consumers. Our goal through all that was really just to listen and learn what actions we should then take that would have the most impact right on our business with our people and in the communities where we operate.”
Willams (left) pointed to some of PepsiCo’s including the company, including its five-year $400 million Racial Equality Journey, a significant investment to uplift people of color and help address the need for change inside the company, as well as the communities that it operates in.
“We're putting our money where our mouth is because it's good not just for the communities, but it's good for business,” he said. “And if we can advance Black and Hispanic businesses, uplift the community and our people, we're going to be in a great place.”
Like both Schnucks and PepsiCo, Ahold Delhaize USA’s leaders embarked on a listening tour and spent a tremendous amount of time ensuring that its commitment would really connect with all of its store brands, customers and suppliers.
“One of the things that we're really proud of is how we're really putting our customers first as a part of this commitment,” said Spence (left). “We of course have associate programs that will be new to the table this year for our associates of color, a lot of new development offerings, but we've taken an extra effort on the customer side to really begin to understand the needs of our customers as they enter the grocery store.”
She continued, “We're having conversations across all of our main key suppliers that consumers would see in the grocery store and saying that diversity and inclusion is not something that Ahold Delhaize USA can do on its own, but something that we're going to do in partnership. Part of our brand reviews with partners focus on what can we do together. And what does that look like with the customer and on the shelves and how do we connect with them? How do we move the retail industry forward in diversity and inclusion and partnership versus being just a single industry or a single brand? We’re really looking across the supply chain and really challenging ourselves to create a movement within retail grocery on how we're going to connect better with customers, connect with diverse customers and continue on with our associate base and ensuring that our associates of color are progressing through the ranks.”