How One Retail VP Scores Emerging Technologies

By Alex Slawsby |  December 15, 2021

Ahold Delhaize, based in the Netherlands, is one of the largest supermarket conglomerates in the world, with $84 billion in annual revenue. But the company is better known by brands it owns, such as Food Lion, Hannaford, Peapod, and Albert Heijn. Retail Business Services, an Ahold Delhaize subsidiary, provides an array of support services like IT, recruiting, supply chain, and store brands.

Heather Paquette is Vice President of RBS’ Retail Innovation Center of Excellence, which hunts for new technologies and concepts with the potential to create value for Ahold’s brands. As part of our latest research report, we spoke to Paquette about where the center sits in the company, and how she thinks about aligning promising new technology with company priorities.

Heather Paquette, VP of the Retail Innovation Center for Excellence

Could you share where you sit in the organization?

Innovation happens in multiple areas. We have eight different brands within Ahold Delhaize — five retail brands (Food Lion, The Giant Company, Giant Food, Hannaford, Stop & Shop) and three support brands (Supply Chain, Peapod Digital Labs, Retail Business Services). My team is a newly created team of 16 people within Retail Business Services called the Retail Innovation Center of Excellence. I report to the President of Retail Business Services. My team’s primary goal is to provide innovation solutions that we can bring to life in our retail brands.

How do you and the Retail Innovation Center of Excellence figure out what emerging technologies to prioritize for further exploration?

We first make sure that we’re aligned with our company-wide priorities, like our Connected Customer Strategy, and that we’re immersed in the brand, market, customer service strategies and operating models of our five retail brands. 

We look for technologies and solutions that might help us eliminate frustrating or repetitive tasks that associates need to complete, so they can spend more time interacting with customers.

We then pay close attention to the top opportunities our company and our brands are seeking to pursue as well as the top challenges they are seeking to overcome. Improving our customer experience, improving our associate experience, and identifying ways we can operate more efficiently are key objectives. We know, for example, that if we create a really awesome experience for our store associates, our associates will be able to create a better experience for our customers. So, we look for technologies and solutions that might help us eliminate frustrating or repetitive tasks that associates need to complete, so they can spend more time interacting with customers. Consider all the individual tasks that go into cleaning floors and bathrooms, or slicing deli meats, or even putting price tags on shelves. All of those tasks need to get done, but they don’t necessarily need a human to do them. 

This interview is part of our December 2021 research project, “Delivering Value Through Emerging Tech and Innovation.”

What are some of the things you and the team do to scout for new solutions?

With those opportunities and challenges in mind, we then do a range of things. Our team is out at conferences, visiting other retailers, and trying new solutions to scan the industry for what’s available today and for what’s coming. We do a lot of external and internal customer research. We also spend a lot of time with entrepreneurs and their startups. A few years ago, we started partnering with the Venture Café in Cambridge, Mass. to launch our Seed Immersion Program, a concept developed by one of our supply chain leaders. Entrepreneurs with solutions relevant to our brands apply, we select a set of finalists and then we mentor them through a ten-week immersion program. At the end of the program, we ultimately choose a winner with the short-term goal of bringing their idea to life in a test in one of our brands and a longer-term goal of industrializing it if that test is successful.

We score the solutions that emerge from all of these activities using a range of variables that collectively describe what we believe to be a solution’s potential value to the organization, and also the potential effort required to realize that value. Solutions scoring the highest might move quickly to in-store tests. Lower scoring solutions may either go into one of our labs for experiments, or on our “watch” list. In the end, there will always be new, cool, shiny things that we could bring to life in our stores, but we’re really here to help our brands achieve their goals by implementing new solutions that create measurable value.