- Kroger has named Stuart Aitken, currently senior vice president of the grocery chain’s alternative business operations and CEO of 84.51˚, the company’s data analytics unit, as chief merchant and marketing officer, according to a press release.
- Aitken replaces the retiring Joe Grieshaber, a 37-year Kroger veteran who began his career with the grocer as a store management trainee and headed banners including Dillons and Fred Meyer before ascending to the role of senior vice president and chief merchant in 2019.
- Yael Cosset, the Kroger senior vice president who also serves as chief information officer, will take control of 84.51° as well as the company’s alternative business unit, which houses its personal finance and data analysis operations as well as an investment portfolio. Cosset will continue to lead Kroger's technology and digital division.
Kroger may be best known as a grocery store operator, but the retailer has been making progress with its Restock Kroger initiative, which comprises asset-light operations that build on its heritage as a food retailer but promise higher margins. The company’s latest executive moves, which take effect Aug. 1, underscore the growing faith it is placing in those technology-focused operations as long-term profit drivers despite recent blips caused by the pandemic.
Grieshaber charted a traditional career trajectory during his nearly four decades with Kroger, rising from an early job as a meat merchandiser to become a district manager in Michigan and later vice president of merchandising for the grocer’s Columbus division. He also served as corporate group vice president of perishables merchandising and procurement en route to becoming Kroger’s chief merchant.
Aitken, by contrast, has a technical background that includes roles as CEO of dunnhumby USA, a retail data-science company, and head of Kroger’s 84.51° division, which parses data to help the grocer and outside clients develop marketing strategies, since its founding in 2015. In January 2019, Aitken, originally from Scotland, took the reins of Kroger’s alternative business unit, and later that year led the introduction of the company’s “Fresh for Everyone” brand transformation effort in his capacity as head of marketing.
Cosset, who will fill Aitken’s shoes as leader of Kroger’s alternative businesses and head of 84.51°, has also followed a technology-centric path. A Frenchman who majored in math as a university student, Cosset was a senior official at dunnhumby and led enterprise software company KSS Retail before arriving at Kroger. He served as the grocery’s chief digital officer, which put him in charge of its e-commerce operations, and became chief information officer last year.
Although Kroger has heralded its alternative businesses as important components of its business going forward, those operations have taken a hit from the pandemic even as the company posted strong growth during its first quarter, which ended May 23.
Kroger saw comparable-store sales rise 19% during the period, while adjusted earnings per share shot up 40% and net sales hit $42 billion, a 12% year-over-year increase. Meanwhile, the company’s sales of financial products such as gift cards and money services declined, pinching profit expectations, and its media business slowed as companies refocused their messaging.
Speaking during Kroger’s first-quarter earnings call, Kroger CFO Gary Millerchip said the company has a strong outlook for its non-core businesses.
“We remain confident in the significant potential of alternative profits, especially given the continued growth in traffic across our store and digital ecosystem,” Millerchip said. “Despite short-term headwinds due to COVID-19, we continue to expect alternative profit to be a major accelerator of our model in the future.”