The industry's top leaders have deployed tactics to guide their organizations through the economic downturn, and are now keeping a wary eye on consumers and the economy amid the fitful recovery.
The Power 50 profiles linked from this main list — selected by SN editors, with industry feedback — illustrate the visions that these leaders have for the industry, from smaller-format stores and a greater Web presence at Wal-Mart Stores, as cited by its chief executive officer, Mike Duke (No. 1 on the list), to global expansion in emerging international markets, as described by William Johnson, chairman, president and CEO of H.J. Heinz Co. (No. 37.)
Companies caught in a difficult position by the painful economic crisis of 2008 have bounced back with sturdy, value-based customer propositions and are placing no bets that the ride back up the economic curve will be as swift as the descent. Even those companies that were well-positioned heading into the downturn are striking a cautious stance.
“We are closely monitoring several factors that will have a dynamic effect on the operating environment this year, including continued high levels of unemployment, inflation, rising pension and health care costs, and the rationality of the overall retail environment,” said Kroger Co. Chairman and CEO David Dillon (No. 2).
Rejoining the Top 10 on this year's Power 50 list is No. 5 John Mackey, the co-CEO and founder of Whole Foods Market, which also emerged from the recession stronger than ever and resumed its former status as one of the fastest-growing food retailers in the country. His rise in the ranking corresponds with the addition of newcomer Steve Spinner (No. 20), president and CEO of United Natural Foods Inc., which is Whole Foods' primary supplier and increasingly a supplier to traditional supermarkets as well.
In addition to their embrace of consumer preferences for natural and organic foods, Power 50 players also recognize the importance of emerging consumer technologies.
Steve Burd, chairman, president and CEO of Safeway, and No. 3 on the list, championed a new customized promotional tool called Just For U that allows the retailer to offer a higher degree of personalized communication, as reflected in Power 50 player No. 44, The “Like” Button.
“What we want to do is create a dialogue with our best shoppers, and by having that dialogue take place over the Internet, it gives us an opportunity to really personalize prices that are important to them,” said Burd.
6. Dick Boer, CEO, Ahold
15. Fred Morganthall, president, Harris Teeter
20. Steven L. Spinner, president and CEO, United Natural Foods Inc.
21. Gregg Steinhafel, chairman, president and CEO, Target Corp.
25. Hank Meijer, co-chair and CEO, Meijer Inc.
28. David Lewis, president, personal care, Unilever
31. David Peacock, president, Anheuser-Busch
36. John Bryant, president and CEO, Kellogg Co.
38. Daniel Servitje, CEO, Grupo Bimbo
39. Denise Morrison, president and CEO, Campbell Soup Co.
41. John Bilbrey, president and CEO, The Hershey Co.