Developing and growing a successful program of inclusiveness in the supply chain requires that the program fit into the overall goals and strategies of the organization, a panel of supplier diversity professionals said at FMI Connect in Chicago on Wednesday.

“To have a diverse program, you must have corporate support,” said Denise R. Thomas, director of corporate supplier diversity at Kroger Co., Cincinnati. “All must understand the importance.”

Thomas cited some examples of how diversity in the supplier program helped grow the business, including when a minority-owned sushi vendor was brought into the company at a time when Kroger’s own meat department was flummoxed by how to roll out a sushi program.

“Now it is a multi-million-dollar business in all of our divisions,” she said.

A similar transformation occurred in the hair care department when a minority supplier was brought in to revamp the company’s hair care set to better meet the needs of minority customers.

In other comments from the panel:

James Harris• James Harris, director of supplier diversity of H-E-B, said the San Antonio-based company has an “Opportunities” day every year when minority suppliers are presented to the company’s procurement team.

“We do a lot of work ahead of time to make sure that the [potential suppliers] who are there have the scalability, and can do the work” before we ask our procurement team to spend a day of their time, he said.

errez Thompson• Terrez Thompson, VP of global supplier diversity at Coca-Cola said, “It is important to have the diversity goals, strategies and objectives embedded in the procurement division’s goals, strategies and objectives.”

Rona Fourté• Rona Fourté, director of supplier diversity, Walgreen Co., “We need to get [minority suppliers] more involved in the industry groups and associations to help educate them because they need to be ready and educated about the industry when they go before the procurement groups.”

Michael Byron• Michael Byron, senior director of supplier diversity at Wal-Mart Stores, who moderated the panel, noted that minority suppliers are often very involved in their communities, and can often help burnish the retailer’s image in that regard, by working through existing community relations channels at the retail company.


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