Jeff Parker Looks Back — and Forward — After 20 Years With Kroger's C-stores
CINCINATTI — Looking back on his 20 years at The Kroger Co.’s convenience store (small-format) division, Jeff Parker says his greatest gratification came from seeing and supporting the professional growth of his colleagues. He also credits a lot of the convenience stores’ success to the division’s ability to tap the expertise and core competencies of the parent supermarket company.
“Some of the biggest pleasures for me is seeing the progress of the people who you work side by side with, and watching them move up the organization,” Parker said. “Being able to give people the opportunity to take on new roles and be successful.”
In an interview with Convenience Store News shortly after announcing his resignation as president of the Convenience & Small-Format Stores division of supermarket giant Kroger, Parker said he will “forever be grateful for everything the company has done for me,” but he’s looking forward to the next challenge.
He extolled the synergies that resulted from working closely with Kroger. “The brands of products and names cast a halo effect on the convenience stores,” he said. “The Fuels Reward Program was a big deal, as was the ability in certain markets to offer Kroger corporate brands and fresh products.”
Parker was named president of Kroger’s c-store and small-format division in January 2014, when then-chief Van Tarver retired from the post. Prior to that, Parker served as the president of Kwik Shop Inc., one of the several c-store banners operated by Kroger in different regions of the country. Parker joined Kroger in 1998, working for several operating units, including the Loaf ‘N Jug banner.
Born in West Texas, Parker also worked at Town & Country convenience stores in San Angelo, Texas, before joining Kroger. (Town & Country was acquired by Susser Holdings Corp., which itself was later acquired by Sunoco.)
Cincinnati-based Kroger’s convenience store assets were acquired in April by U.K.-based EG Group. As Convenience Store News previously reported, EG Group acquired 762 stores under the Turkey Hill, Loaf ‘N Jug, Kwik Shop, Tom Thumb and Quik Stop banners from Kroger for $2.15 billion.
Parker explained that before being acquired, each of Kroger’s regional convenience store chains had its own identity and was able to customize its offering to its customers.
“We really tried to deliver what the customer was interested in relative to the regions where we operated,” he said. “Turkey Hill, for instance, delivered a stronger foodservice offering because of its location relative to the type of consumers and the competition. Turkey Hill in Columbus, Ohio, as well as Loaf ‘N Jug and Kwik Shop, also saw more effort around fresh food and the fresh offering.”
Additionally, expertise and knowledge from the supermarket parent helped the small-format division experiment with non-traditional formats. “We were able to build some stores that looked different from a traditional c-store, such as the largest small store — a 13,000-square-foot unit that featured a pharmacy, foodservice, produce, meat, and both grocery and traditional c-store items,” he recalled.
For the future, Parker believes that convenience stores will continue to focus on broadening and improving their selection of fresh food and foodservice menu items. “And the ability to have fresh and healthy options will continue to resonate with customers,” he added.
Parker also foresees technology playing a greater role in the future.
“The more friction you can take out of the customer shopping experience, the better. Amazon Go has had a positive effect on the retail industry in that it has helped industry players focus on how to make themselves better,” he observed. “You can’t dismiss the threat, but I think Amazon Go actually challenges everyone to be better. And, in the end, the customers win.”
At the end of the day, Parker, who plans to remain in Cincinnati as he decides on his next career move, feels “convenience” will continue to be the driving factor for retailers for the foreseeable future.