Online not a major threat to food sales – US retail chief

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Online not a major threat to food sales – US retail chief

‘Wait-and-see’ strategy from Aldi Ireland veteran, writes Samantha McCaughren


Anthony Hucker, president and CEO of Florida-based Southeastern Grocers
Anthony Hucker, president and CEO of Florida-based Southeastern Grocers

A leading international grocery retailer has said he does not believe food retail will face the same threat from online as other forms of retail.

Anthony Hucker, president and CEO of Florida-based Southeastern Grocers, said it was not an inevitability that food and grocery shopping would shift online over time.

“We’re somewhat protected because people are comfortable ordering general merchandise online but when it comes to food, people generally want to pick out their own piece of meat, pick up their own piece of fruit, they want to look at the range of wines or beer,” said the Welshman, who spent several of his early years living in Blackrock, Co Dublin.

He said the statistics for the shift to online should not be ignored, however. “In the US 7pc of retailing is online. Of that 7pc, 2pc is grocery and just 1pc of that is edible grocery,” said Hucker, with those numbers forecast to grow.

“But nobody on the planet has got profitable home delivery,” he said. “Ocado is more experienced on the food side, Amazon is more experienced on the general merchandising side. But there is not a single (grocery) retailer that is making money online because nobody can figure out the last mile.”

“We take a view on where we want to deploy capital, we let all the big dogs put all of their research and development dollars into technology … and we’ll follow.”

“We do not a take a leadership role in it, we take a wait-and-see approach. Although we do have online in terms of click-and-collect and we do have a delivery option.”

Hucker  will be a key speaker at the Retail Excellence Retreat and Expo, which takes plan in the Convention Centre in Citywest next month. Hucker joined Southeastern just over three years ago. The group has 552 shops under banners including Winn Dixie and Bi Lo and it recently went through the Chapter 11 process.

“There is not a single doubt that retailing is the toughest industry within the economy,” he said. “We peddle very, very fast and very hard to make 3c on the dollar.” Just as in Ireland, the value market is coming under pressure from discounters, with Lidl ramping up expansion there.

Hucker, who describes Jonathan Shaw, managing director of Irish retail group Shaws as his best friend, played a key role in the early rollout of Aldi in Ireland and the UK in the early 1990s.

After spending 10 years with Aldi, Hucker emigrated to the US in 1999. He has held several positions there, including senior roles with Walmart, overseeing new formats, mergers and acquisitions, and strategy.

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