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Associated Food Stores CEO: Technology Innovation Key To Future

AFS innovation
Neal Berube

Changes in transportation, pharmacy among possibilities

by Mary Margaret Stewart, staff writer

When CEO Neal Berube envisions Associated Food Stores’ future, he sees focus on innovation as the key to remaining successful.

Part of that innovation relates to e-commerce – something that has had continued emphasis during 2020.

“During the [COVID-19] pandemic, we’ve seen change in shopping patterns, and how shoppers want to shop – how, when and where they’d like to – and we will have a continued focus on e-commerce,” Berube said.

Rosie innovation“Fortunately, we had already rolled out ecommerce options to many of our corporately-owned  and member stores. Rosie, our ecommerce partner, offers a wonderful click-and-collect service, and that allowed us to give those who were sheltering in place an alternative shopping experience.

“We saw significant growth – in some cases so significant that we had to shut down the system for a little while. We expect that the business we saw from Rosie will continue to accelerate in upcoming years.”

And technology was also highlighted by COVID.

“One of the difficult things we had during the massive increase we saw due to panic buying was allocating product to our retailers. For a period of time, we were doing that on a manual basis,” Berube said. “Thank heavens for the wisdom and the quick response of our leaders in the distribution area. They automated the process, which helped make it more efficient.

“We weren’t used to allocating so many products to 400-plus stores. And so, it took some fine-tuning of our technology.”

Berube added that going forward, innovation is encompassed by all different types of automation.

“It’s getting harder and harder to find folks to work in our distribution center and in other areas,” he said. “We will continue to place an emphasis on automated ordering systems. Computer-assisted ordering could take pressure off of our retailers from manual ordering. I think that’s something that we will continue to look at.”

“In transportation, we’re surely going to keep our eye on things there. They talk a lot about driverless vehicles. I’m still a little bit perplexed on how that will work with delivery vehicles that we have.”

Past the supply chain, finding new ways to merchandise products at retail is another piece of necessary innovation, in Berube’s estimation.

“There are many opportunities in pharmacy. We will continue to look for innovative ways to distribute products to our customers,” he said.

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