Stop & Shop’s Dutch Owner Shares How International Retailers Find Success in the US

Ahold Delhaize's CEO said that community is key

"I care about benefits in the local markets and expand from there," said Frans Muller. - Credit by Getty Images
Headshot of Diana Pearl

LONDON—Stop & Shop may be a mainstay in the northeast part of the United States, with nearly 400 locations in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island—but the grocery store’s parent company, Ahold Delhaize, is located far from its American locations, in the city of Zaandam in the Netherlands, just across a canal from Amsterdam.

Frans Muller, the CEO of Ahold Delhaize, spoke at the Financial Times’ Future of Retail summit in London earlier this month, about how the company has found success in a country that’s notoriously difficult for foreign retailers to break into. After all, the vast majority of America’s biggest names in retail—from grocery giants like Whole Foods and Kroger, big box stores like Target and Walmart and department stores such as Macy’s and Nordstrom—are all American-born. Ahold Delhaize acquired Stop & Shop in 1995, and, according to Muller, currently has $45 billion in sales in the U.S.

The key, Muller said, to success in the U.S. is to take a localized approach. Retailers can’t expect that their way of doing business will work in every community—particularly international ones. Applying tactics that work in Britain or the Netherlands won’t always work in other countries, filled with shoppers that have varying priorities. Instead, he said Ahold Delhaize (a conglomerate that formed in 2016 with the merger of the Dutch company Ahold and the Belgian Delhaize) takes on a more hands-off approach, letting store managers take the lead. 

“We believe that the local strength of communities and the ownership local managers take for their supermarket is much more valuable,” Muller said. He added that having a hyperlocalized approach is what consumers are looking for also: “In the end, customers are just concerned about his or her store.”

Muller added that when it comes to U.S. expansion, for Ahold Delhaize, it’s not about gaining market share in the U.S. With Stop & Shop, the company has kept to just five states. It’s about making sure each of those stores is resonating with the local community. 

“Along the whole East Coast we have No. 1 or 2 positions for all those specific brands in their local markets,” he said. “So I don’t care about national market share for each continent like the U.S. I care about benefits in the local markets and expand from there.”

“We work a lot with the mantra that if you combine relative market share and prepare … to lead with brand strength, if you do very well then you are a winner in those markets,” he added. “That’s what we try to do every day on the East Coast.”

@dianapearl_ Diana is the deputy brands editor at Adweek and managing editor of Brandweek.