CEO OF THE YEAR: Doug Sanders Sprouts Farmers Market
Sprouts Farmers Market is rising fast in the world of upscale, natural/organic grocery retailing. It is aggressively expanding beyond its base in the West. CEO Doug Sanders spoke with Retail Leader about Sprouts' strategy of making healthy food more accessible and affordable to average consumers.
Q: Can you share with our readers a brief description of your background, and how it has led you to the position.
A: Prior to joining Sprouts, I held a number of management positions in operations and technology within companies in the grocery industry, including TCI Solutions, Associated Wholesale Grocers and Brookshire Brothers.
I joined Sprouts shortly before our launch in 2002, and have since served in several roles, including president, president and chief operating officer, chief administrative officer, and vice president of information technology.
As a team, we have expanded our footprint both organically and through the successful acquisition and integration of the Henry's Farmers Market, Sun Harvest Market, and Sunflower Farmers Market chains. We've increased distribution and supply chain efficiencies and built a best-in-class leadership team.
Sprouts was a great opportunity for me to grow a company from the ground up and be part of a difference-making team. We have worked together to cultivate our unique company culture and continue our legacy of service and giving back to our communities.
Q: Sprouts is up against formidable competition in Whole Foods, Trader Joe's and others in the healthy/upscale niche. What do you see as Sprouts' advantages in this market?
A: Sprouts offers the right combination of healthy products, wide selection, value pricing, and knowledgeable service, giving us the ability to attract both the natural lifestyle customer and everyday grocery shopper. We work hard every day to dispel the perception that a healthy lifestyle is intimidating and expensive. Our team members are knowledgeable and approachable, helping customers make sensible choices that fit their budgets and unique lifestyles.
Q: How do you describe your management style? Do you have a mentor in the business that helped you shape your management style? Or particular experiences?
A: As the leader of the team, I am part of the team. I believe in servant leadership and try to lead and live by those principles. I want to encourage the team at Sprouts–at every level–to engage and develop their skill set and take full advantage of the advancement opportunities our aggressive growth affords.
"As the leader of the team, I am part of the team. I believe in servant leadership and try to lead and live by those principles. I want to encourage the team at Sprouts–at every level–to engage and develop their skill set and take full advantage of the advancement opportunities our aggressive growth affords."
Sprouts Farmers Market
At Sprouts, we want to change the competitive landscape by offering healthy foods at affordable prices. It's what we call "healthy living for less."
Q: With new stores in Georgia and Kansas City, Sprouts seems to be expanding beyond its base in California and the Southwest. What are your long-term expansion plans?
A: Based on research conducted for us, we believe that the U.S. market can support approximately 1,200 Sprouts stores operating under our current format, including 300 in states in which we currently operate. Our broad appeal allows us to enter a trade area with a greater number of stores and bring our brand of healthy grocery shopping to as many areas as we can.
Q: What do you see as the next developments in the healthy-food area, in terms of consumer preferences, new products or product lines, or other relevant factors?
A: As consumers continue to move away from highly processed foods, categories like raw foods continue to gain traction with the mainstream shopper, along with ancient grains and dark greens such as kale and chard. Healthy snack foods are surging in popularity and have become a staple in the everyday diet.
We don't see interest in gluten-free waning at all. Over the past few years it has grown to become a lifestyle for many, and Sprouts has become an essential stop for those in the gluten-free community.
Consumers continue to seek foods that are better for them–and their budgets.
Q: Can you speak to the importance of corporate culture at Sprouts? How would you describe the culture there?
A: From top to bottom, our commitment to engaging customer service permeates throughout the entire Sprouts organization. Our knowledgeable team members deliver on that commitment every day, helping to educate our customers on the products we offer, while making them available at prices they can afford. Our customers are at the center of everything we do, and our success comes from their success!
We also place a lot of emphasis on the growth of our team members. I'm proud to say that we promoted more than 3,000 team members in 2013–that's about 20 percent of our workforce!
Q: How can/does Sprouts help educate consumers about the value of healthy food, wise nutrition choices, how to prepare food effectively, etc.?
A: This is another way Sprouts stands apart. Education is paramount to the Sprouts experience. Our certified nutritionist hosts bi-monthly wellness webinars, in-store lectures and video presentations. You can also find her spreading the Sprouts message on local TV in the communities we serve.
We are very active across the social media spectrum. We use Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to share the Sprouts brand with new and current customers. Our social media team interacts across the digital platforms by answering questions, offering helpful tips, sharing recipes and hosting an occasional sweepstakes.
Our customers anxiously await the weekly circular and eagerly shop on Double Ad Wednesdays when there are twice as many items on sale. Our monthly e-newsletter shares the latest and greatest in natural news, trends and topics.
But our greatest outreach continues to be our knowledgeable team members educating our customers inside the stores. They are in all departments, waiting with a smile to help answer questions, make suggestions and offer encouragement.
Q: What importance does Sprouts place on the role of collaboration, both internally and with retailers?
A: Collaboration is one of our core values at Sprouts. Being able to work productively as a team is one of the most crucial aspects of achieving success in a business setting. It's incredibly important for increasing creativity in the workplace, improving the quality of work, and also fostering healthy and productive relationships internally and externally.
Q: What trends within the current retail landscape make your job challenging? What trends offer the most opportunity?
A: Consumer tastes and preferences can change rapidly and greatly impact demand for retail items. That can be a challenge, but it also gives us the opportunity to embrace innovation and look out for unique and new items on the market. Also, with consumers increasingly embracing technology to shop, we're looking for ways to connect with our customers across all digital platforms.
Q: What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
A: I'm proud of the team at Sprouts and all that we have accomplished together. I embrace the family culture and encourage all team members to seize opportunities within the company and aim high. Our company is ripe with success stories and we plant the seed of growth early on–today's cashier can be tomorrow's executive.
I'm a proud husband and father to two sons. Our family is active in our church, and we enjoy volunteering in our community with various organizations, including those that support individuals with autism, which affects our family on a personal level.
Looking into the future, Sprouts will maintain its reputation as the trusted source for natural foods, great quality and value, and consumer education. It's all part of Sprouts' message to eat well, live better and spend less.