Meijer, a regional retailer that got its humble beginnings in Greenville, Michigan, amid the Great Depression, has been in business for more than 85 years. Today, it remains an independent, family-owned business with more than 70,000 team members, more than 250 stores, 20 distribution centers and seven manufacturing facilities across six Midwestern states. Meijer also has three global sourcing offices: two in Hong Kong and one in Bangladesh.
Over the decades, the company has maintained its commitment to competitive spirit, freshness and community. “Regardless of income, you deserve a great place to shop,” Don Sanderson, Group VP of Fresh Merchandising, said.
To further this reputation, Meijer teamed up with Michigan State University’s Full-Time MBA program for the 2020 Extreme Green Corporate Innovation event.
“The goal for this Extreme Green event is to define value propositions, empathize with the customer and corporate partners and develop meaningful, desirable, feasible business models that people want,” Shana Redd, professor of practice, said.
As the grocery industry continues to be changed by delivery services, curbside pickup and customers’ desire to support local growers and vendors, Meijer’s leaders recognize the need to continually innovate and embrace new ideas to meet demands. This is where Broad MBA students come in.
Extreme Green is an exclusive, immersive case competition experience in which students work together to solve a business problem and pitch ideas to corporate leaders over the course of the MBA program at MSU. The event has been a pivotal part of the program since 2013.
“The challenge was to help Meijer differentiate itself in the fresh prepared foods market … helping communities eat the way they want to eat,” Redd said. As an alumna of the MBA program and a former brand manager at Whirlpool, Redd had the right expertise to help students gain an understanding for design process innovation, serving as the faculty lead alongside MBA program director Wayne Hutchison for this year’s event.
Second-year MBA students gained insights through hands-on activities and on-site experiences, engaging with 25 executives at the Meijer headquarters in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Teams worked to refine and develop their business ideas before pitching to Meijer executives and competing for scholarship money.
The winning team’s idea, called Meijer Market, was centered on reducing friction and improving convenience to help customers buy more while visiting the store. The team pitched the installation of in-store kiosks with mobile app integration to allow customers to order fresh-prepared meals digitally and receive text notifications for pickup. They also addressed how to gain digital impulse purchases through push text notifications that would reach customers within geographic range of Meijer stores.
“I think you’re hitting on a really important point that we’ve been trying to handle for a while, which is convenience,” Peter Whitsett, EVP Merchandising and Marketing at Meijer, said after hearing the team’s pitch.
The top three teams walked away with not only scholarship money but also a wealth of experience. “I have no business background,” Jaridd Leute, a member of the first-place team, said. “Working with Meijer has been an incredible experience; being let into their corporate atmosphere here, seeing how they operate as a business and then working to develop solutions based on what we’ve learned at Broad and applying the concepts we’ve had as a capstone experience has been really good.”
The skillsets that students have gained through the Extreme Green experience are transferable and can relate to a host of business problems beyond those that Meijer face. As they enter the business world, Spartan MBA graduates will have a solid understanding of how to approach a business problem, examining barriers and uncovering success drivers for stakeholders.
“We help our students build creative confidence for business-related problems and help our Michigan industry partners, like Meijer, by creating solutions for unmet needs,” Redd said.