ITA Spotlight: KeHE
Monday, November 18, 2019
Posted by: Gary Hotze
Andrew McGrath Vice President - Digital Product Strategy, KeHE Distributors
With more than 5,500 employee-owners and a 15-distribution center network across North America, KeHE is one of the largest national fresh, natural & organic and specialty food distributors.
Our customer network allows us to deliver our portfolio of 70,000 items to more than 30,000 stores nationwide. Founded in 1952 by Art Kehe and converted into an employee-owned company in 2001, where we go, we spread the word on healthy eating, sustainable living, and responsible business with integrity. And we back it up with a large distribution network and with digital solutions that assure goodness follows to our supplier partners and retail grocers.
In 25 words or less, what is KeHE all about?
At KeHE, we SERVE to make lives better® by distributing fresh, natural & organic and specialty foods from our supplier partners to retail grocers nationwide.
What are your primary goals for KeHE?
In an industry that has been slow to develop digitally, KeHE has been intentionally focused on providing our supplier and retailer partners with innovative insights and digital sales solutions. Our approach has been to improve and streamline mundane (but necessary) processes like ordering products and entering prices. This frees up our partners’ time so they can engage in ‘high value’ experiences like discovering new and trendy foods and negotiating deals with one another. Our new digital solutions have also transformed the traditional food trade show into an engaging and exciting experience for all parties. Moving forward, we are doubling down on our ability to provide amazing digital tools and offerings for our partners. Our technology will seamlessly connect retail and supplier partners in an engaging and easy to use B2B experience.
3. Where do you see KeHE in two years? Five? Ten?
In the next five years, KeHE’s strategic vision is to be the NEXT GENERATION distribution partner. This will be distinguished by innovative products and insights and by providing sales and supply chain solutions to our retailer and supplier partners.
What problem do you solve and how do you solve it better than the competition?
KeHE is constantly striving to make our teams easier to do business with. Through a multi-year digital transformation, our team is creating automated solutions to help our teams work smarter and to let them focus more on what we’re known for, the relationships created by our people and the amazing products we bring to market.
Are you headquartered in Chicago? What made you choose Chicago?
No, but very close! Our corporate office is in Naperville, just outside of Chicago. Our roots lay in the Chicagoland area because our founder, Art Kehe, began our company’s journey here in suburban Palatine. Not only is our corporate office here, but one of our largest distribution centers is located close by, in Romeoville, IL. We have grown throughout the years, to 15 distribution centers nationwide. We believe Chicago is one of the hubs for food innovation and discovery, and we find it important to be in the center of it.
How does KeHE interact with the Chicago community?
KeHE and our outreach program, KeHE Cares™, works with several Chicago organizations on a philanthropic and service level. We are passionate about serving the Chicagoland community through organizations like YMEN, Breakthrough Urban Ministries, the Ark, Restoration 61, Young Life, Salt and Light Coalition, along with many more. KeHE Cares™ connects our employees with volunteer opportunities locally and abroad. Our goal is to come alongside those efforts and join in the effort to make a difference in the world.
KeHE is also passionate about education and innovation which is why we work with several Chicagoland organizations and associations. Organizations like Naturally Chicago, The Hatchery, and Chicagoland Food & Beverage Network are just some of the many industry affiliations we are involved in locally.
What motivates your employees to come to work every day?
Since 2000, KeHE has been an ESOP, which means the company is owned by our employees. As the company grows, the entire workforce enjoys the benefits of our collective success. In addition to being owners, our employees also contribute to our KeHE Cares™ foundation simply by coming to work each day. The better our company performs, the more we contribute to the foundation – we make a difference by simply doing our job, every day.
How has your company culture evolved as KeHE has grown?
We’re passionate about business with integrity. As a certified B Corporation, we take care of our people and those less fortunate through our philanthropic arm, KeHE Cares™. We contribute 10% of our annual profits to the foundation overseen by our Outreach Committee made up of employees. While the incorporation of KeHE Cares™ into a 502(c)(3) happened recently, the heart of giving back to those in need, both inside and outside of our company, started at KeHE’s inception with our founder Art Kehe. A humble philanthropic mindset has been at the core of our culture since day 1.
In 2017, we launched our CAREtrade® initiative to promote a set of brands that advance a higher purpose, connecting the business of KeHE to the heart of KeHE Cares, it’s the next evolution in serving. And just recently we launched DIVERSEtrade™, which highlights and embraces the richness of diversity in our supplier community.
What is the one thing KeHE cannot live without?
Our fellow employees! We are our differentiator and the Goodness behind the growth of KeHE. Each KeHE employee is encouraged to bring their whole self to work every day and because of that, we have been able to achieve greater things together. Our teams are stronger and our outlook on problem-solving changes when we all see and appreciate both our differences and similarities. How we conduct business must be a force for good in our society, for our planet, and for those less fortunate. Each KeHE employee exemplifies those values.
What’s the coolest perk KeHE’s office has?
As a company, KeHE works to SERVE to make lives better® and we put those words into actions by serving locally and globally. From service trips to the coffee we provide our employees, we believe it should all reflect our values.
In fact, our Naperville employees get fresh ground coffee from two impactful organizations - Aspire CoffeeWorks and Mission Lazarus. Aspire Coffeeworks is a local organization that works with adults with disabilities and provides them with employment opportunities through their coffee company partners. Mission Lazarus is a fair-trade organization based in Honduras that empowers local women to break the cycle of poverty. We also provide fresh fruit in the office to encourage healthy eating.