Michael Cristal joined Kroger in 1985 as a management trainee at Memphis’ Orange Mound store (now closed) and rose through the ranks. After nine years of leading Kroger operations in other cities, he returned to Memphis in May 2022 as Delta Division president. He is at the helm as the Kroger Delta Division observes 50 years of service to customers in the Mid-South. (Courtesy photo)

Kroger Delta Division is observing 50 years of service to customers in the Mid-South.

Community investment initiatives, specials savings and store upgrades are parts of the celebration.

With 13 locations in Memphis and 34 across the Delta region, Kroger is known for fresh food, convenient access, weekly sales, gas stations at select sites, and giving back to the community.

Behind the scenes, the division’s new leader is working tirelessly to conquer challenges facing major grocery chains.

Skyrocketing food prices, store closures in high crime areas, on-site felonies, and customer resistance to new technologies are among concerns.

Despite issues, Kroger is seizing ways to expand community investment, labor development, cost savings, security, and delivery options.

Community Impact

“We love the impact we’re making in the community,” said Michael Cristal, president, Kroger Delta Division. “We like to think we’re not a good corporate citizen, but a great corporate citizen.” 

Cristal joined Kroger in 1985 as a management trainee at Memphis’ Orange Mound store (now closed) and rose through the ranks. After nine years of leading Kroger operations in other cities, he returned to Memphis in May 2022 as Delta Division president.

The division formed in 1973 when stores in Memphis and Little Rock, Arkansas merged. Today the division includes 16,000 employees and 93 stores across Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, Kentucky, and Missouri. 

In 2024, Kroger will open a new store in Arlington, a growing Memphis suburb of some 14,500 hundred residents in northeast Shelby County. The population was about 2,500 in 2000.

The site sits between Memphis and Ford’s new Blue Oval campus in Stanton, Tennessee, which is scheduled to open in 2025.

Cristal said, over the last three years, the Delta Division has provided more than 7 million meals to people who may lack access to nutritious food.

This summer, through Kroger’s Zero Hunger, Zero Waste program, the division partnered with University of Memphis to offer consumers low-cost, $10 tickets to the Tigers’ first home football game on Saturday, Sept. 2. 

Each ticket benefits Mid-South Food Bank and creates three meals to fight hunger.

For the 2023-24 school year, Kroger donated 250 backpacks to one eligible school in each of the division’s metro areas – Memphis, Little Rock and Jackson, Tenn. – and covered teacher appreciation luncheons at each school. 

In 2022, Kroger awarded full scholarships to five eligible freshmen of LeMoyne-Owen College. Now in their sophomore year, the students have the option to work for Kroger as they continue their college studies.

Labor enhancements

Kroger has invested $700 million in work-life enhancements for employees nationwide, said Cristal.

Most part-time workers now receive health benefits and start at $17 per hour, he said, and both hourly and corporate employees receive equal discounts.

Kroger urges employees early on to take advantage of health benefits, the Ayco financial planning app, tuition reimbursement and career path programs, plus associates have the opportunity to qualify for a $1,000 college scholarship for themselves or their children.

Cost-saving strategies

Grocery prices rose 11.3 percent across the board over the past year according to the most recent Consumer Price Index data. 

Kroger helps to lower grocery costs through weekly ad sales, card member savings, personalized coupon mailers, store brand pricing and digital coupons (found in-store, online or in the Kroger app). 

The grocer also accepts manufacturer coupons and has a fuel points program to lower prices at the gasoline pump.

Cristal said there’s a clear uptick in shoppers substituting popular food brands for money-saving Kroger brands (Smart Way, Kroger, Private Selection and Simple Truth).

Weekly paper ads mailed to homes are being phased out, he said, due to customers increasingly shopping online or in the app.

Paper ads, however, will remain available in stores.

Store security

Major grocers nationwide have seen their share of crime in recent years. Kroger is no exception.

On Sunday (Aug. 20), a shooting occurred outside the Kroger at South Mendenhall Road in East Memphis (a neighborhood generally perceived to be safe). 

In response, the Delta Division released the following statement:

“At Kroger, safety is our top priority for customers and associates. We are working with the local police department to help with this ongoing investigation.”

In 2020 and 2021, two shootings occurred outside a different Kroger in East Memphis, and in 2021, a mass shooting took place at Kroger in affluent Collierville, Tenn. 

A few instances of carjacking have been reported in Kroger parking lots.

Cristal stressed that Kroger takes safety measures seriously by providing security guards in each store, cameras both in and outside, plus parking lot patrol. 

These and other tactics largely improve safety for Kroger’s customers or those of any major retailer. If crime happens despite safety measures, these efforts help police to identify and arrest felons.

Checkout and delivery options

Based on heavier customer volumes and convenience, Kroger has added more self-checkout lanes while decreasing manned registers.

Cristal says Kroger’s average checkout time is a quick 79 seconds.

He maintains that Kroger will always have some manned registers, but many customers prefer self-checkout and have adjusted to its use. 

Still, a number of shoppers complain about scanning glitches and user errors, the time it takes to fix them, and bagging their own items.

Last week, national grocer Trader Joe’s took a different stand on the matter, announcing that they have no plans to add self-checkout and support a personal experience and keeping their labor crews.

Cristal said usage of Kroger’s grocery delivery and pick-up options has greatly increased, allowing customers to receive groceries conveniently at home or at the curbside. 

For a nominal fee, staff members select a client’s groceries based on preferences they designate online or in the Kroger app. 

These conveniences assist elderly and disabled clients, customers with little or no access to transportation and people who are too busy to shop in-store. 

The options also aid communities where Kroger stores previously closed. 

Cristal said customers find they “receive the same quality items they’d select for themselves.”

In-store celebration

Store shoppers are enjoying the Delta Division’s golden anniversary perks, including surprise giveaways, specials, and facility upgrades such as new floors at certain locations.

In Tennessee, shoppers can save double with Kroger’s weekly ad sales, plus tax-free food purchases made in August through October.

(For more information about Kroger and the Delta Division, visit: http://www.thekrogerco.com.)