The CIO at retailer Kroger told an audience at Tibco's TUCON gathering that innovation is embedded in the US company's strategy for growth.
Chris Hjelm, also senior vice president at the supermarket chain that operates more than a dozen brands, said that innovation had been part of the DNA of the company, which now operates 2,418 stores and turns 130 years old next year.
Kroger was one of the first grocers to advertise in newspapers in 1884, and the first company to bake its own bread in 1901, Hjelm said. Further developments included using the first scanner-based checkout in 1972, starting a loyalty card programme in 2002, a dedicated R&D programme in 2006, automated checkouts in 2010 - and with video and infrared analytics set to be utilised in 2013 to cut queuing times.
"It's an extremely intense time of change," Hjelm said. "And embedded in our strategy for growth is innovation."
The former FedEx CIO placed the shopping experience as a key part of this, improving it in such a way as to make people want to return to the stores.
"It shouldn't be hard to customers, it should be enjoyable for them; which isn't just good for the company but also for the industry," he said.
CIO Hjelm, in his role since 2005, explained some of the history and culture of the company, recognised by Forbes as "America's most generous company" - which donates a large percentage of its unsold food to charity, and even now has its own 'digester' plant, which breaks down wasted food for biogas to supply 20% of the retailer's power.
Hjelm revealed one of the next areas of transformational change for Kroger was "digitising the shelf" - bringing together personalised prices and reminders for individual customers as they are in the store.
But, he said, none of this is possible without getting the data right, and serving the right product to the right customer at the right time.
"All our data is now used in a much more intelligent way, particularly in areas like stock, which all ultimately provides a better shopping experience.
"Finding new ways to delight customers is our tradition, so they are the focal point of our innovation."