Who among us hasn’t put off going to the grocery store until all that’s left to eat is the remnants of a jar of salsa in the back of the fridge? With all of the technology available to make grocery shopping a snap, we’re running out of excuses for not having a full fridge — or at least a fresh jar of salsa.
Peapod Digital Labs (PDL) provides digital and e-commerce for some of the largest supermarkets in the United States and is constantly updating how we shop for groceries. While Peapod.com continues to serve the Chicago market as an online grocery delivery, Peapod Digital Labs was built to provide the heartbeat behind Ahold Delhaize, one of the largest grocers in the United States. The company’s DNA is a blend of startup scrappiness and decades of experience in the grocery business, which leaves PDL with a culture that depends on knowledge transfers and new ideas.
We sat down to learn why a passion for learning, innovating and collaboration has the team at PDL getting along like peas in a … well, you know.
EMPLOYEES: 250 local, 400+ total
WHAT THEY DO: Peapod Digital Labs is the digital and e-commerce engine of Ahold Delhaize USA. In 15 words or less: They write the code that helps you get groceries faster and easier.
WHERE THEY DO IT: Chicago
NEW DIGS: They just moved into a shiny new office near Willis Tower. The hip, open concept workspace allows for easy collaboration, as well as the occasional company-wide open mic.
Kevin Kobets, Senior Product Owner
Kevin is the product owner for transportation and logistics for same-day offerings. His team is aptly named RoadRage.
In what ways do you see Peapod Digital Labs having an impact on e-commerce as a whole?
PDL has the distinct advantage of having been born from Peapod, a company that has been refining e-commerce for 30 years. We are unique because of where we came from and how we are being leveraged to support multiple brands on a single platform. I think that PDL can be a leader in this field if we continue to push ourselves beyond what we have done and look outside of our comfort zone for what we could do.
It looks like your team is about to grow quite a bit. As a seasoned engineer and product owner, are there any opportunities for you to mentor newcomers?
Although I often jokingly say “it’s just groceries,” the systems that we support can be very complex. Supporting some of the legacy back-end systems can pose a real challenge. It is because of that that I always find opportunities to mentor newcomers. This allows for both that transfer of knowledge and getting a new perspective that may lead to a better solution going forward.
We are unique because of where we came from and how we are being leveraged to support multiple brands on a single platform.”
Speaking of collaboration, what’s the culture like on your team? Do you get a sense of camaraderie from them?
The team that I am on has a great sense of being more than just co-workers. We recently split into smaller scrum teams and I think that has allowed those teams to grow closer, which benefits the entire department. The workspace we are in is great, as is being able to grab a beer with your peers as you end your day. Not only does this help to build a bond with your team, but you find yourself interacting with other departments and teams that you normally would not.
Anju Ravindranath, Software Engineer
What do you get when you mix “merchandising” and “purchasing?” The answer, of course, is “purchandising.” That’s the name of Anju’s team, which creates and modifies applications used by both of those departments.
What was it like to join Peapod Digital Labs, given its unique history? What was it like coming into a company that’s technically a new organization and yet has some history to it?
I was really excited right from the moment I learned about how the company was established and the kind of challenges the company had to go through at various stages of its growth. I was told during the hiring process that Peapod Digital Labs was going to go through a huge change, as we were moving towards a greater vision for the company. It seemed like a huge opportunity to grow as a professional and also to showcase what was expected out of me. I feel having teammates with vast knowledge of the existing systems makes the whole process less painful for me.
In what ways does the company encourage you to keep learning and developing your skills?
At PDL, I have always felt that the projects I’ve worked on have helped me improve my technical skills and also to be a better team player. We are encouraged to take ownership of the projects that we work on, rather than just follow orders. We are encouraged to attend conferences and take certification courses that help us improve our skills and efficiency. We have one-on-one sessions frequently with managers where we discuss our career goals and ways to work toward those goals.
We are encouraged to take ownership of the projects that we work on, rather than just follow orders.”
What’s the biggest technical challenge you’ve faced and how did you overcome it?
The biggest challenge I’ve faced was when I first joined and was working on legacy systems. Trying to understand applications that were coded using programming language from the 1990s within a sprint or two was nothing less than a challenge, but I never had to stress myself out much. I had knowledge transfer sessions from my teammates about the basics of the programming language and on the apps that I was assigned initially. They would walk up to check if I was doing OK and would help me if I was stuck. I couldn’t have asked for a better team.
Patrick Cook, Product Management Director
Patrick leads the product team responsible for the systems that manage the fulfillment, transportation, payment and much more. No big deal.
What was it like to move into a newly formed company like PDL? What are some challenges you face?
It was a mix of excitement and apprehension: excitement because of the mission that PDL was given, and apprehension at how fast we were growing and how much change was underway. For me, one of the biggest challenges is continuing to grow our team capability and agile maturity while respecting the culture that helped build Peapod.com over the years.
What were some Peapod values that you wanted kept as you moved to PDL?
As I moved from Peapod to Peapod Digital Labs, there were a number of qualities that I did not want to lose. Peapod was built on the skill and expertise of a relatively small group of effective and dedicated professionals. That startup mentality existed well into recent years — even though we started back in 1989! — and we wanted to keep the agility and impact you get from that sense of ownership.
Additionally, I always felt that Peapod was very flat from an organizational standpoint. Even in my early years with the company, it was not unusual for one of the founders to know me and interact with me on a personal and professional basis. Those types of interactions from senior members of the organization helped to cement the culture of belonging and loyalty that myself and others wanted to extend into Peapod Digital Labs.
That startup mentality existed well into recent years — even though we started back in 1989! — and we wanted to keep the agility and impact you get from that sense of ownership. ”
In what ways will this new platform change how users do their grocery shopping? What motivates you about the impact you’re having on the e-commerce space?
The model Peapod was built on was that customers would order online for next-day delivery. The expectations of our customers have skyrocketed in the last few years as more and more companies offer compelling alternatives. So, we too must evolve in how we satisfy those needs. This includes figuring out how to manage, in a cost-effective manner, the ability to provide things like next-day, same-day, immediate, delivery, pickup and more.