Dan Whitacre, Senior Director of Kroger Labs and Transformation

Dan Whitacre, Senior Director of Kroger Labs and Transformation

(US and Canada) Dan Whitacre began his career as an intern at Kroger in the ’80s and has had five stints with the Cincinnati-based retail major over the last few decades. In his latest stint as the Senior Director of R&D and Technology Transformation, he leads the internal lab ecosystem as well as University Labs at the University of Cincinnati’s 1819 Innovation Hub and Northern Kentucky University's Innovation Gallery.

He previously held roles at Data Intensity and IBM, working with multiple industry sectors such as retail, manufacturing, health care, and U.S. intelligence. In a recent interview with UC News, the University of Cincinnati’s internal publication, Whitacre opens up about his role, working with students, and why he kept returning to Kroger.

Highlighting the most important reason for joining Kroger, he says that the organization impacts everyone. What it does connects to the community and its consumers.

At the Kroger Lab, within the 1819 Innovation Hub, Whitacre works with student teams, UC faculty, and staff engineers to develop ways to enhance customer and associate experiences. He mentions that the Innovation Hub provides a dedicated space to innovate, test, learn and adapt to meet customers’ changing needs outside the standard operational facilities. 

“Diversity of thought is a key component of innovation. Partnering with UC enables us to attract and work with student interns and faculty with various backgrounds and experiences. Being at 1819 also creates an environment to collaborate and partner with other commercial companies, government entities and nongovernmental organizations to accelerate our individual missions,”  Whitacre says.

When asked if the pandemic still influences technology and consumer behavior, he says that the pandemic accelerated opportunities for Kroger to solve challenges with technology. The students research to identify other service lines within Kroger that could benefit from these technologies. While the students explore possibilities for the organization, the experiences help them grow their skills.

Whitacre notes that the Cincinnati Innovation District (CID) ecosystem and the 1819 Innovation Hub foster creativity and opportunities to connect with student talent, faculty experts, and industry partners.

Continuing, Whitacre talks about Kroger’s future, pointing out that the grocery industry is fast-paced and competitive. Participants at the 1819 Hub explore emerging technologies like AI, video analytics, IoT, context computing, simulation, industrial digital twins, metaverse, and virtual reality that can disrupt the industry.

Mentioning a possible use case involving virtual reality, he says that the metaverse could allow customers to simulate physical shopping experience remotely instead of buying groceries from a brick-and-mortar store.

“I am very intrigued with exploring frontiers like industrial digital twins and the metaverse,”  Whitacre concludes.