In his first interview as Amazon’s global grocery stores chief, Tony Hoggett dishes on its ambitions – and why the giant is growing ‘quickly but surely’

When Amazon calls, you answer. “I defy anybody not to pick up the phone,” says Tony Hoggett, who accepted the global giant’s job offer to lead its grocery play in 2021.

The offer was a big move for Amazon – and a clear signal of its intent in grocery. Hoggett had built up a 30-year career at Tesco to become one of its most trusted executives. At the time, he was its group chief strategy & innovation officer.

It was a significant move for Hoggett, too. He had worked for Tesco since he was at school, beginning his grocery career in 1990, as a trolley boy in a Tesco car park in Bridlington.

“Store closures are par for the course”

His dedication got noticed, and soon he was promoted to checkouts. It was the start of an upward trajectory that went on to include roles as CEO of Tesco Asia and UK retail director.

Hoggett stresses this was not down to chance.  “Having a clear vision of where you want to get to is incredibly important,” he says. “You have to take ownership of your own development.”

Indeed, Hoggett has been dedicated to self-improvement since his teens. He was (and still is) a subscriber to the principle that “if you want to get on, you need to double your knowledge every year”.

Age: 49

First record you bought and what you’re listening to at the moment: Adam and the Ants - Prince Charming. Today: Split Decision by  Dave and Central Cee (recommended by my son)

Hobbies/how you spend your freetime: Family and football. Support Manchester United and Adopted Austin FC.

Most embarrassing professional moment: Sending personal messages to the wrong person, a number of times.

Death row meal: Any spicy curry, the spicier the better. 

He read a non-fiction book a week, guzzling down The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, How to Win Friends and Influence People, and the works of Seth Godin, Jack Welch and more in CD and audio cassette form while commuting. “You can learn from some of the best people that have ever lived by picking up a book or listening to a tape,” he says. He also sought out mentors and set long-term ambitions.

This thirst for knowledge was one of the appeals of moving to Amazon. “I knew I’d be working with some of the smartest people in business,” Hoggett says.

“I’ve probably learned more in 18 months at Amazon than I had in the previous 10 years. Genuinely. And that’s both depth of learning and relearning – how to do grocery differently. The world doesn’t need another standardised, big-box grocer. We’re inventing the new because we want to do it differently.”

And that’s just the grocery arm. Other developments include broadband-boosting satellites, cloud computing innovations and Prime Video original movies. “It’s quite tough, trying to keep up,” Hoggett laughs. “I haven’t needed to go to any books or CDs yet to learn.”

Still, at Tesco he had “probably the best job in the company”. As COO – a position he started in 2018 – he was expected to visit stores globally and “get into every element of the business”. Then, when innovation and strategy were added to his role in 2021, he “had legitimate reason to be invested everywhere”, he says. “I absolutely loved it.”

So, whatever Amazon was offering “had to be something really compelling”. It ticked three important boxes for him: “The intersection between something I really love and enjoy, something I think I’ll be good at, and something the world needs”. And, of course, the unique opportunity to build a huge grocery business from a relatively early stage.

First impressions

Hoggett was well aware of those dynamics when he joined in his official capacity: SVP worldwide grocery stores. While Amazon had launched its first checkout-free Go store and acquired Whole Foods years earlier, he was Amazon’s first major outside appointment with deep grocery experience.

His arrival in Austin, Texas, needed to be deftly done. After all, Amazon had already “built an incredible grocery business, from a cold start, without me”.

“I went in and thought, if I need to be understood, I first need to understand,” Hoggett says. “So, I spent the first three months listening before I gave any view.

“By the time I then said, ‘Have we thought about this? Have we tried this?’, I’d built relationships and had a very good understanding of the business and where we were. Just saying how things should be done and thinking you have the answers is always a recipe for failure,” Hoggett says. “Two ears and one mouth: use them in that ratio when you go into a new team.”

He found “brilliant people in every single area of the business. The invention and creation within my team is like nothing I’ve seen,” he says.

At the same time, “not everything you do in grocery needs reinventing. There are proven things grocers are doing. But you don’t really know about them until you’ve worked in the industry for a long time.”

Tony Hoggett Tesco

Hoggett began his career as a trolley boy at Tesco, working his way up to group chief strategy & innovation officer before moving to Amazon in 2021

That lack of experience has raised doubts over Amazon’s grocery play, and its ability to make a mark. Its efforts have been branded  ‘an expensive hobby’ or worse, a mistake. In the UK, several Amazon Fresh stores have shuttered. But Hoggett isn’t concerned.

“When I read in the press ‘a few Amazon Fresh stores have closed – have they failed?’ I feel no pressure. I know closures are par for the course because I’ve closed a lot of stores and opened even more stores in all of my career, and we’ll do the same at Amazon,” he says.

He stresses Amazon is making “big, bold, long-term investments” in its estate and checkout-free Just Walk Out tech. He also points to tech that will enable customers to pay with the palm of their hands – Amazon One, which will arrive in all 500-plus US Whole Foods Market stores –and scan & go trolley Dash Cart.

“The world doesn’t need another standardised, big-box grocer. We want to do it differently”

Plus, Hoggett’s remit has backing from the highest level. Amazon CEO Andy Jassy this year confirmed grocery was a “really important and strategic area” for the business.“It was crystal clear, right there, that Amazon is serious about grocery,” Hoggett says.

That commitment is shown by the addition of more grocery heavyweights to Amazon’s ranks. Hoggett has recruited Claire Peters from Woolworths in Australia, who followed a similar cashier-to-COO path at Tesco, as well as Boots retail director and fellow Tesco veteran Peter Bowrey. “Part of my job is trying to make the whole greater than the sum of the parts,” Hoggett says.

It’s a statement that is typical of Hoggett. The former trolley boy from Bridlington has come a long way. But his colleagues tell The Grocer of his humbleness.

“My dad always used to say, ‘nobody’s better than you and you’re not better than anybody’,” he explains. “I’d always had a steely confidence that if someone else had learnt it, I could probably learn it. At the same time, however senior I’ve been, I’ve always had a level of appreciation for how hard other people are working and how difficult everybody’s job and life is,” he says.

For now, that tough job is “really perfecting the model” for Amazon in grocery. It doesn’t have a target market position yet – or not one Hoggett would share – and is simply looking to keep growing and learning.

“As long as we’re getting better and better, then I’m happy,” he says. And in true Amazon fashion, this will be about pace: “Quickly but surely, as opposed to slowly but surely.”