Entrance interview: Meet Thrive Market’s new chief merchandising officer

From Whole Foods cashier to Amazon GM, how April Lane’s retail career prepared her to tackle e-commerce grocery.
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Thrive Market

· 4 min read

April Lane has had a long—and sometimes winding—retail career that led to her most recent gig: chief merchandising officer at Thrive Market.

Lane, just five weeks into her new role when she spoke to Retail Brew, began as an associate focusing on retail and CPG strategy at Boston Consulting Group in 2002 before holding roles at Limited Brands and Nike, working on the launch of surf brand Hurley’s e-commerce website, and eventually joined Amazon in 2010. But before any of that, she was a cashier at Whole Foods in college, a role that shaped the way she saw the grocery category and informed the work she did once she joined Amazon, and eventually, Thrive Market.

Membership-based marketplace Thrive Market ships its national branded and private-label food and beverage products, as well as supplements and cleaning products, to 48 states. Earlier this year, the company became the first online-only available grocer to accept SNAP benefits through payments made using electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards.

It’s that ethos of accessibility that inspired Lane to join the online grocer, she said, and the experiences of her 20+ years in retail could help her thrive.

Fresh start: In 2010, Lane joined Amazon, a “pivotal role” in her career, starting in its sporting goods team. But she wanted to try something new in the organization, and she “stumbled upon” Amazon Fresh in 2012, then a still a pilot test in Seattle, to lead its marketing efforts. While she’d worked in e-commerce before, her only grocery experience was as a Whole Foods cashier—but it was impactful.

“I come from a background where organic food wasn’t a part of our household growing up, but once I dug in and started to learn about the impact of certain ingredients on your health, of different farming practices, on animal welfare, it really changed how I shopped personally,” she said.

She eventually served as a GM and category leader for its perishables and local business, and took on even more responsibilities when Amazon acquired Whole Foods in 2017, including bringing the grocer’s 365 brand to Amazon. She also helped author Amazon Fresh’s first animal welfare standards.

She rotated through several other departments at Amazon, like Amazon Style and a return to Sports & Outdoors, and left after 12 years for a stint at Hearst. That’s when she got the call from her former Amazon colleague, now-Thrive Market CFO Hetu Patel, about the chief merchandising officer gig, a role she said allows her to take her Amazon Fresh experience and passion for food “even further.”

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Grocer margins: As chief merchandising officer, Thrive’s category management, food safety and quality, and merchandise marketing teams report to Lane. She’s spending the first 90 days “learning the business,” doing Gemba walks shadowing those that report to her while also gathering member insights. Lane said she’s looking forward to meeting her team IRL (Thrive’s remote-first environment allows her to work from the Seattle area) at its biannual Thrive Week in June where its team comes together in Los Angeles. This year, she’ll also be heading to trade shows like Newtopia Now and Groceryshop.

Lane said she aims to continue building Thrive as a source for high-quality food products that aren’t available in grocery stores in more rural areas. “There’s still just so much opportunity, and I think specifically, there’s so much opportunity to find a national solution,” she said.

Lane said in her role, she’ll be focusing on “automation and scale.” Thrive still has a significant amount of manual processes, so automating tactical tasks will free up more time for work like product curation and development, she said. Along with ensuring Thrive has all the pantry basics covered, she’ll also lean into Thrive’s consumer base of “early adopters,” offering on-trend products.

“I really want to…make sure that we are the destination for not only brands to launch new products, but also for consumers to find new products,” she said.

But the role, and the category as a whole, isn’t a simple one, and Lane acknowledged that low-margin grocery e-commerce is and will continue to be a challenge. “There’s always that tension between the economics of the category and a desire to continue to expand, and you’ve got to do it very thoughtfully,” she said. “There’s a tightrope between growth and profitability that are really uniquely challenging in the grocery space.”

Still, she said, Thrive Market, which is profitable, is “in a good place to continue to grow in a smart way.”

Retail news that keeps industry pros in the know

Retail Brew delivers the latest retail industry news and insights surrounding marketing, DTC, and e-commerce to keep leaders and decision-makers up to date.