BREAKROOM A one-on-one conversation with an industry impresario
Jon Springer: Nilam, welcome to the
Breakroom. How did your opportunity
with Instacart arise?
Nilam Ganenthiran: My ;rst job was as a
cashier at a Food Basics ;part of the A&P
family; when I was ;;. It taught me so much
about how people think about groceries
as part of their day-to-day lives. I went to
college in Toronto and worked in various
roles for Procter & Gamble, both during
and after college. At P&G, I developed a
newfound appreciation for everything it
takes to get groceries to customers, how
stores work and how this giant industry
solves problems for consumers every day.
After business school, I worked at A. T.
Kearney as a consultant focused on serving
I was fortunate to be introduced to
Apoorva ;Mehta;, Instacart’s founder and
CEO, through a mutual friend when he was
starting the company. I thought the idea of
Instacart was really interesting. It provided
a solution to a problem that I had seen
;rsthand that the industry has been trying to
solve for a long time: how to bring groceries
online. I stayed in touch with Apoorva and
was really impressed with his vision and
leadership style. I wanted to be part of what
he was building, and about a year later, I
joined Instacart as one of our ;rst dozen
Having interviewed you and observed
your interviews, in my opinion, you’re a
deft handler of di;cult questions. To
what do you owe this skill?
One of the most important parts of my
job is being able to put myself in the shoes
of the person asking the question. I don’t
look at questions as being di;cult or easy.
Instead, I try to focus on the facts and
provide a response that’s rooted in reality
and truth. An honest response and realistic
solution are always better than simply
saying what you think people want to hear.
At the end of the day—when you’re focused
on long-term relationships, and you have
your partners’ best interest at heart—the
di;cult questions are the ones you actually
want to talk about because those are the
questions that need to be answered for the
What’s the one thing about Instacart you
wish the grocery industry understood
We fundamentally believe that brick-and-mortar retailers are the backbone of
the future of grocery and they’re here to
stay. These retailers have been around for
decades, are in the right places and carry
the right things for their customers. They’ve
also earned the long-term trust and loyalty
of their customers. We’re here to support
brick-and-mortar retailers and provide
them with tools and solutions that make
their e-commerce o;erings more robust
and customer-oriented. Our goal is to be
the operating system of the online grocery
delivery space and to connect customers
to the retailers they love. We want to be an
extension of grocers’ businesses and can
support them not only by bringing them
onto our marketplace but also by supporting
all of their back-end, white-label needs.
Nielsen and the Food Marketing Institute
project U.S. online grocery to surpass
$100 billion in sales as soon as 2022.
From your perspective, how accurate will
that turn out to be?
Grocery is a ;; trillion industry in the U.S.
It’s two to three times bigger than books
or apparel and bigger than transportation
globally. Today, less than ;; of groceries
are bought online. The opportunity is
massive—we’re basically operating in a ;;
trillion industry that’s been hiding in plain
sight for years. There’s no doubt that grocery
has reached its tipping point. We believe
growth in our industry isn’t just going to
come from major metro areas. At Instacart,
we believe our core business can ultimately
be much bigger than it is today as both
consumer adoption and awareness increase
Nilam Ganenthiran is chief
business o;cer for Instacart.
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Joe Carter, Roy Halladay, John Olerud. Read the full conversation at WinsightGroceryBusiness.com.