"I need to step outside of my comfort zone every now and then"

Janneke Kok

Manager Health & Sustainability

Manager Health & Sustainability

A few years ago, Janneke Kok made a career change: She left her job at a global consulting firm to pursue a career in food sustainability. “I never realized how important it is to me to do something that feels like it matters and makes a difference,” says the now-Manager PMO Health & Sustainability at Ahold Delhaize. “It was a real game-changer to find my passion and purpose in the field of food sustainability and get a job in this domain.”  
Despite being fairly content at the consulting firm, she always had questions like ‘What am I doing this all for?’ and ‘Does my work really matter?’ circling in her head. Over time, she began to miss the connection to a bigger purpose in her work. So she decided it was time for a change. “We are facing one of the greatest and most urgent challenges of our time in the form of the climate crisis. If we want to pass on a planet that future generations can actually live on, we can’t afford to waste any more time. To me, it feels meaningful and necessary to dedicate my career – a pursuit that takes up a considerable portion of our lives – to finding a solution to this global problem.”  

Janneke was always interested in food and food sustainability. In her search for more meaning, it soon became clear that this was the area she wanted to learn more about and start working in. “The global food system is a significant contributor to worldwide CO2 emissions, being responsible for one-third of the total. As a major retailer, Ahold Delhaize can play a pivotal role in the necessary transition. So when I saw a job opening for a Project Management Consultant in the company’s Health & Sustainability (H&S) department, my interest was piqued right away. Project management skills – I had; an in-depth understanding of food sustainability – I was determined to gain. Luckily, Ahold Delhaize was willing to give me that opportunity.  I was thrilled when I found out I got the job.”   

During her first few months in the job, Janneke followed through on her commitment to gain as much knowledge as possible. “I spent hours reading books and articles, listening to podcasts and watching documentaries.

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It was incredible to be able to learn so much about a topic that interested me so greatly. After one-and-a-half years on the job I was promoted to manager. My new role is essentially twofold: half of the time I’m the right hand of Daniella Vega, the Senior Vice President of H&S. The rest of the time I work as a project manager on several H&S-related initiatives. Because I’m tasked with advising and supporting Daniella, I’m also involved in developing the company’s new strategy and purpose. Every department in an organization obviously needs to carefully consider its long-term vision and plan for the future, but for H&S, this is absolutely vital. We’re constantly wrestling with questions like ‘What are the current and future trends?’, ‘What do we want the world to look like in 2030 or 2050?’, ’What role do we want to play in that world?’ and ‘What do we need to do now to become future-proof?’ I really enjoy grappling with these sorts of complex matters and brainstorming possible scenarios and solutions.” 

Strategic meets operational 

Janneke’s project management responsibilities allow her to focus on more operational issues.“While I love strategic thinking, I am also a very action-oriented and results-driven person. This part of me gets a lot of satisfaction from working on concrete projects, where I can monitor progress and actually see results. I need to be able to see the difference we’re making and check things off as ‘done’ every now and then – this is obviously not as easy in my strategic work, which is very focused on the long-term. The fact that I can be both strategic and operational in my role is ideal.”  

One way in which Janneke has made a tangible difference is by developing a learning program with the University of Cambridge. The program aims to foster a culture that ensures that health and sustainability is further integrated into the way Ahold Delhaize does business. “Our entire senior leadership team goes to Cambridge for a week to talk about health and sustainability and learn about topics like climate change, circularity and systems thinking. Together they discuss how Ahold Delhaize needs to move and act as a company – right now. This sense of urgency and  conviction that change is necessary needs to be ingrained in the mindset of everyone at the company, including senior leadership. From the top, it can trickle down through the layers of the organization and truly change our collective mindset. I’m very proud of this program and what we’ve already achieved through it. That said, we still have a long way to go. After all, there are few more challenging tasks than changing a culture.”  
And yet, that’s what the H&S team sets out to do every day. “Here I’ve found exactly what I was missing in my previous job – and much more. All of us are truly passionate about what we do and driven to make a difference in H&S. We’re also convinced that, as a global food retailer, Ahold Delhaize is perfectly positioned to actually have an impact. It’s one of the reasons I love being part of this team as much as I do.” 

Stepping outside her comfort zone 

Another reason she finds her job rewarding is the availability of opportunities to develop further in her role and field of expertise. “Both my manager and Ahold Delhaize as a company place great emphasis on growth and development, which is very important to me. Last year, I took part in the Net Positive Academy, which aims to accelerate learning for a net positive food system. It gave me a wide-ranging insight into what the Dutch food chain really looks like: I visited sustainable farms, some incredibly innovative companies (one that makes vegan tuna, for instance; how great is that?) and a huge abattoir for pigs, which made a lasting impact. This June I’m attending a personal development course to improve my skills and work approach, based on 360-degree feedback from my whole team. I need to step outside my comfort zone every now and then. If I don't, life becomes routine, and when everything is routine, it becomes boring.”  
It’s safe to say that joining Ahold Delhaize’s H&S department has had quite an impact on Janneke’s personal life, too. “I eat very little meat and have become even more mindful of my consumption habits. I also try to fly less often, which is a bit of a struggle considering I’m an avid traveler with a strong preference for visiting places far away. As a 17-year-old I spent a year of high school in Australia, followed by summer school in South Korea and an internship in Singapore. I’ve traveled quite extensively since then, and last February, I climbed Kilimanjaro. Those trips and experiences were amazing. But at the same time I have to ask myself, ‘Is it really necessary to fly all the way to Tanzania just to climb a mountain?’ My next trip will most likely be to a place like the Dolomites, which is within driving distance but will still offer great adventures. Of course I know I can’t change the world on my own; we all need to take responsibility.”  


Name: Janneke Kok (1991) 
Started working at Ahold Delhaize: May 2021 
Studied: Business Administration, International Management (University of Amsterdam, 2015)  
Living with: My boyfriend, Oege  
Hobbies: Playing sports and exercising (hot power yoga, barre, Rocycle, running and padel), spending time with friends (usually around food), and reading and learning about health and sustainability 
Wake me up in the middle of the night for: A snowboarding trip in the mountains 
Favorite holiday destination: The top of Kilimanjaro – climbing it was one of the most exhilarating experiences  
Life-changing event:  Spending a year on my own in Australia as a 17-year-old, and finding my passion and purpose in food sustainability    
Biggest source of inspiration: Authentic people who follow their own path and try to make the world a better place along the way 
Best advice I’ve ever received: It’s better to regret something you have done than to regret something you haven’t done 

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