Culture-building at scale for essential retailer Sprouts

Read Sprouts culture-building case study

Imagine being hired at an essential business where you’ve never worked before. At a time like this, you want to feel confident in your ability to do the job, handle potentially frustrated customers, and remain safe. You’re going to lean heavily on the training you receive during onboarding.

In a time when grocery stores are especially busy and stressful, Sprouts Farmers Market found that implementing an Immersive Learning platform transformed its ability to deliver memorable, safe, and game-changing onboarding at scale.

Sprouts is a nationwide purveyor of natural and organic foods that has been growing since its first store opened in Arizona in 2002. Today, there are 340 stores and over 35,000 team members. COO Dan Sanders describes Sprouts as a culture-driven, people-centered organization.

Sprouts weaves learning and development into the fabric of the company’s values in the same way an anthropologist weaves storytelling into the concept of a positive culture.

– Dan Sanders, COO, Sprouts

As Sprouts grows, it grapples with how to scale that culture, standardize learning, and provide an optimized training experience. At the same time, the personal touch still matters for customer service. “We must equip team members to make sound judgments that reflect the corporate values and norms espoused by our senior leadership,” says Sanders.

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The transition from traditional learning to Immersive Learning

Traditionally, Sprouts trained in person, with trainers traveling around to stores to conduct cluster training sessions. The orientation covered everything from Sprouts values to safety to customer service. “The hard part was having team members in 23 states, and making sure everyone was training the same way,” says VP of Store Operations Cindy Chikahisa, who led the initiative to pinpoint the right technology solution to meet all of these challenges. Leadership wanted to migrate away from cluster training and find a more effective, standardized, and scalable model.

Immersive Learning is an experiential training methodology that combines the sense of presence of Virtual Reality with advanced learning theory, data science, and spatial design.

With Strivr’s Immersive Learning solution, Chikahisa discovered she could implement an intentional, spaced learning approach at scale. Regardless of their location, new team members could experience standardized Immersive Learning modules, interacting in a way that helps them absorb the teachings in a self-paced way. Chikahisa’s team would then get all VR training data from the Strivr platform.

When you’re in that headset, you’re so immersed. You feel like you’re there.

– Cindy Chikahisa, VP Store Operations, Sprouts

Thanks to complete immersion, Sprouts’ new team members look all around them and see and hear a virtual store nearly identical to where they’ll be working. Mentally and emotionally, they feel like they are in that situation. Immersive Learning capitalizes on centuries of knowledge and research about how people learn.

For the pilot, implemented in the chain’s 43 Arizona stores, Sprouts chose core values and customer service as a focus.

Even existing Sprouts team members who had already received ample training volunteered to participate in the new Immersive Learning program. With team members excited to try the VR-based approach to learning, Sprouts far exceeded their initial adoption plan. Better yet, managers received a refresher course to help them correct behaviors that may have gotten lax over time. “It raised the bar and was a reward we weren’t expecting,” says Chikahisa.

Cindy Chikahisa, VP of Store Operations, Sprouts Farmers Market
Cindy Chikahisa, VP of Store Operations, leads the Sprouts Immersive Learning program. Watch her webinar here →

Stepping up for customer service

In the middle of the pilot, Sprouts was suddenly faced with another challenge: how to cope with a pandemic putting grocery stores at the very center of essential services, while handicapping their ability to operate in status quo ways. The company suddenly found itself hiring thousands of new employees quickly, even as protocols changed to keep everyone as protected and healthy as possible. 

How could Chikahisa and her team instill a “customer first” mentality in all of these new team members? How would the hiring spike affect the customer experience for an already anxious customer base?

Having an Immersive Learning platform in place turned out to be priceless. “We were trying to get away from cluster training because we wanted the consistency. But now we’re forced. We cannot have cluster training,” says Chikahisa. 

Using VR for values training helps new team members remember to keep the customer first. And Sprouts can continue to hire and onboard safely because they no longer rely on an approach that requires group instruction and travel.  

I’m so grateful we launched this before COVID-19. I can’t imagine hiring thousands of people — which we’ve done over the last few months — and trying to give them a great onboarding experience.

– Cindy Chikahisa, VP Store Operations, Sprouts

Webinar: How essential retailer Sprouts is leading the way

The richness of data from a VR experience

The Strivr platform also provides critical data that Sprouts can use to inform their HR decisions. For example, comparing data from new hires who had gone through Immersive Learning against new hires who hadn’t was illuminating. VR learners demonstrated a 16x improvement over non-VR learners.


more likely to remember all six values

VR learners even outperformed senior managers who had trained under the old paradigm. “The crazy thing was that even when experienced team members answered the questions, they didn’t score as high as the newcomers who had gone through the VR experience,” says Chikahisa.

On a more granular level, collecting data on how specific team members do with the Immersive Learning training helps tease out what they’re best at.

Now, Sprouts’ training team can collaborate with the HR team to parlay that information into placement and promotions.

Lasting impact at scale

Every department is interested in getting involved, because they realize it’s the easiest way to reach team members in a way that engages them and makes them want to participate.

Sprouts is now rolling out Immersive Learning to locations in other states. In the “new normal” of restricted traveling, their plan is to ship headsets to stores and conduct virtual orientations on how to use them. No one will have to travel to train or be trained. 

Sprouts plans to take massive advantage of the Strivr platform by deploying and measuring more and more Immersive Learning experiences at scale. This will help all team members better absorb company values, gain product expertise, and interact with each other and with customers in elevated ways.

As Chikahisa says, “The sky’s the limit on this one. We’re going to keep going with modules.”

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