KEASBEY, N.J. — Wakefern Food Corp., the nation's largest retail cooperative, is continuing to expand its high-volume network of ShopRite stores in the Northeast through a combination of new operators and expansion by existing members.
Last week the company, based here, added another new member, Thompson Food Corp., which is planning to reopen a former ShopRite store in Uniondale, N.Y., later this year. Thompson Food Corp., the 47th member of the co-op, is led by Kenneth Thompson, a 45-year veteran of the supermarket industry who most recently was senior vice president of operations for Syracuse, N.Y.-based Penn Traffic Co.
Thompson is also a former president of Waldbaums, a former ShopRite store manager and vice president of operations for Shaker ShopRites (formerly Foodarama). Thompson and his son, Kenneth Thompson Jr., will operate the store, a former ShopRite that closed several years ago.
Meanwhile, the cooperative has quickly converted and reopened the 11 Shaw's stores it acquired in Connecticut earlier this year, turning them over to both new and existing members.
“The concept at Wakefern is to provide the support and services that allow small operators to compete with larger competitors,” said Raymond Miller, a longtime Wakefern executive who recently left the corporate parent to become a member of the co-op, buying one of the former Shaw's stores in Connecticut.
His family's new ShopRite in Enfield, which was one of the first to reopen under the ShopRite banner, is putting that concept to the test — the store competes with a recently remodeled Stop & Shop, a Costco and a Wal-Mart discount store, plus a Big Y supermarket location.
“It's a very competitive market, but we expect it to settle in with good volume and have pretty good market share,” Miller told SN.
The store measures a little over 60,000 square feet, and is located about a quarter of a mile away from the site of a former ShopRite that closed about 20 years ago.
Miller, a 34-year Wakefern employee, was director of retail operations at the company before he decided to become an operator. Joining him in running the store are his wife, Marion, plus his son, daughter and daughter-in-law.
Two of the other acquired Shaw's stores in Connecticut also are being run by a new Wakefern member — Charles Joseph, whose Joseph Family Markets opened the West Hartford location late last month, following the May opening of the Canton ShopRite. Joseph previously was general manager of ShopRite of Hunterdon County, a three-store Wakefern member in New Jersey, before he decided to become an owner-operator as well.
The Connecticut expansion adds significantly to Wakefern's presence in the state, where it already operated 13 ShopRite stores and eight PriceRite locations. One of the acquired Shaw's will also be a PriceRite, the company's price-impact format.
“The Connecticut market has been very supportive of ShopRite and PriceRite over the years, and the addition of these stores allows us to expand our presence in the market,” said Joseph Colalillo, Wakefern's chairman and chief executive officer, in a prepared statement.
Miller said his store in Enfield is projected to drive higher sales productivity than the Shaw's that had been there — in addition to hiring about 100 of the previous employees, he said he hired about 100 more and significantly expanded the perishables offerings at the store.
“The Shaw's was basically a pretty good operation, but we tend to be a higher-volume operation,” he said. “We took the basic store Shaw's had and added things to it — we upgraded the bakery, the foods-to-go, appetizers, the deli, seafood and produce.”
The store also added more promotional displays to accommodate ShopRite's high level of promotional activity.
Miller said his company advertised the new store as a “homecoming” of sorts. “We played on the fact that customers here do recognize ShopRite,” he said, noting that many customers had often traveled to other ShopRite locations to take advantage of the chain's aggressive “can-can” sales of canned product.
Wakefern's expansion in Connecticut and New York follows closely behind its entry into Maryland, where Klein's Family Markets last year joined the co-op and converted its eight stores to ShopRite. Recently Wakefern unveiled plans for a ninth store in the state, to be operated by Philadelphia-based Collins Family Markets. Additional expansion has occurred in recent years in Delaware and southern New Jersey.
Miller said ShopRite, has been able to retain customers because of its strong value perception. “During the recession, we found that customers became more loyal, and they perceived us as one of the better choices,” he said.