CARLISLE, Pa. — Richmond, meet Martin.
Ahold's Giant-Carlisle chain here last week said that it would rebanner the 25 Richmond, Va.-area Ukrop's stores it acquired to its Martin's Food brand later this spring. In addition, the retailer said it would introduce beer and wine selections and Sunday shopping to the stores for the first time.
The Ukrop family, which announced it was selling to Ahold in December, had eschewed both of those options throughout the company's 72-year history.
Giant selected the Martin's banner for the stores because it already operates stores under that name in Virginia, Giant spokeswoman Tracy Pawelski told SN. Ahold's Giant-Landover division operates stores under the Giant name in the Washington, D.C., metro area. That Giant at one time operated stores in Richmond but left in the early 1980s.
The changes come as little surprise and by themselves would likely add considerable sales volume, sources said. And while Martin's also pledged to continue delivering the customer service that Ukrop's was known for, other changes — including sharper pricing — will be needed for the chain to regain its momentum, local observers said.
“They [Ahold] have a pretty good chance of improving things,” said Andrew Wolf, a Richmond-based analyst for BB&T Capital Markets. “It's not like Ukrop's was irredeemably broken. It doesn't need to be blown up. Ahold just needs to be careful in how they approach it.”
Local observers say Ukrop's lost sales and share in recent years as the region shifted behind new residents and a changing economy — and while competitors like Kroger and Food Lion raised their games. Some measures showed that Food Lion last year overtook Ukrop's for the market share lead in Richmond.
“Kroger got better, Food Lion got better and Wal-Mart isn't getting any worse,” Wolf said. “Everybody else was moving forward and Ukrop's was standing still. It's not like they dribbled the ball off their knee, it was they'd only gotten to half-court.”
Policies of not opening on Sundays and not selling alcohol, Wolf added, had become out of step with consumers.
“The time was over for a store that didn't open on Sundays or sell liquor. This region is changing. It's full of transients, non-Richmonders who don't attach any value to that at all.”
The $140 million purchase of Ukrop's closed last week. Separately, Ukrop's completed the sale of its Joe's Market specialty food store to two former company employees.