Price Chopper

The 8 Retailers Worthy of Being Called Top Regional Grocers

These operators are differentiating by putting local and customer experience front and center
1/15/2024

Amid all of the chatter about consolidation in the grocery industry, a few regional grocers are beloved by shoppers for doing all of the things that the larger competitors find difficult; that is, offer a rich and rewarding customer experience. Whether that means installing customizable salad bars (Schnucks), or offering multicultural foodservice stations (Stater Bros.), or investing in retail media and personalization (Northeast Grocery), these operators are kicking off the new year impressively.

Progressive Grocer has identified eight Top Regionals as worthy of the distinction:

1. Northeast Grocery Inc.

Headquarters: Schenectady, N.Y.
Store Count: About 300
CEO: Frank Cursi
Operating Area: New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire

Since its formation through the merger of Tops Markets LLC and Price Chopper/Market 32 in November 2021, Northeast Grocery Inc. (NGI) has been adopting cutting-edge solutions to enhance the shopping experience of customers at its well-known banners. Case in point: A June 2023 partnership with Instacart, which already powered the company’s e-commerce websites and apps, brought both retail media networks and enhanced e-commerce shopping experiences to Tops and Price Chopper/Market 32. Under the partnership, NGI can deliver more personalized recommendations to shoppers, as well as offering custom online coupons. Additionally, Instacart’s Carrot Ads enables brands to advertise directly on Tops’ and Price Chopper/Market 32’s e-commerce platforms and apps. 

NGI also established a multiyear agreement in December 2022 with DemandTec by Acoustic, under which an existing relationship with Tops to use DemandTec’s Unified Lifecycle Pricing solution, which includes pricing, promotion and collaboration, was implemented by Price Chopper/Market 32 as well. NGI’s merchandising team and CPG trade partners can use DemandTec’s AI-driven platform to strategize, forecast, plan, optimize and execute pricing and promotion strategies, enabling both Tops and Price Chopper/Market 32 to improve price perception, make smarter promotional decisions and serve their customers with the best products at attractive price points. 

Meanwhile, in a bid to boost its presence in New York state’s Capital District, Price Chopper/Market 32 purchased the leases, store equipment and fixtures of five former ShopRite stores in the region this past November, with the aim of rebranding at least two of them as Market 32 locations. At the same time, Tops has been improving its stores with a remodeling program over the past several years, opening in December 2023 its 40th location to be updated with a new look and a renewed focus on fresh departments. 

Lowes Foods

2. Lowes Foods

Headquarters: Winston-Salem, N.C.
Store Count: About 82
President: Tim Lowe
Operating Area: North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Georgia 

Lowes Foods is bringing its chicken dance to a new state: Georgia. The popular grocer famous for its fun customer experience (including a dance among customers and employees when there’s fresh chicken available in the case) has revealed plans to open its first store in the Peach State after acquiring Foothills IGA Market in Marble Hill, Ga. The store, which will continue to operate as an IGA for the next few months, will become a Lowes Foods store sometime in early 2024. 

The grocer is also growing its footprint in South Carolina. It will open its fifth location in the Charleston market, in Summerville, in 2025. The Summerville store will measure 50,887 square feet and anchor a new retail center between two large Berkeley County residential developments. 

Lowes Foods is in expansion mode even as it sees more competitors invade its operating area every year. At Progressive Grocer’s Grocery Impact event last November, Tim Lowe, head of retail at Alex Lee and president of Lowes Foods, highlighted the ways that Lowes Foods has transformed itself from being considered “bland” to a destination compete with bakery department cakewalks, sold-out beer “hunt” clubs, communal dinners along local Main Streets, and the retailer’s now-signature chicken dance.

Lowe calls it “eatertainment,” and it’s that integration of wit and a provocative approach that has distinguished Lowes in its home market in the Carolinas. Ultimately, he added at Grocery Impact, food retailers that take those steps face an open path. “That’s what it’s all about — creating your own destiny,” said Lowe. “It starts with all of you, and it starts with a mindset to think differently on how we approach the business.”

3. Stater Bros.

Headquarters: San Bernardino, Calif.
Store Count: 170
CEO: Pete Van Helden
Operating Area: California

Shoppers on a quest for delicious food experiences and convenience will delight in the one-stop multicultural food experience that Stater Bros. recently opened in Chino, Calif. Just a few of the items that shoppers will discover include tacos, yakisoba noodles, Korean fried chicken wings, chicharrones, melon bread and Japanese cheesecakes. The 46,109-square-foot store, which has the words “fresh,” “local” and “healthy foods” emblazoned on its main sign in the front of the store, is the latest location for the 87-year-old California grocer, which now operates 170 locations in that state.

“Stater Bros. is very pleased to bring a long-awaited and -needed modern grocery store to the Chino Preserve,” said Stater Bros. CEO and Chairman Pete Van Helden at the time of the store’s opening. “Residents in the community will now have fresh and healthy high-quality food, outstanding customer service, and an unparalleled shopping experience available to them just a short and convenient trip away.”

The retailer also recently opened a new store in Ontario, Calif., and has been focused on remodeling older locations. Some of the priorities for the retailer’s store renovation projects include implementing a fresh-cut produce station, introducing a full-service bakery and service deli, and offering freshly made sushi. Among the various other upgrades to enhance the overall shopping experience will be an updated layout to optimize convenience and accessibility, new flooring to create a clean and inviting atmosphere, refreshed restrooms for customer comfort, and refurbished checkstands to ensure an efficient checkout process. 

fareway

4. Fareway Stores Inc. 

Headquarters: Boone, Iowa (soon to be Johnston, Iowa)
Store Count: 138
CEO: Reynolds Cramer
Operating Area: Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska and South Dakota 

Fareway Stores Inc. has been a mover and shaker in the nation’s heartland — literally. Over the past year, the family-owned Iowa-based grocer has revealed several store openings, refreshes and even a pending corporate headquarters move.

Starting later this year, Fareway will be based in Johnston, Iowa, near Des Moines and about 35 miles south of its original base in the city of Boone. The relocation is a testament to the growth of the business, as CEO Reynolds Cramer explained that the company had run out of space at the Boone office and is also looking to make commutes easier for the many employees who hail from the Des Moines area.

Continual movement has been a hallmark of Fareway’s store operations, too. In the past year, the retailer unveiled plans for new stores in the Iowa towns of Hull and Story City. Several store relocations are also underway in Eldora, Spirit Lake and Norwalk, Iowa. 

Known for its protein selection, including a signature Iowa pork chop and USDA Choice beef, Fareway is also expanding its Fareway Meat Market banner. The latest Fareway Meat Market welcomed shoppers in Kansas City, Kan., this past September.

While construction on new sites is in various stages of completion, Fareway has also kept its ribbon-cutting scissors sharp. In the past year, the retailer unveiled locations in Bondurant, LeClaire, West Des Moines and West Clive, all in Iowa. 

Fareway’s upgrades and expansions prove that it’s not just young retail companies that have a lock on growth mode. In 2023, the grocer celebrated its 85th anniversary, marking the occasion with a trivia contest and gift card giveaway.

The legacy independent grocer is building for a brighter future in other ways as well, continuing its longtime investment in sustainability initiatives. In 2023, for instance, Fareway broke ground on a 1-megawatt solar field in Boone, partnering with Alliant Energy. 

Kowalski's Markets storefront

5. Kowalski’s Markets 

Headquarters: Woodbury, Minn.
Store Count: 11
CEO: Kris Kowalski Christiansen
Operating area: Minnesota

After fondly looking back on its history during its 40th year of business in 2023, Kowalski’s is looking ahead, too. The family-owned and -managed retailer, which currently operates 11 stores in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, is putting the finishing touches on a new store in Edina, Minn., ahead of a spring opening and is set to open another location in the Ridgedale community in 2025.

[Listen now: "Lessons From 40 Years as an Indie" Podcast]

Expansion has always been a thoughtful process at Kowalski’s, founded in 1983 by Mary Anne and the late Jim Kowalski. They took over the beloved Red Owl grocery store and eventually differentiated their new namesake banner in the Twin Cities by creating a carefully curated assortment in a unique European-style shopping environment.  

Today, shoppers will find their everyday essentials at their local Kowalski’s Market, but they can also mine the shelves and aisles to discover unique and often exclusive items, from artisan foods created by a nearby woman-owned business, to potato salad that comes from an old Kowalski family recipe, to special-occasion cakes that are created and decorated by expert pastry chefs.

An in-store gift shop also sets Kowalski’s apart. In this department — one of Mary Anne Kowalski’s favorite spots in the store — shoppers can browse apparel, decorative accents, toys and presents, many of which are made by local artisans. 

Kowalski’s pushes its boundaries by offering shipping to fans around the country, including a host of private label products available through its Signature Shop. The owners and their team are also thinking differently when it comes to formats: the new Edina store is located inside a former department store at a shopping mall, and the Ridgedale store will be housed in a former Sears automotive building. “Both communities are ideal because we do not have a presence there,” Mary Anne Kowalski recently told Progressive Grocer.

6. Brookshire Grocery Co.

Headquarters: Tyler, Texas
Store Count: 205-plus
CEO: Brad Brookshire
Operating Area: Texas

For 95 years, family-owned and -led Brookshire Grocery Co. (BGC) has striven to remain true to the strong values of its founder. These include remarkable customer service, clean stores, fresh products and strong community support. Through the years, BGC has grown to become a leading regional grocery retailer with 17,500 employee-partners and more than 205 store locations in four states. Stores operate under the banners of Brookshire’s, Super 1 Foods, Spring Market, Fresh by Brookshire’s, and Reasor’s.

In December, the company revealed that it expects to break ground on a new Fresh store in Longview, Texas, early this year, with an expected grand opening in 2025. “We are so excited to be bringing the next generation of our incredible Fresh store to the community of Longview,” said BGC Chairman and CEO Brad Brookshire at that time. “Fresh is so much more than a typical grocery store. From our award-winning dry-aged beef program to our restaurant-quality and chef-prepared items, we offer a remarkable shopping experience with all of the everyday staples. This new store will stand as a testament to our company’s plans for growth and our mission to create and deliver exceptional experiences and value to customers through our core values.”

This store will be the third location for the Fresh by Brookshire’s banner. The original concept store opened in Tyler, Texas, in 2011, and the second location opened in 2022 in Fate, Texas. 

Fresh continues to evolve as a favorite destination in Texas for an extraordinary shopping experience with vast culinary and wine selections, along with special events and entertainment. The current Fresh locations feature dozens of chef-prepared entrées, authentic Japanese ramen and Vietnamese pho counters, a taco bar, brick-oven Neapolitan-style pizza, an artisan bakery, a full-service meat and seafood counter, charcuterie and cheese selections, fresh produce with a large variety of organics, and a full-service floral shop. These stores also have a coffee bar, hand-crafted gelato, patio dining, an outdoor café, live music, and on-site parks with children’s playgrounds.

Last year, the retailer also grew via its acquisition of three Diamond Food Market stores in Henrietta, Mineral Wells and Aubrey, Texas.

Schnucks Banner

7. Schnuck Markets

Headquarters: St. Louis
Store Count: 115
CEO: Todd Schnuck
Operating Area: Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin 

Last year, legendary Missouri grocer Schnucks opened its second Eatwell Market, in Chesterfield, Mo. The 30,000-square-foot concept store aims to celebrate the nexus of food, wellness and community. Eatwell Market is also a celebration of everything the American grocery shopper wants now: quality products at a good price, with lots of convenience and sustainability features mixed in.

Shoppers enter the brightly lit store and are treated to free wellness programs via app, a “brewhouse” coffee bar, a laptop-friendly dining area with free wifi, a kitchen with fresh-baked pizzas and hot soups, a kombucha station, a self-service touchscreen kiosk where shoppers can place deli orders, a Picadeli high-tech salad bar, full-service meat and seafood departments, a beauty department, self-checkout stands, and a hyper-localized assortment. Along with local offerings, the store emphasizes natural and organic foods as well as community events that support customers no matter where they are in their wellness journeys.

“This store will allow us to build on our mission to Nourish People’s Lives by offering shoppers a store where they can stay focused on health and wellness while also discovering new, local items,” said Schnucks Chairman and CEO Todd Schnuck at the time of the store’s opening.

In addition to introducing new formats, the 85-year-old company is focused on investments in technology (electronic shelf labels and shelf-scanning robots) and store remodels, as well as philanthropic initiatives and customer appreciation events. Further, Schnucks is gearing up for its St. Louis Food & Wine event on Feb. 2-3. Featuring hundreds of wines, a selection of craft beers and culinary delights, the festival will benefit Operation Food Search and the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis.

Giant Eagle

8. Giant Eagle

Headquarters: Pittsburgh
Store Count: 480
CEO: Bill Artman
Operating Area: Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland and Indiana

While Giant Eagle Inc. is inching closer to its 100th year in operation, the Pennsylvania-based company is proving itself to be as agile as ever. Bill Artman was elevated from interim CEO to permanent chief executive in August 2023, following Laura Karet’s departure after 11 years in the position, and the company’s board believes that it’s poised for a strong future. 

“Over the past five months, Bill has established a new business strategy and assembled a strong executive leadership team comprised of an accomplished group of professionals with decades of relevant experience who have both a keen understanding of the company’s unique standing as a multiformat retailer and a strong vision for its future,” said board Chairman Bart Friedman when the news broke.

During a year punctuated by retail media technology, Giant Eagle took the bull by the horns and launched its own Leap Media Group, designed to provide highly relevant advertising experiences that benefit brands and guests alike. The grocer uses data from its myPerks loyalty program, which encompasses more than 4 million households, and the network has a general reachable audience that spans a whopping 14 million consumers.

Further, Giant Eagle has rolled out a number of new, unique solutions for its guests, including a partnership with Allivet.com to offer in-store and online pharmacy benefits such as prescription pet medications and over-the-counter pet products. The grocer has also debuted a two-page version of its circular, which features weekly savings and highlights the strongest promotions in print, with a scan of the displayed QR code directing customers to Giant Eagle’s website to view other weekly sale items. Meanwhile, a new “price lock” campaign debuted last summer amid heavy inflation, and thousands of seasonal items and everyday essentials have since had their prices lowered and locked to help customers save at the register. 

X
This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds