THE FRIDAY 5: ALDI Keeps Dominating; 2024’s Best Independent Grocers

Legal woes at Fresh Thyme and Wegmans, Save Mart’s new hire also attracted attention
Emily Crowe, Progressive Grocer
Fresh Thyme Uses Shelf Tags to Enrich Shopping Experience
Fresh Thyme made news this week because of allegations of embezzlement by one of its managers.

Welcome to The Friday 5, Progressive Grocer’s weekly roundup of the top news and trends in the food retail industry. Each Friday, we’ll take a look at the stories that are most important to our readers and also keep tabs on the trends that are poised to impact grocers. 

1. Fresh Thyme Manager Caught Stealing From Self-Checkout

The manager of a Fresh Thyme Market location in Troy, Mich., is accused of embezzling at least $750,000 from the store between July 2022 and November 2023. On Feb. 16, the Michigan Attorney General announced a series of charges against former manager Trevor Beaver, contending that he stole funds from self-checkout kiosks.

The incident was flagged thanks to a new audit program for the self-checkout system at Fresh Thyme, and the grocer’s accountants were able to alert authorities after realizing a sizable amount of money was missing. 

Meanwhile, readers were also interested in a recent lawsuit contending that the fish market located within Wegmans’ Astor Place store in New York City is a knock-off of an East Village fish and sushi business. Osakana owner Yuji Haraguchi alleges that three companies learned his business’ secrets as they sought to buy it and then shared those secrets with Wegmans. 

2. Progressive Grocer Names Stand-Out Independents

PG announced its Outstanding Independents of 2024 to much fanfare this week. One key point in common among this class of winners is their deep connection to the neighborhoods where their stores are located and where, very often, they live as well. This is the main differentiator of independent grocers: Their ability to anticipate the needs of area shoppers and create a long-lasting bond in a way that larger players can only envy.

Read on to see the full list of winners and find out more about PG’s 2024 Outstanding Independents.

3. ALDI Keeps Dominating

Barely a week goes by that the PG editors don’t see a story about ALDI garner a huge number of clicks – and this week was no different. The discount retailer’s positive showing in this year’s Product of the Year awards is trending on Facebook, with its exclusive offerings taking home top honors in five categories, including Bread, Cooking Essentials, Juice, Pasta and Wine. Winning items included Specially Selected Sliced Italian Loaf, Simply Nature Spray Oil, Nature's Nectar OJ Blends, Priano Hearty Ravioli and Belletti Prosecco, each of which is an ALDI-exclusive product. 

Additionally, while ALDI was named Progressive Grocer’s Retailer of the Year back in November, readers just keep sharing the news. U.S. consumers seeking relief from high grocery prices — and seeking premium products not found anywhere else — have become obsessed with shopping at the grocer, and in August, the company gave some love right back to its fans when it unveiled plans to acquire Jacksonville, Fla.-based Southeastern Grocers. 

4. A New C-Suite Hire at Save Mart

Modesto, Calif.-based The Save Mart Companies has added industry veteran Chris Hooks to its c-suite as its new chief merchandising and marketing officer. Hooks previously held executive positions at Save A Lot, Family Dollar and Topco Associates. The grocer says the hire will immediately enhance its executive leadership and its growth and innovation priorities.

US Foods Chef'store Main Image
US Foods is making news for its plans to expand its physical store footprint.

5. US Foods Makes an Acquisition, Plans Growth

While not a frequent flier among PG’s most-clicked stories, foodservice distributor US Foods made waves this week with two big news stories. First, news dropped that the company has agreed to acquire IWC Food Service, a broadline distributor based in Cookeville, Tenn. The transaction will enable the company to expand its reach into central Tennessee, where the company doesn’t currently have a distribution center. 

US Foods, which just reported that its net sales increased 4.5% in fiscal 2023 and rose 4.9% during the fourth quarter, also announced that it is widening its retail footprint with the opening of five new Chef'Store locations this year in Georgia, North Carolina, Oregon and Virginia. Warehouse-style Chef’Stores cater to restaurant operators and foodservice professionals, but also carry a variety of products for consumers.

BONUS: Have You Turned In Your TWIG Nominations Yet?

If you haven’t yet nominated yourself or other outstanding women in your company for a chance to win a Top Women in Grocery Award this year, you’re not alone. The deadline to do so is Feb. 29, and readers are flocking to the nomination page ahead of the cut-off date.

Need a little inspiration for your nomination? Three of PG’s editors, who also serve as awards judges, gathered on the Top Women in Grocery Podcast to chat about what makes a great nomination, so be sure to check it out!

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