THE FRIDAY 5: Kroger, Albertsons Hit Back at FTC; Charting Trader Joe’s Growth

The future of self-checkout, Flashfood’s westward expansion also garnered clicks
Emily Crowe, Progressive Grocer
Kroger HQ Main Image
Kroger and Albertsons have formally responded to the FTC's challenge to the companies' proposed merger.

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. Kroger Continues To Make Headlines

All eyes were on The Kroger Co. this week as the grocer announced that it has entered into a definitive agreement for the sale of its specialty pharmacy business to CarelonRx, a subsidiary of Indianapolis-based Elevance Health. “As part of our regular review of assets, it became clear that our strong specialty pharmacy business unit will better meet its full potential outside of our business,” said Colleen Lindholz, president of Kroger Health.

News of Kroger’s formal response to the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) challenge of its $24.6 billion proposed merger with Albertsons Cos. also made waves with PG readers. While Kroger says the FTC is “distorting the competitive grocery landscape” it will face following the merger, Albertsons Cos. contends that the FTC’s complaint “entirely ignores the commercial realities of the fiercely competitive landscape” in which both grocers operate.

Albertsons Cos. goes on to detail the evolution of that grocery landscape in recent years, noting that it believes the FTC “handcrafted a narrowly defined set of ‘traditional supermarket’ competitors as one of the relevant product markets for the purposes of this litigation,” but fails to consider competition from larger retailers, specialty retailers and omnichannel competitors. Going one step further, Kroger contends that the FTC is “maintaining its archaic fiction limiting grocery competitors to ‘supermarkets,’” and that the agency’s “view of the relevant market lacks any basis in the real world.”

2. Trader Joe’s Charts A Course for Growth

Trader Joe’s is expanding its store count across the United States as the grocer announced the opening of several new locations that will welcome shoppers in the coming months. On March 15, the company announced the opening of new stores in Reno, Nev.; Chandler, Ariz.; Milwaukie, Ore.; Salt Lake City, Utah; and Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

Earlier in March, the company said it has plans to open new locations in Clearwater, Fla.; Raleigh, N.C.; Leesburg, Va.; Mt. Pleasant (Isle of Palms) S.C.; Sugar Land, Texas; West Springfield, Va.; South Pasadena, Calif.; Santa Clarita, Calif.; Sherman Oaks, Calif.; Santee, Calif.; and Poway, Calif.

In true ALDI fashion, news of the discount retailer’s massive expansion plans across the United States also continued to garner interest from PG readers. On March 7, ALDI shared incredibly ambitious growth plans as it too expands its footprint. The company says it will open 800 new stores by the end of 2028, which will encompass both organic growth and store conversions following the successful completion of its Southeastern Grocers acquisition.

Dollar General Self-Checkout
Dollar General and Target are both retooling their self-checkout strategies.

3. Target, Dollar General Rethink Self-Checkout

Self-checkout remains a sometimes sticky subject among food retailers, and both Dollar General Corp. and Target made news as they shared their plans for the future of the service. For its part, Dollar General is taking a three-pronged approach to the issue, including converting some or all self-checkout registers to associated assisted-checkout options in approximately 9,000 stores. 

Dollar General’s second course of action applies to all remaining stores with self-checkout, where the retailer is starting to limit self-checkout to transactions consisting of five items or fewer. Finally, over the first half of the year, Dollar General plans to completely remove self-checkout from more than 300 of its highest-shrink stores. CEO Todd Vasos said all of these steps are in line with what the customer prefers – more personal engagement at the store. 

Last fall, Target piloted the concept of Express Self-Checkout with a limit of 10 items or fewer at about 200 stores and found that self-checkout was twice as fast at these stores. As a result of this feedback, the retailer has rolled out Express Self-Checkout at most of its nearly 2,000 stores nationwide. 

4. Flashfood Hits the West Coast

California-based The Save Mart Companies is bringing customers at its Save Mart, Lucky and FoodMaxx banners the ability to save money and combat food waste through a new partnership with Flashfood. The app marketplace will connect shoppers with fresh produce, meat and other high-quality groceries near their sell-by date for up to 50% off, helping to divert food waste from landfills while simultaneously offering great deals on groceries. 

The Flashfood app has rolled out to 44 Lucky stores in the greater San Francisco area and will soon expand to all 194 of Save Mart’s locations throughout California and western Nevada.

5. Ramping Up Retail Media

Retail media is still heating up, with Wakefern Food Corp. and Meijer making moves in the space. The retail cooperative has launched Wakefern Media Exchange, an omnichannel retail media network to help consumer brands maximize their advertising investments across on-site and off-site media channels through a single platform. By combining planning, activation and measurement controls for in-store marketing and on-site and off-site media buying, Wakefern Media Exchange aims to improve the shopping experience while expanding advertising opportunities for brands of all sizes. 

Additionally, Meijer has introduced closed-loop measurement for display advertising both on- and off-site through its retail media network, Meijer Media. The measurement gives brand partners better visibility into sales impact through Meijer Media campaigns both in-store and online.

Together with such digital providers as Google and Criteo, Meijer is continuing to bolster its status as a preferred retail media partner. The company now provides capabilities to tailor customer messaging and deliver targeted content on-site, in-app, off-site, or on social media. 

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