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Oh, the Places You’ll Go


The Dr. Seuss book referenced in my headline has become ubiquitous with school commencement addresses, but it seems to work well with our Super 50 ranking of the top grocery retailers (more so than the food-centric “Green Eggs and Ham”).

Grocers are opening up in new places, trying out new store formats and innovating in many ways aimed at enhancing the customer experience, all with the goal of attracting more shoppers, selling more food and making more money — and, hence, holding onto their PG ranking, or capturing a new spot above competitors and peers.

This year, there are no surprises at the top: Walmart still leads the pack by a wide margin, its sheer size and scale maintaining its dominance as the nation’s leading seller of groceries. The barons of Bentonville, continuing to fine-tune their image and experiment with new formats, have launched a new organic initiative, which our Meg Major discusses in her column this month. Among the superstores, Target — ranking third overall — has been ramping up its emphasis on fresh food and launching a major push into Canada over the past year.

The largest traditional grocer, No. 2-ranked Kroger, finished its fiscal 2013 with $98.4 billion in sales, topping a decade of consecutive quarterly sales growth. Kroger is quite a few stores larger this year, with the acquisition of Harris Teeter, which loses its own spot on the Super 50.

Fourth-place Safeway, which posted net sales of $8.3 billion in the first quarter of the year, is working through the details of its merger with Albertsons, announced in March and expected to close by the end of the year. The grocer plans to drive sales momentum through center-store remodels and by merchandising premium and ethnic products to local demands, and continues to enjoy growth of its private label organic brands.

Things are booming at Publix, showing strong financials and aggressive expansion into the Carolinas through acquisition of Bi-Lo stores, further expanding the northward influence of the Florida market leader. Meanwhile, Bi-Lo/Winn-Dixie (No. 13) grabbed up three banners from Delhaize, along with 22 stores from Piggly Wiggly Carolina in the ongoing transformation of the Southeast grocery scene.

Eleventh-ranked Wakefern topped $14 billion in sales last year as its ShopRite-bannered stores held their ground in the highly competitive Northeast.

Meanwhile, Supervalu has settled into its slot at No. 15, entering the second year since its historic selloff of five traditional banners to a rejuvenated Albertsons. The company is focusing on its independent business (buttressed by its successful hard-discount Save-A-Lot banner) and a return to positive net sales after a protracted dry spell under previous leadership.

Speaking of hard discounters, ALDI is further proving the strength of that channel by coming up two places in the ranking to tie with Hy-Vee at No. 17. ALDI is pushing full-steam ahead with its plans to open 650 new stores over the next four years.

Sprouts Farmers Market showed impressive growth, jumping eight places up the ranking, topping $2 billion in sales, and moving into Kansas and Georgia from its southwestern core market.

New to this year’s ranking: Cleveland-based Marc Glassman Inc., which operates 57 Marc’s stores in northeast Ohio; Texas-based Lowe’s; and Inserra Supermarkets Inc., the New Jersey-based operator of 21 ShopRite stores.

Looking ahead, we expect big things from Fresh Thyme Farmers Market, launched by a team led by Chris Sherrell, who was CEO of Sunflower Farmers Market before it was acquired by Sprouts. With Meijer among its investors, Fresh Thyme has ambitious growth plans for the Chicago area and several Midwestern states, as Sherrell told me when I stopped by the soft opening of the banner’s first Chicago-area store, just before press time, in the northwest suburb of Mount Prospect. You’ll learn more about the Mount Prospect store in an upcoming issue.

It’s a dynamic, highly competitive time for grocery, and we’ll be eager to see how our Super 50 continues to evolve with it.

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