All year long, Progressive Grocer has been celebrating a milestone: 100 years of service to the grocery industry. No other publication has been covering the grocery industry as long as PG, and no other publication was there reporting on store openings and other in-person events, on the ground, during one of the most challenging times in recent memory: the COVID-19 pandemic. So perhaps there’s no better time than now, PG’s 100th year, to turn the tables and celebrate the essential and critical players in U.S. food retailing over the past century.
Certainly, over the past two years, grocery retailers have had to reassess and adapt nearly every facet of their operations. Changes to the grocery landscape will continue, shaped by both macroeconomic factors and those pesky, always-changing consumer preferences. PG surveyed the competitive landscape over the past century to identify those companies that have prioritized innovation, differentiation and community service through every conceivable (and previously inconceivable) operational challenge — and thrived. We are thrilled to honor the ingenuity, courage and drive of each of the following 11 food retailers with a Retailer of the Century Award, as well as to acknowledge some honorable mentions.
While PG celebrates 11 Retailer of the Century honorees, we would be remiss not to honor the success of other food retailers that have made tremendous impacts on the industry during the past 100 years.
Wakefern Food Corp.
Founded in 1946, Wakefern Food Corp. has become the largest retailers’ cooperative group of supermarkets and the fourth-largest cooperative of any kind in the United States. Keasbey, N.J.-based Wakefern consists of nearly 50 member companies that independently own and operate more than 360 retail supermarkets under the ShopRite, Price Rite Marketplace, The Fresh Grocer, Dearborn Market, Gourmet Garage and Fairway Market banners in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island markets.
Wegmans Food Markets
Founded in 1919 in Rochester, N.Y., and still based there, Wegmans today operates 108 stores across the East Coast and inspires a rabid fan base of loyal shoppers who cram the company’s supercenter-size stores for items like fresh truffles, chocolate chip cookies made with butter, and organic chicken dog treats.
H-E-B began in Kerrville, Texas, with one family-owned store. Today, the San Antonio-based company is still family-owned but operates more than 400 locations across Texas and Mexico, all of which offer grocery pickup and delivery. H-E-B is virtually a religion in Texas — is there any other grocery retailer in the United States that opens stores with drive-thru barbecue restaurants?
Hy-Vee founders Charles Hyde and David Vredenburg had a goal to provide “good merchandise, appreciative service and low prices” when they opened a small store in Beaconsfield, Iowa, in 1930. Today, the West Des Moines, Iowa-based company has more than 240 stores and is celebrated not just for its produce, meat and dairy, but also for its community initiatives focused on wellness and hyper-local products.
Aldi may not have gotten its start in the United States, but it’s now an international phenomenon, with nearly 7,000 stores spread across 11 countries. In the United States, where the German deep-discount retailer is based in Batavia, Ill., there are more than 2,200 stores in 36 states. About 90% of its 1,400 products are private label, and stores are smaller and easy to shop. It’s an even more popular destination these days for shoppers as grocery prices have shot up.