Wakefern Expanding Wholesale Biz Beyond ShopRite

ELIZABETH, N.J. - In a major bid for growth, Wakefern Food Corp. here, which has sold almost exclusively to its ShopRite cooperative members for the past 60-plus years, is now expanding its wholesale distribution business to serve other supermarkets and institutional customers, both within and beyond its longtime Northeastern market.

Wakefern has already begun selling over 300 ShopRite-brand grocery and nonfood items to 17-store, Ohio-based chain Heinen's Fine Foods, according to Dave Baer, who became director of wholesale sales last fall and is heading up the growth initiative. The house brand was previously available only at ShopRites in New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania, as well as in a few other supermarkets overseas.

"Our relationship with Heinen's is really a win-win because they're now able to offer their customers a full range of high quality, value-priced products that are unique in their markets," noted Baer in a statement. "From our perspective, it's an introduction of the ShopRite name to the Midwest, which we believe can only contribute to the growth of our brand."

Wakefern spokeswoman Karen Meleta told Progressive Grocer that the company is lining up additional retail customers, but she declined to name them. When asked about whether the company would be supplying direct competitors to ShopRite stores, Meleta said that such instances would be "examined on a case-by-case basis" as they arose, but that businesses competitive with ShopRite locations wouldn't necessarily be rejected out of hand. "There are different types of competitors," she noted, among them convenience stores, drug stores, and mass merchandisers. "Anything could be considered a competitor."

Wakefern chairman Joe Colalillo said new customers will benefit from the co-op's buying power and expertise in procurement, with a complete range of brands, products, and services on tap.

"The key to ShopRite being the recognized low-price leader is our ability to effectively manage the acquisition cost of our products," observed Colalillo. "In essence, our focus on the top line is going to be reflected in our customers' bottom line."

Wakefern's cooperative structure and the its member-owners' independence in running their respective ShopRite stores will also allow the company to develop wholesale programs tailored specifically for certain customers, said Colalillo.

"One of the strengths of ShopRite has always been local ownership," he continued. "Our stores reflect their communities, which at the wholesale level means experience in servicing a diverse mix of product offerings and retail strategies. Our wholesale team is highly skilled at developing store-specific solutions, and that represents a tremendous benefit to our customers. The same expertise that helped make ShopRite successful is now available to help other grocery companies that are looking to become more successful."

The marketing and distribution arm of ShopRite supermarkets, Wakefern is the nation's largest retail cooperative, with 43 members, 200 ShopRites and over 30 PriceRite stores in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island.
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