New competition—namely Lidl—garnered the most press in the Southeast edition this year. The merger of Amazon and Whole Foods Market also generated a good bit of speculation about what that might mean for the grocery industry.
A number of top-level executive changes took place among the region’s grocers this year. Many also fine-tuned formats, undertook major remodeling campaigns and continued to sharpen their operations to be ready for the future, whatever comes.
Here is a look at our top 10 newsmakers from 2017.
1. Lidl Enters the U.S. Market, Starting in the Southeast
Lidl, the European grocer that has been compared to fellow hard-discount retailer Aldi, opened its first stores in the U.S. in 2017 after setting up U.S. headquarters in Virginia in June 2015. Ten stores opened June 15, 2017, in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia (North Carolina had six; South Carolina and Virginia had two each). Media reports showed that the stores drew large crowds.
By early September, Lidl U.S. had 24 stores open in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Delaware, with plans to open 13 more in September, including the first store in Georgia (in Augusta). At press time, the company’s website showed 41 stores open plus four openings scheduled for Nov. 16: Vineland, New Jersey (its first in that state); Raleigh and Winston-Salem, North Carolina; and Virginia Beach, Virginia.
Newspaper reports also have indicated that the company is assessing store sites in Ohio.
Lidl stores are about 20,000 s.f. and have six aisles, plus a fresh bakery at the front of the store. There is an emphasis on healthy options, and about 90 percent of products are exclusive brands.
By next summer, as many as 100 Lidl locations could be open, creating about 5,000 U.S. jobs.
2. Amazon Acquires Whole Foods Market
In one of the most talked-about deals in the history of the food retail industry, Amazon on Aug. 28 completed its $13.7 billion acquisition of organic/natural grocer Whole Foods Market. Immediately, Whole Foods began offering lower prices on some of its best-selling grocery staples, “with more to come,” the companies said, as they “pursue the vision of making Whole Foods Market’s high-quality, natural and organic food affordable for everyone.”
Jeff Wilke, CEO of Amazon Worldwide Consumer, said of the acquisition: “We’re determined to make healthy and organic food affordable for everyone. Everybody should be able to eat Whole Foods Market quality—we will lower prices without compromising Whole Foods Market’s long-held commitment to the highest standards. There is significant work and opportunity ahead, and we’re thrilled to get started.”
In addition to lower prices, another byproduct of the deal is that Amazon Lockers will be available in select Whole Foods Markets. Customers can have products shipped from Amazon.com to their local Whole Foods for pickup or send returns back to Amazon during a trip to the store.
Whole Foods plans to continue to open new stores, keeping the brand intact, the companies say. Co-founder John Mackey remains CEO, and headquarters will stay in Austin.
3. Publix Opens Long‑Awaited First Virginia Store
Publix Super Markets made its highly anticipated Virginia debut when it opened its Publix at Nuckols Place at 5400 Wyndham Forest Drive in Glen Allen on July 15. A second Virginia store, a former Martin’s store that Publix purchased in summer 2016 as part of a 10-store group, opened two weeks later. It’s located at 10250 Staples Mill Road, also in Glen Allen.
Publix first announced its intentions to enter Virginia in early 2016 with two initial stores. Now there are approximately 17 Publix stores open or planned for the state, which is the Lakeland, Florida-based company’s seventh state of operation.
This spring, Publix said it would “reignite” its GreenWise store concept, saying it wants to be “the retailer of choice for consumers who are looking for specialty, natural and organic products,” in the words of Kevin Murphy, SVP of retail operations.
The first newly redesigned GreenWise will be located near Florida State University at the southwest corner of Gaines Street and Railroad Avenue in Tallahassee, and is expected to debut in late 2018. Publix’s three existing GreenWise Markets are in Palm Beach Gardens, Boca Raton and Tampa. The company says it continues to aggressively look for additional GreenWise locations across its operating areas.
Also in 2017, Publix’s first distribution center in Alabama opened in McCalla. The 638,000-s.f. D.C. at 7200 Jefferson Metropolitan Parkway began supplying about 80 stores in Alabama and Tennessee, with about 60 stores in the Florida Panhandle and Georgia expected to be added by the end of 2017.
4. Hucker Succeeds McLeod as President and CEO of SEG
Anthony Hucker, who began serving as interim president and CEO of Southeastern Grocers (SEG) on July 1, was selected the permanent president and CEO on Aug. 10.
Hucker, who had been COO for about 18 months, stepped in when Ian McLeod, who had led SEG since 2015, resigned to become group chief executive for pan-Asian retailer Dairy Farm International Holdings.
SEG said that Hucker “was always part of our succession plan. He has played an integral role in our successful transformation over the last 18 months, and we are positive he is the right leader to guide SEG.”
Before joining Jacksonville, Florida-based SEG, Hucker was president and COO of Schnucks in St. Louis, Missouri. His background also includes positions with Giant Food, Walmart and Aldi. In fact, Hucker was part of the original startup leadership team that set up Aldi UK.
SEG has been focusing on growing its Fresco y Más and Harveys banners this year. With five Fresco y Más openings in November, that banner—which caters to Hispanic shoppers—now has 23 stores in South Florida; the first one just opened in June 2016. Harveys, with three openings in November, has reached the 80-store mark.
In addition to those banners, SEG operates Bi-Lo and Winn-Dixie, for a total of more than 730 stores.
5. The Fresh Market Changes Leadership
Rick Anicetti resigned as CEO and member of the board of The Fresh Market in Greensboro, North Carolina, in June. Anicetti had joined the specialty grocer in late 2015. By Sept. 11, Larry Appel, a former executive at Winn-Dixie, had been named to succeed Anicetti and serve on the company’s board.
“I am committed to re-energizing all that sets The Fresh Market apart as a great brand and retail store,” Appel said. “Its heritage and history provide a strong platform in continuing to define the company as a unique ‘specialty’ grocer, offering best-in-class products and customer service. I plan to work with our teams to further elevate every aspect of our business—all with a sharp focus on delivering an exceptional customer experience every day in every store.”
From 2002-12, Appel was with Winn-Dixie Stores in Jacksonville, holding roles including COO, chief HR officer, head of strategy and chief legal officer.
The Fresh Market operates 176 stores in 24 states across the U.S. It is in the midst of a store updating campaign and expects to complete the refreshes in early 2018.
6. Florida Holds Its First-Ever Best Bagger Contest
The Florida Grocers Association (FGA) held its first best bagger competition this year. Eight baggers competed, representing Bravo Supermarkets, Lucky’s Market, Publix, Sedano’s and Winn-Dixie.
Kelina Salinas of Lucky’s won the $1,000 grand prize along with an all-expense paid trip to represent Florida and compete for a $10,000 grand prize at the National Grocers Association’s National Best Bagger Championship in February 2018 in Las Vegas. Josue Anelus of Publix’s Miami Division came in second, and JP Paiva of Publix’s Lakeland Division placed third.
“We were thrilled with the interest and participation from our grocery members for our first-ever best bagger competition as well as the excitement of the audience during the event,” said Josie Correa, executive director of FGA, which is an arm of the Florida Retail Federation. FGA was launched in 2015 to serve the state’s $45 billion grocery industry, which includes more than 2,300 grocery stores and suppliers.
7. Two Southeast Kroger Divisions Have New Leaders
Kroger’s Mid-Atlantic and Louisville divisions came under new leaders this year.
Jerry Clontz, formerly SVP of operations for Kroger’s Harris Teeter subsidiary, became president of The Kroger Co.’s Mid-Atlantic Division in Roanoke, Virginia, after Joe Fey retired Feb. 10 after more than four decades with the grocery company. The Mid-Atlantic division comprises 121 stores in the Richmond, Roanoke, Hampton Roads and Virginia Beach areas of Virginia as well as Charleston, West Virginia.
Clontz, whose appointment was effective Feb. 1, joined Harris Teeter in 1971 as a bagger in Marion, North Carolina.
In the Louisville division, Ann Reed, formerly VP of Customer 1st Promise at Kroger’s home office in Cincinnati, now is president. Reed succeeded Calvin Kaufman as leader of the Louisville division, which operates about 100 stores in Kentucky and southern Indiana. Kaufman took over as SVP of retail divisions at company headquarters upon the retirement of Sukanya Madlinger on June 19.
Reed began her career with Kroger as a co-manager in the company’s Central division in 1993.
8. Dollar General Debuts Its DGX Concept Targeting Millennials
Tennessee-based Dollar General opened its first small-format store—called DGX—in Nashville, Tennessee, followed by another in Raleigh, North Carolina. The format has about 3,400 s.f. of sales floor space.
Dollar General CEO Todd Vasos said, “The DGX format is geared to meet the needs of the Millennial shopper, which is an emerging and important part of our customer base and will help us broaden our appeal to attract a new segment of urban customers who put a high premium on value and convenience.”
The stores focus on items geared toward instant consumption, including a soda fountain, coffee station and grab-and-go sandwiches. Additional items include a limited assortment of grocery offerings, pet supplies, candies and snacks, paper products, home cleaning supplies, an expanded health and beauty section and items not typically found in quick-trip stores, including a carefully edited assortment of home décor, electronics and seasonal offerings.
9. Robért Fresh Market to Return to New Orleans More Than a Decade After Katrina
A new Robért Fresh Market is under construction in New Orleans. That in itself may not be such big news; what is interesting is that the store will mark the local grocer’s return to the city following Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. The company has spent the intervening years in litigation over insurance proceeds from storm damages.
The 26,000-s.f. full-service grocery store on the corner of St. Claude Avenue and Elysian Fields will serve the Bywater and Marigny neighborhoods and employ 30 full-time and 50 part-time workers.
Marc Robért II, CEO of Robért Fresh Market, said, “We are proud and excited for this project to come to life. We’ve created a concept that upholds the integrity and authenticity of the area while bringing the neighborhood a fresh, full-service grocery they need.”
The store, announced this spring, was expected to take about 12 months to construct.
Robért Fresh Market, founded in 1994, currently operates four stores—two in New Orleans and one each in Metairie and Baton Rouge.
10. IGA’s Batenic Transitions to Retirement
IGA Chairman, President and CEO Mark Batenic announced Sept. 18 that he would step down from his roles as president and CEO in mid-October. He will remain chairman of the IGA board until his retirement on Dec. 31, 2018, and then transition to non-executive chairman in January 2019.
Batenic was succeeded by John Ross, president of Inmar Promotion Network. As president and CEO of IGA Inc., Ross will assume responsibility for domestic and global operations for IGA, an independent supermarket network with nearly 5,000 IGA supermarkets in more than 30 countries worldwide, representing $36 billion per year in sales.
“I am an independent retailer by DNA,” says Ross. “My grandfather owned an independent grocery store in West Virginia, and I worked retail from the age of 16 on. From lot boy to store manager, from merchant to CMO, I’ve been fortunate to experience operations, merchandising and marketing for independent, regional, national and international chains. I even was a fill-in route salesman for Holsum bakery as a teenager. My five years at Inmar have allowed me to be around the industry’s finest professionals in analytics and retail tech-enabled services and have prepared me wonderfully for this role. I couldn’t be more excited to join the IGA family—it feels like a job I’ve been preparing for all my life.”