Food City is 100 years old this year.
Company founder Jack C. Smith, along with his father Curtis, cousin Ernest and uncle Earl, opened their first Piggly Wiggly store in Grundy, Virginia, in 1955. The Smith family went on to construct three additional locations, followed by the purchase of several smaller chain stores in 1974 and a joint venture that resulted in partial ownership of their first distribution center, Mid-Mountain Foods Inc. In 1984, the company purchased Quality Foods, doubling its size and opting to adopt Food City as the company banner.
“Food City is extremely proud to be a local, family-owned company,” said Steven C. Smith, Food City president and CEO. “Our heritage dates back 100 years. While the Smith family entered the grocery business in 1955, the Food City chain we purchased in 1984 dates back to 1918, when the Humphreys family opened their first supermarket in Greeneville, Tennessee.
“As luck would have it, my grandmother sent my dad to the store one day. It was just a little market with two checkouts and one of those was never open. My dad got the groceries he needed and then had to stand in line for 45 minutes to check out. When he came home, he told his family he thought he had found something to do,” says Smith. “And the rest, as they say, is history.”
In 1989, Jack Smith entered the Knoxville, Tennessee, market, again more than doubling the size of the company with the acquisition of 43 White Stores, followed by 11 Kennedy Piggly Wiggly locations and six Winn-Dixie supermarkets in the 1990s and eight Knoxville-area Bi-Lo supermarkets in 2006. In 2015, the company entered the Chattanooga and north Georgia market areas with the purchase of 29 additional Bi-Lo locations. Food City says it also has grown significantly through the construction of new units throughout its market area, while aggressively remodeling and replacing existing locations as needed to best serve its customers.
“The chain has been a market leader in a number of innovative concepts and technologies,” Food City said in a statement. “From (our) very first location, a modern Piggly Wiggly boasting new color-coded fixtures as opposed to the traditional white fixtures of that day to being among the first to establish (our) own distribution center, data warehouse and loyalty marketing programs to incorporating pharmacy and fuel centers in (our) retail supermarkets to today’s modern conveniences of curb-side pickup and home delivery.”
“The grocery industry has certainly seen its fair share of changes over the past 100 years. From the days of groceries being stored behind the counter to self-service supermarkets, scanning registers, curbside pickup and now home delivery service—a lot has changed. But one thing that has remained the same is our unwavering commitment to our customers, our associates and the communities we serve,” said Smith.
Food City offers a variety of services and conveniences, including full-service meat and seafood departments and in-house meat cutters. Through its partnership with local farmers, Food City has purchased more than $53.7 million in fresh produce from local growers over the past 10 years.
More than 13 percent of Food City is owned by its associates through an employee stock ownership plan.
The company also supports community events and civic groups. In the past 10 years alone, Food City has contributed more than $10.4 million in support of local organizations and activities, $6.1 million to area schools and more than $34.7 million in product donations to local food banks. Partnering with its customers, during the past 10 years, the chain has raised more than $3.9 million to benefit local hunger relief organizations through its annual Race Against Hunger campaign, more than $911,500 for the Paralyzed Veterans Association, more than $1.6 million for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and more than $1.5 million in funds to benefit area disaster relief efforts. The Food City Charitable Foundation has contributed more than $1.56 million to local nonprofit organizations throughout the region. Food City also is the longest running sponsor at Bristol Motor Speedway, serving as the title sponsor for the Food City 500 and Food City 300 NASCAR races, as well as a major corporate partner for several local athletic programs, including the University of Tennessee, East Tennessee State University, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and Emory and Henry College.
“We’re committed to the communities we serve, and we believe in giving back and encouraging our associates to volunteer and take an active role within their community,” said Smith.
Food City has planned a number of events for its yearlong anniversary celebration. The company plans to donate $100,000 in additional monies to charitable organizations throughout the region for the Food City 100th Anniversary Charity Challenge. It also is bringing back the Food City $100,000 Treasure Hunt. During the next several months, the Treasure Hunt Prize Team will hit the road to award cash prizes to winners throughout the company’s market area.
“In today’s competitive market place, it’s very rare to see a company celebrating their 100th anniversary. Food City is extremely proud to have served our friends and neighbors for the past 100 years. We realize this would not be possible without the loyalty and support of our customers, associates and our many great business partners. Our company was founded on the simple philosophy to ‘run the best store in town.’ We’re still committed that mission today, and we hope you’ll join us as we celebrate this incredible landmark in our company’s history. Thank you for 100 remarkable years,” said Smith.
Headquartered in Abingdon, Virginia, K-VA-T Food Stores, Food City’s parent company, operates 132 retail outlets in southeast Kentucky, southwest Virginia, east Tennessee, Chattanooga and north Georgia. This includes 101 pharmacies, 100 fuel/convenience stores and two wine and spirits stores, as well as its own 1.2 million-s.f. distribution center, located in Abingdon.