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‘King’ Of The Supermarket Industry Dies

Mr. Byron Allumbaugh with his wife Ronnie.
Mr. Byron Allumbaugh with his wife Ronnie.

Last updated on June 14th, 2024 at 09:29 am

Mr. Byron Allumbaugh, who spent 39 years with Ralphs Grocery Co., including nearly 20 years as chairman and CEO before his retirement, died over the weekend from a massive heart attack. He was 84.

He was “a great leader and mentor to many in our industry,” said Carole Christianson, COO of the Western Association of Food Chains (WAFC).

One of those he mentored was Jack H. Brown, executive chairman of Stater Bros. Markets, another Southern California grocery chain.

“I’ve known Byron for over 60 years,” Brown told The Shelby Report on Monday. “Ralphs was built under his leadership into the finest supermarket chain in America. But more than that, he was the American supermarket ambassador to the world. He and (his wife) Ronnie toured the world on behalf of the American food industry. I had the pleasure to be on several of those trips. But he was a true icon in terms of the great programs that Ralphs developed…They were pioneers in the industry. They just keep it to themselves.

“If there was nobility in the supermarket industry, he and Ronnie were the king and queen, and she was a very vivacious representative of the food industry with him.”

Of course, Brown and Mr. Allumbaugh were fierce competitors in the grocery business.

“But you can respect people and still compete, and Byron was a very close, personal friend,” Brown said. “Those were the days when you competed with great respect and, under his leadership, Ralphs became, in my judgment, the finest big supermarket chain in America.”

Brown remembers Mr. Allumbaugh treating him with respect despite that Brown describes himself as Mr. Allumbaugh’s “country cousin” and as a “little guy with only 70 stores” back then.

“But he treated me with the respect as if I had 170 stores,” Brown added. “That was one of his many leadership qualities.”

Brown recalls Ralphs changing ownership twice with Mr. Allumbaugh at its helm, but he “never lost” one of his more than 200 executives during those transitions because the employees “understood that he was there for them.

“Byron could have been billionaire had he decided to go out on his own, but he understood the value of people, which came from his very humble beginnings…and he never forgot his humble beginnings and he worked his way to what I think was the premier icon of the American food industry. And we were very fortunate to have him here in the West to push us harder to do better to serve our customers. There is no question that for many years the Southern California supermarket industry was the envy of the world. We should all be grateful for having had Byron come our way.”

Mr. Allumbaugh served as chairman an CEO of Ralphs from 1976-1995 before retiring in January 1997. He also served as president of the WAFC in 1972. He was chairman of the Food Marketing Institute from 1982-1985.

In 1996 Mr. Allumbaugh received the Horatio Alger Award, an award presentation in which Brown “put the Horatio ribbon around his neck.

“It was a great moment for me,” Brown said. “I can tell you honestly, I wanted to be Byron. I wanted to dress like him. I wanted to talk like him. He was just my idol. The dignity that he brought to our industry will never be repeated—because people have changed.”

There will be a private family service and internment on the morning of Nov. 2. Friends and family are invited to attend a memorial gathering at Big Canyon Country Club, 1 Big Canyon Drive in Newport Beach, California, at 12:30 p.m. Nov. 2

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Hoag Hospital Foundation in support of medical education at the Ronnie & Byron Allumbaugh Conference Center at the Jeffrey M. Carlton Heart & Vascular Institute, Hoag Hospital; Hoag Hospital Foundation, 330 Placentia Avenue, Newport Beach, CA 92663.

About the author

Shelby Team

The Shelby Report delivers complete grocery news and supermarket insights nationwide through the distribution of five monthly regional print and digital editions. Serving the retail food trade since 1967, The Shelby Report is “Region Wise. Nationwide.”

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