by John McCurry/contributing writer
Janssen’s Market has been a fixture in the Greenville, Delaware, community for 68 years. Paula Janssen, the store’s current co-owner, is the granddaughter of its founder, Joseph Janssen Sr. Her parents—Joe Jr. and Eileen Janssen—are her co-owners. Since its founding in the fall of 1952, the store has focused on being a specialty food retailer.
“We’re almost like a gourmet convenience store,” Paula Janssen said. “We focus on fresh food; we have a full-time butcher and a full-service bakery.”
Janssen said as an independent grocer, she is always trying to bring in something new for customers. As an example, Janssen pointed out that her store was the first in Delaware to serve beer and wine.
“The grocery business is challenging and always changing,” Paula Janssen said. “We have to keep up with lots of competitors and the changing tastes of consumers. As an independent, we can change a little quicker than the chains can.”
Finding sufficient labor is a challenge, putting pressure on wages. Janssen said she offers full benefits and the store closes on major holidays, providing a break for employees.
Now, Janssen’s is preparing for what could be a bigger challenge. The ultra-popular Wegmans chain plans a store about a mile away that could open by late 2021 or early 2022.
According to the Wegmans website, the store will be located in Greenville, just outside Wilmington, at the intersection of Lancaster Pike and Barley Mill Road in New Castle County.
“They (Wegmans) will definitely bring a change to the marketplace,” Janssen said. “We have to prepare for it and just manage things through their opening. We are different enough. We are a 20,000-s.f. store. We have found our niche, which is to offer convenience and service to our customers. If we continue to focus on that, it will be worth it to come in for a quick trip.”
Friendly business climate
Julie Wenger, executive director of the Delaware Food Industry Council, describes the state’s business climate as being friendly overall with much opportunity for growth.
“At the moment, our state is fiscally flush, and we are hopeful that there will be less movement for taxes and regulations during the legislative session. Delaware has a two-year legislative session. We are embarking on the second year. So, we are hopeful that we don’t see a lot of crazy antics,” she said.
Wenger said her organization opposes a tax on sugary beverages, something that has been discussed by the Delaware Department of Health & Social Services.
“We spent most of our down time (between legislative sessions) working with our stakeholder partners to educate legislators about the detriments of a beverage tax,” Wenger said. “We have heard from the leadership on the House side there will not be one.”
Wenger noted that many stores are adding value with amenities such as dietitians and are offering more sampling and recipes. She cited Giant and ShopRite as examples.
“Stores are making produce more available, offering free samples,” Wenger said. “There is a lot of home recipe work that folks are experimenting with.”
As is the case in several northeastern states, the rising minimum wage is an area of concern for retailers in Delaware. Two 50-cent increases took effect during 2019, bringing the rate to $9.25 an hour. The General Assembly is expected to consider a bill this year that would gradually take the minimum wage up to $15. Wenger said the state’s unemployment rate is so low it is putting upward pressure on wages. The unemployment rate, however, which stood at 3.9 percent in December, has been edging up over the past several months.
“We are trying to educate our legislators, and we are hopeful that they will allow the market to dictate what the wage should be,” Wenger said. “Like many other states, we have such low unemployment that it’s very difficult for our food retailers to hire at minimum wage.”
Two years ago, the state created a youth and training wage that currently stands at $8.75 an hour.
“The Legislature created a training wage that gives businesses up to 90 days,” Wenger said. “What we have actually seen over the course of the last two years, because unemployment is so low, is not many retailers are hiring at less than minimum wage.”
Agribusiness remains robust
Delaware has long had a strong agribusiness sector and it continues to grow. FMC Corp., an agricultural sciences company, announced in 2019 that it will invest more than $50 million over the next three years in capital improvement projects, including a reconfiguration of its greenhouse and research facility at its Global Research and Development headquarters in Newark.
Also in 2019, the state announced a new farmland preservation program that preserves 25 percent of Delaware’s 134,000 acres of farmland. The program is funded by several local, state and federal agencies.
The state’s lead economic development agency, the public-private Delaware Prosperity Partnership, reports that Delaware leads the nation in production of lima beans. Sussex County continues to be the top producer of poultry and eggs in the nation.
Dot Foods facility expected to open soon
Dot Foods, the nation’s largest food industry redistributor, expects to open a 188,000-s.f. distribution facility in Bear, about 50 miles southwest of Philadelphia, during the first quarter of 2020.
The new $36 million facility is the Illinois-based company’s 12th distribution center. It is located at 301 American Boulevard, near the intersection of Red Lion and Wrangle Hill Roads. The development includes offices; dry, refrigerated and frozen warehouse space; and a truck yard and garage to service Dot’s fleet.
Dick Tracy, Dot Foods president, said at the groundbreaking for the facility in fall 2018, “Dot Foods Delaware joins our other two East Coast locations, in Maryland and New York, and will allow us to even better serve our customers in eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Connecticut. We look forward to building relationships with many more people in the region as we become part of the Bear community.”
Dot said it would hire up to 125 people in the first year, starting with truck drivers. The company has established a terminal location in nearby New Castle, Delaware, for its transportation operations at 194 S. Dupont Highway.
Dot plans to employ 200 people by 2022.
“I’m so thrilled Dot Foods is joining our community,” said State Sen. Nicole Poore. “Dot is one of the nation’s most successful family businesses and this groundbreaking is a testament not only to their success, but that Delaware and the greater Bear area are open for business. Dot has a longstanding record not only as a good employer and a valuable contributor to the local economy, but as a responsible corporate citizen and as a participant in sustainability, charitable giving, and empowering people from all backgrounds. We all share those values in Delaware, and I know that Dot will fit right in, both as an economic asset and as a neighbor to all of us.”
Dot Foods Delaware will be led by GM Joe Little. Little celebrated his 30th anniversary with the company in 2019. He began his career at Dot’s corporate headquarters in Mt. Sterling, Illinois. After spending 13 years there, he moved to Dot’s Maryland location, before transferring to Idaho to open that distribution center. For the last five years, Little served as GM of Dot Foods New York in Liverpool. He and his wife Janna are relocating to Delaware.
“Joe is an excellent leader and the best choice to head the start-up of Dot Foods Delaware,” Tracy said. “He bleeds Dot blue and has been instrumental in developing strong teams at several of our distribution centers. He’s as knowledgeable as it gets when it comes to our operations, and I know he’s going to apply his years of experience to do even more great work in Bear.”