The grocery industry lost a giant on Oct. 1, 2020, with the death of Ben Schwartz at age 103.
Mr. Schwartz was born in Philadelphia on July 8, 1917. According to his obituary, he was raised in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, where he worked at his father’s corner grocery store from an early age. Together with his brother, Abe, he went on to build a well-known and respected family supermarket business.
Mr. Schwartz dedicated much of his knowledge, experience and energy to independent grocers through his work at Certified/Unified Grocers. He received national recognition, honors and awards for his contributions to the industry.
In a 2015 interview with The Shelby Report, Mr. Schwartz attributed his longevity to good family genes, hard work and exercise, as well as “no drinking, no smoking, no coffee.”
“Love what you do, too,” he said at the time. “Keep working.”
Mr. Schwartz was always working – and always in the grocery business – for his entire life. His father, a European immigrant, owned a corner store in Philadelphia in the early 1900s. Eventually the family headed West, and his father wound up “with another grocery store similar to the type of store we had in Philadelphia.”
“Our first store here [in Southern California] was in 1922, an independent,” he said.
Over the years that single store grew into a popular 16-store chain called Foods Co., which would come to be known as one of the most innovative retail companies in Southern California.
It regularly featured some of the newest ideas in the grocery business – thanks largely to Mr. Schwartz, who traveled around the world in search of new products, services and selling techniques that he could implement in his stores.
Mr. Schwartz served as a director of Certified Grocers of California for more than 40 years, including four years as chairman. He also worked for the grocery industry at the national level by serving in leadership positions for many years at the Food Marketing Institute and several national retail and wholesale associations that preceded it.
In 1986, FMI recognized Mr. Schwartz with its Sidney R. Rabb Award for excellence in serving the consumer, the community and the industry.
Mr. Schwartz also offered his services to independent retailers for consultation, assistance and pricing strategy.
Given his vast knowledge of the business, Unified Grocers named an annual award after him – the Ben Schwartz Retail Grocery Visionary Award.
The award is given to an independent retail grocer or grocery company that is an industry leader and innovator. It recognizes retailers who, by their practice and example, have consistently demonstrated initiative, creativity and leadership within their businesses and, in the process, have inspired others to think and act creatively and with passion in the grocery field.
Mr. Schwartz was a loving husband to Sara, who preceded him in death.
According to his obituary, he is survived by son Bill (Beverly) and daughter Candy (Ted Gerstl), six grandchildren, two great-grandchildren and many nieces and nephews.
As his obituary noted, Mr. Schwartz was a giant of a man, a model of integrity, principles and values, an exceptionally kind and generous person who always did the right thing – simply a wonderful person.