Keasbey, New Jersey-based Wakefern Food Corp. marked its 75th anniversary during its annual meeting on Oct. 21, when executives paid tribute to the family-owned businesses that comprise the cooperative and drive its success.
Chairman and CEO Joseph S. Colalillo, President and COO Joe Sheridan and EVP Chris Lane addressed Wakefern members, shareholders, staff and store management during the company’s meeting, which included an in-person and virtual audience.
“As we reflect upon the rich legacy of our cooperative – and the history of our family businesses – we also focus on the future, mindful that we are here today because working together, our founding families had the foresight, determination and grit to always look forward. Seventy-five years later, we are still made up of family-owned businesses with deep roots in the communities where our stores operate,” said Colalillo, who also leads his own family business, ShopRite of Hunterdon County, which was founded by his father in 1954 and today includes five ShopRite stores.
Faced with increasing pressure from big chain supermarkets, eight independent New Jersey grocers came together in 1946 to maximize their purchasing power by forming a buying cooperative – Wakefern. More than seven decades later, the company represents the largest retailer-owned cooperative in the U.S. with members who operate stores under the ShopRite, Price Rite Marketplace, the Fresh Grocer, Gourmet Garage, Fairway Market and Dearborn Market banners.
Many of the members are in their third or fourth generation of ownership and have been part of the cooperative since its founding.
As part of annual meeting, Wakefern also reported retail sales of $17.8 billion for the fiscal year ending Oct. 2. During that same period, Wakefern opened four ShopRite stores, four Price Rite Marketplace supermarkets and welcomed a new member, the Slawsby family. Massachusetts-based Madison Foods is a third-generation grocery business now operating four new Price Rite Marketplace supermarkets in the Boston area.
Sheridan thanked members, associates and the thousands of store associates for their commitment to the cooperative and the work that has helped Wakefern reach a milestone anniversary at a time when the industry and the world is also being reshaped by the pandemic.
The 75th anniversary celebration and meeting also included recorded video thank-you and congratulatory messages from local celebrities, athletes, community and industry leaders, and representatives of the Special Olympics New Jersey and several food banks supported by Wakefern.
“Seventy-five years is a big deal – pretty remarkable given that family-owned businesses rarely survive past the third generation. It’s important that we pause and recognize this milestone and use it as a moment to reflect on what made us great in the past and what will keep us great to ensure that we keep moving forward for generations to come,” Sheridan said.
Lane reported on new retail innovations that will continue to move the company forward and elevate the customer experience when it comes to on-line and in-store shopping. Initiatives include the continued expansion of Wakefern’s award-winning own brands – Bowl & Basket, Paperbird and Wholesome Pantry and Wholesome Pantry Organic – as well as the expansion of the Fresh to Table concept in ShopRite stores.
The Fresh to Table department reimagines foods to go by providing wholesome and affordable fresh foods, prepped ingredients and meal solutions to customers.
“We are all invested together in this partnership, our cooperative,” said Lane. “Teamwork was the key to Wakefern’s founding and early successes, and I’m confident it’s the key to Wakefern’s future.”
Colalillo also presented this year’s Chairman’s Award to Dewey Cannella, Wakefern’s recently retired VP of labor relations, thanking Cannella for his more than 30 years of service to the cooperative.
From a small, local cooperative that began with eight grocery store owners, Wakefern Food Corp. has grown into the largest retailer-owned cooperative in the United States. Founded in 1946, the cooperative comprises nearly 50 member families who today independently own and operate 361 supermarkets under the ShopRite, Price Rite Marketplace, The Fresh Grocer, Dearborn Market, Gourmet Garage and Fairway Market banners in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.
Together with its member companies, Wakefern employs nearly 80,000 people and is one of the largest employers in New Jersey. For more information, visit wakefern.com.