Another year of overstoring combined with fierce and diverse competition led to gridlocked sales and continuing difficulties to change the share of market status for most retailers in the large $98.6 billion marketplace.
There were some positive signs, however. Inflation provided slight headwinds, the economy was generally healthy (although historically low unemployment led to major challenges in finding and retaining labor) and there was a slight thinning of the herd in terms of retailer attrition.
Still, there are simply too many stores for most retailers to make significant headway and the presence of digital/online is a growing concern for those traditional brick and mortar supermarket operators.
And yes, there were changes, mostly as it concerned independent groups and regional chains. Darrenkamp’s, a Lancaster County merchant for more than 80 years, closed three of its four stores and sold its other supermarket to Giant/Martin’s which last month (after our market study measuring period closed) acquired another Lancaster County independent – Ferguson & Hassler. Earlier this year, the non-union Ahold Delhaize USA (ADUSA) brand purchased five Shop ‘n Saves in Central, PA, western Maryland and West Virginia from UNFI (ironically those stores started off in life as Food Lions, also owned by ADUSA).
In the Metro New York market (specifically primarily on Long island), Lidl acquired Best Markets, and in a dealing still awaiting FTC approval, Stop & Shop (another ADUSA brand) agreed to purchase 37-store King Kullen, reportedly America’s first supermarket chain, whose legacy dates back to 1930.
Other retail-related news stories of note that occurred over the past year include the closing/selling of more than 50 Rite Aid stores (some of which were acquired by Walgreens); the successful IPO of BJ’s Wholesale Club (by its private equity owners Leonard Green and CVC Capital), the bankruptcy of Sears Holdings (and continued store closings at its woeful Kmart brand) and the sale of Turkey Hill Minit Markets convenience stores to British oil c-store operator EG Group by Kroger (which sold its entire portfolio of 784 convenience stores for $2.15 billion). UNFI’s acquisition of Supervalu in October was also a major story. But unlike in the adjacent Baltimore-Washington market, where 44 Shoppers Food & Pharmacystores are on the selling block, there are no UNFI corporate stores in the Food Trade news area. Instead UNFI’s challenges have come with its many independent retailers in the market (Redner’s, Karn’s, McCaffrey’s, Murphy’s, Western Beef, Boyer’s) which have been adversely impacted by distribution problems at UNFI’s newly relocated warehouse in Harrisburg and from a lack of communications with those retailers, most of which had been serviced by predecessor company Supervalu for more than 20 years.
While ShopRite/Price Rite continued to dominate the retail field, nearly doubling the market share of runner-up Stop & Shop, the retail arm of Wakefern experienced the most challenging year in more than a decade in terms of same-store sales and competition from new stores.
One of those emboldened merchants was Aldi, which opened eight new stores and expanded/remodeled about a dozen others. In fact, the German extreme value merchant, whose U.S. headquarters is in Batavia, IL, gave fits to every retailer it faced including another Deutschland discounter, Lidl, which despite deep pockets and apparent staying power, continued to struggle as it reached the two-year mark since it debuted in the United States.
Our annual retail market survey measures sales for the 12-month period ended March 31, 2019 and covers a 70-county territory ranging from Litchfield County, CT to Cape May County, NJ on a north-south plane and from New Haven County, CT to Franklin County, PA on an east-west plane.
Here’s a look at how the top 10 retailers fared this year:
Despite the rugged competitive landscape, the 274 ShopRite, Fresh Grocer and PriceRite stores (10 more than a year ago) controlled by Wakefern managed to increase their overall share of the nearly $100 billion market, although as previously noted, comp store sales were lower than in previous years. ShopRite continues to dominate the largest U.S. market (Metro NY) and fifth largest U.S. market (Delaware Valley).
Second-ranked Stop & Shop’s sales trend continued on a flat/slightly negative trajectory. The biggest brand in the ADUSA fleet operated two fewer stores than a year ago (212) and had sales of $7.87 billion. There’s better news for the company ahead though. It will shortly begin a $150 million upgrade of its 51 Long Island stores (where it is the market leader) and is awaiting word from the Federal Trade Commission to complete the acquisition of King Kullen. While the FTC is expected to require Stoppie to divest some overlapping stores, the deal should produce a substantial net gain in store count and sales. Stop & Shop’s New York Metro stores were not part of the recent 11-day strike at more than 240 New England stores which severely impacted sales at the time and is still a factor six-weeks after the walkout ended. And, just before presstime, it was announced that current Giant Food (Landover) president Gordon Reid has been named to replace Stop & Shop president Mark McGowan, effective at the end of next month. McGowan will leave the company later this year.
CVS retained its leadership among drug chains in the market, adding 41 new stores to its base. Sales for its 1,241 stores in the 70-county region were estimated to be $5.99 billion.
Ranking fourth among all merchants was Giant/Martin’s which had a good year, especially when considering the ultra-competitive landscape. With president Nick Bertram at the helm for his first full year. Giant’s achieved solid comp store sales while also “infilling” its market with the acquisition of several Shop ‘n Save stores as well as single units from Darrenkamp’s and Ferguson & Hassler. It also opened a retail “wareroom” at a former Giant store which originally closed in 2017. Sales at the company’s 145 stores were $5.23 billion, an especially impressive number considering that the chain does not operate stores in Delaware, New Jersey or New York.
On a comp store sales basis comparison, Walmart’s results over the past 12 months were among the best of all operators in the region. However, unlike most previous years, the world’s largest retailer did not accomplish its gains primarily through opening new stores. As it deploys more of its capital towards digital initiatives, the Bentonville Behemoth operated one more store than last year (a new SuperCenter in Mount Laurel, NJ). Its solid comp store sales improvement came from better execution at store level, successful integration of its buy online pickup in store (BOPIS) program and its tenacity to protect its low price image. Extrapolated food and drug sales in the region are estimated at $5.29 billion at its 178 stores.
Walgreens (Duane Reade) remained the highest per-store volume leader among all drug chains in the market. However, it was a tough year for the Deerfield, IL-based drug chain which operated 10 fewer stores than in 2018 and struggled to improve its same-store revenue. Estimated sales for its 688 drug stores in the region was $4.54 billion.
Costco moved up one rung and is now the seventh largest retailer in the market. During the past 12 months the Issaquah, WA-based club operator opened one new store in Bayonne, NJ in March. Amassing some incredibly high individual store volumes in and around the city of New York, the low-margin (13-15 percent) club merchant had estimated extrapolated sales of $4.18 billion for its 50 stores.
The leading wholesaler serving Metro New York independent retailers (that’s not a co-op), Krasdale, again supplied the most stores in the market (568 – mostly in the five boroughs of New York City). Seven of those banners – C-Town, AIM, Bravo, Fine Fare, Market Fresh, Shop Smart and Shop1 – combined to ring up sales of $4.14 billion for the 12-month measuring period.
Rite Aid, which ranked eighth among all merchants in the region, had a poor year. First, its proposed merger with Albertsons was cancelled even before a shareholder vote. As sales and earnings plummeted, the company’ stock price dwindled to under $1 per share and the Camp Hill, PA drug chain was temporarily delisted from the New York Stock Exchange. A bizarre 1-for-20 reverse stock split brought the share price up but did nothing to increase the value of the company. Ultimately longtime chairman and CEO John Standley and other members of his executive team were forced out, and a new board chairman, Bruce Bodaken, was appointed. COO of Rite Aid’s stores, Bryan Everett, was named chief operating officer of the company while Rite Aid’s board searches for a new CEO. On the sales ledger, Rite Aid’s estimated revenue declined about $225 million to an estimated $3.34 billion for its 864 stores in the market, 49 fewer than last year.
Rounding out the top 10 was Acme Markets, which once again had a solid year in greater Philadelphia, Delaware and on the Jersey Shore, but continued to struggle to build sales at some of the 71 A&P units it acquired in 2015. The big trouble spot for Acme remained in Northern New Jersey where ShopRite, Stop & Shop and Wegmans have impacted its business. Helping Acme was an aggressive remodeling program, an improved merchandising/marketing effort and the strong skill package offered by division president Jim Perkins.
Other retailers that topped the $1 billion mark in annual sales in the region included Wawa, BJ’s, Target, Key Food, Whole Foods, Weis Markets, 7-Eleven, Wegmans, ASG, Trader Joe’s, Aldi and Allegiance/Foodtown.
By class of trade, the leaders are: supermarkets – ShopRite/PriceRite/Fresh Grocer (274 stores, $15.43 billion in estimated annual retail sales); clubs – Costco (50 stores, $418 billion in estimated extrapolated sales); mass – Walmart (177 stores, $5.29 billion in estimated extrapolated sales); drug – CVS (1,241 stores and $5.99 billion in estimated sales); and convenience stores – Wawa (512 stores and an $3.16 billion in revenue). Additionally, the region’s eight military commissaries rang up annual sales of $93.2 million, the ninth consecutive year of sales declines of commissary volume.
Viewed as a group, the 77 multi-store retailers in the market operated 8,759 stores and accrued estimated sales of $96.99 billion in annual sales, good for 98.40 percent of region’s $98.61 billion food and drug market.