2019 Retail Pacesetters: Wakefern seizes its co-opportunity

What began as a small, local cooperative with only eight grocery store owners, Wakefern Food has developed into the largest retailer-owned cooperative in the United States. Founded in 1946, the Keasby, N.J.-based co-op includes 50 members who independently own and operate more than 350 supermarkets under the ShopRite, The Fresh Grocer, Price Rite Marketplace and Dearborn Market banners in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Virginia.

Together with its member companies, Wakefern employs more than 70,000 people and is one of the largest employers in New Jersey.

Wakefern operates more than 2.5 million sq. ft. of grocery and nonfood warehousing. Its transportation fleet, one of the largest private fleets on the East Coast with 400 tractors and 2,000 trailers, travels more than 35 million miles annually.

One of the things separating Wakefern from others is upper management’s unwavering commitment to helping small businesses succeed in a big-business world. While each banner has carved out a successful niche, it is ShopRite that most associate with the Wakefern name. Operating in the uber-competitive northeast and mid-Atlantic markets requires the ability to change with the times, something ShopRite store owners are well aware of, which is why their focus has been on providing an exceptional shopping experience, both in store and online.

Additionally, its carefully curated private-label offerings, featuring on-trend products and innovative packaging, have served as a benchmark program other retailers have emulated. Its ShopRite Trading Company private-label line, featuring gourmet and specialty foods from around the world, widely has been recognized.

Many of the 276 ShopRite stores are family owned and operated, and their ties to the communities they operate in run deep. Management has often said commitment to its customers helps drive all of its decision-making.

To meet those needs, ShopRite isn’t afraid to think big. Its newest stores range in size from 60,000-to-90,000 sq. ft. and are tailored to meet the needs of the communities it serves. Newer stores often feature a full array of specialty departments, including a fresh bake shop, expanded selection of natural and organic foods, full-service pharmacies, delis and meat departments, international cheeses, and a wide array of general merchandise and HBC items. ShopRite also has developed an extensive prepared food program, which some have said is a necessity if ShopRite wants to maintain share in Wegman’s-dominated markets.

ShopRite also is known for its value-add programs, including ShopRite from Home online shopping service; Scrunchy’s Playhouse, an in-store childcare service; in-store banking facilities; and drop-off dry cleaners.

ShopRite was among the top three supermarkets recently named to Newsweek’s 2019 “America’s Best Customer Service” list, and rightly so. Its intensive and comprehensive customer service approach includes training associates at the highest levels to help customers in store, online and through ShopRite’s Customer Care Center. That service may involve helping a customer at one of ShopRite’s many pharmacies, having a menu plan developed with one of ShopRite’s registered dietitians, or making sure a customer’s online grocery order is hand-selected in store by a personal shopper.

“Wakefern’s unique structure enables its stores to maintain close links to communities,” said David Orgel, principal at David Orgel Consulting based in Westfield, N.J. “This is particularly important as consumer behaviors quickly change and new competitors enter markets. ShopRite is known for its award-
winning customer service and a deep understanding of local markets. The company is moving ahead with progressive strategies across all platforms, from in store to online, a move that will keep it relevant in the intensely competitive market in which it operates.”

This story is one of 20 profiles of retailers who are making a difference in the industry. To read more, click here