ALMACS IS REPLACING ITS LINE WITH TOPCO'S

UTICA, N.Y. -- New Almacs Inc. here is essentially phasing out its private label at its Almacs supermarkets and replacing it with the Topco line of products.The changeover began in February and involves introducing several Topco brands, including Food Club, Top Crest, Top Care and Pet Club, in the grocery, frozen foods, pet, dairy, general merchandise and health and beauty care categories, said Thomas

UTICA, N.Y. -- New Almacs Inc. here is essentially phasing out its private label at its Almacs supermarkets and replacing it with the Topco line of products.

The changeover began in February and involves introducing several Topco brands, including Food Club, Top Crest, Top Care and Pet Club, in the grocery, frozen foods, pet, dairy, general merchandise and health and beauty care categories, said Thomas J. Murphy, an Almacs spokesman.

Skokie, Ill.-based Topco Associates is a grocery buying cooperative that is owned by its 47 members across the country.

"We have 1,000 items in the stores already and by June expect to have the full line of approximately 1,500 items. Early in June there will be a major launch and advertising and promotion of the full line," Murphy told SN.

"We are also advertising items as they are being introduced in circulars, etc. The promotions have gone very well as they have been introduced. For example, in our Bristol, R.I., store grand reopening, the Topco private label played a key role. The Food Club brand was highlighted in the grand reopening circular and all of the advertising materials," he said.

Murphy also noted that Almacs "will be retaining some private Almacs labels, primarily for staples like milk, eggs and bread, which are sourced locally."

Previously based in East Providence, R.I., Almacs was acquired by Victory Markets here in November. The New Almacs division operates 27 Almacs stores in southern New England, primarily in Rhode Island.

"At the time of the acquisition, we believed that it would serve the stores very well, and the customers in the market, if we had a more aggressive merchandising of the private-label line," Murphy said.

Victory has had a long-running relationship with Topco and uses it to supply its Great American private label, which is used in the company's Victory Markets and Great American banner stores. Murphy said there is a possibility that the Great American label will be used in the Almacs stores "on very few and selected items."

Murphy noted that Almacs will not be stocking Topco's World Classics line of premium upscale private-label products, "but we will remain open to possibly stocking it in the future."

One local observer noted that Big Y Foods, Springfield, Mass., which operates stores in western Massachusetts and Connecticut, also uses Topco to supply its private label.

"Almacs probably made the private-label switch because they couldn't get the cost efficiencies of doing it on their own. Their suppliers probably didn't want to carry additional stockkeeping units as well," he said. The observer noted that while under bankruptcy court protection last year Almacs saw its market share erode as it shut down a number of stores and Stop & Shop and Shaw's Supermarkets entered its area with large superstores.

"The people at Victory were probably able to leverage the whole deal and get better pricing and a better deal on the whole program through Topco," he added.