ALTERNATIVE STRENGTH

Wal-Mart Stores' supercenters lengthened its sales lead over traditional supermarket operators during 2001, according to SN's list of the Top 75 food retailers in North America.Wal-Mart accomplished that feat by adding approximately 200 additional stores during 2000 -- significantly more than any other Top 75 company.Wal-Mart was not the only alternative format demonstrating its strength relative

Wal-Mart Stores' supercenters lengthened its sales lead over traditional supermarket operators during 2001, according to SN's list of the Top 75 food retailers in North America.

Wal-Mart accomplished that feat by adding approximately 200 additional stores during 2000 -- significantly more than any other Top 75 company.

Wal-Mart was not the only alternative format demonstrating its strength relative to the rest of the industry.

With the addition to the list this year of warehouse clubs and 7-Eleven, it became clearer just how strong the alternative formats have become, with Costco Wholesale Corp. debuting at No. 7, Sam's Clubs close behind at No. 8 and 7-Eleven turning up at No. 17.

In fact, the inclusion of Sam's along with Wal-Mart Supercenters gives Wal-Mart control of approximately $85 billion in U.S. food sales, or about 15% of the $577.3 billion in food sold in the United States last year.

Other alternative formats making their mark on the list were Super Kmart at No. 20, BJ's Wholesale Club at No. 28 and Super Target at No. 30.

Among conventional chains, No. 2 Kroger Co. widened its lead slightly over No. 3 Albertson's -- which closed 40 stores late in 2001 and planned an additional 120 closings throughout the new year -- while No. 4 Safeway also narrowed the gap between itself and Albertson's.

Ahold USA remained at No. 5 on the list; however, the Netherlands-based company has made the retail and food-service components of its U.S. operation into separate entities, reducing its U.S. volume slightly from the year-ago list when food service was included in the total.

Supervalu still ranked sixth on the list, but its loss of Kmart's supercenter business to rival distributor Fleming, combined with the closing of several corporate stores, resulted in a drop in total sales volume.

Costco was No. 7 on the list, about $1.5 billion ahead of No. 8 Sam's, with Fleming in ninth place and Delhaize America rounding out the Top 10.

Publix, at No. 11, was the highest-volume, privately held chain on the list, while the addition of club stores to the rankings dropped Loblaw to No. 12 and Winn-Dixie to No. 13.

Rounding out the second 10 were A&P at No. 14, Meijer at No. 15, H.E. Butt Grocery Co. at No. 16, 7-Eleven at No. 17, C&S Wholesale Grocers at No. 18, Sobeys at No. 19, and Wakefern Food Corp. at No. 20.

Among other shifts:

Super Target made the biggest leap, moving from No. 62 last year to No. 30 by doubling the number of stores from 30 to 62 during the year.

Giant Eagle moved ahead of Shaw's Supermarkets.

Roundy's moved ahead of three other distributors -- Spartan Stores, Associated Wholesale Grocers and Unified Western Grocers -- following its acquisition of Copps.

Marsh Supermarkets moved ahead of Harris Teeter following its acquisition of two independent operations during the year.

Four companies dropped out of the Top 75 this year: Bruno's Supermarkets, which was acquired late in the year by Ahold; Copps Corp., which was acquired at midyear by Roundy's; Furr's Supermarkets, some of whose stores went to Fleming while the balance were closed; and Pueblo International, No. 75 on last year's list.