COOPERATIVE GROCERY WHOLESALERS SHOW REVENUE GROWTH

WASHINGTON -- The nation's largest grocery cooperatives grew their businesses an average of about 12% in 2004, according to a report issued this month by National Cooperative Bank here. (See Page 28, opposite.)The report, which lists the 100 largest cooperatives of any type in the United States, includes 19 grocery co-ops that tallied about $31.4 billion in revenues in fiscal 2004, vs. $28.1 billion

WASHINGTON -- The nation's largest grocery cooperatives grew their businesses an average of about 12% in 2004, according to a report issued this month by National Cooperative Bank here. (See Page 28, opposite.)

The report, which lists the 100 largest cooperatives of any type in the United States, includes 19 grocery co-ops that tallied about $31.4 billion in revenues in fiscal 2004, vs. $28.1 billion in fiscal 2003. The specific time frames for each company's fiscal year varied.

Revenues grew in double digits for many of the member-owned wholesalers on the list, continuing a growth trend for the cooperative business model.

"While the number of cooperatives has decreased, those that are remaining are far stronger than the group was 15 years ago," said Barry Silver, senior vice president, NCB. "They are much better, stronger organizations, and are much more likely to gain market share."

Turmoil in other sectors of food retailing -- including the strike-lockout at Albertsons, Kroger-owned Ralphs and Safeway-owned Vons in Southern California and the bankruptcy of Fleming Cos. -- also benefited the cooperatives during the time period reflected in the NCB data.

Silver cited Fleming's demise -- which scattered billions of dollars in independent business to other wholesalers, including many co-ops -- as a factor in the strong revenue gains reported by both Associated Wholesale Grocers, Kansas City, Kan., and Associated Grocers of Florida, Miami. The two companies led all other grocery co-ops, with revenue increases of 23% and 36%, respectively.

The revenue gains at Associated Grocers of Florida propelled that company to No. 66 on this year's list of the 100 largest co-ops of any type, up from No. 87 last year.

Silver said he expects cooperative wholesalers to continue to show gains as large chains exit markets and shed stores. The bankruptcy of Winn-Dixie Stores, Jacksonville, Fla., for example, is expected to boost revenues at some cooperatives in the Southeast as independent rivals acquire some of that chain's stores or at least pick up business from sites that are closed.

The nation's largest grocery cooperative, Wakefern Food Corp., Elizabeth, N.J., parent of the ShopRite banner, ranks No. 4 on the list of the top 100 cooperatives, with $7.1 billion in revenue.

Ahead of it on the list are three agriculture co-ops: CHS Inc., a multifaceted producer of food and energy products in St. Paul, Minn.; Dairy Farmers of America, Kansas City, Mo.; and Land O'Lakes, Arden Hills, Minn.