SOME GIANT CHAINS MET HARD TIMES

They once were giants: Penn Fruit Co., National Tea, Grand Union and A&P.While the first three have disappeared, A&P has had to struggle to regain its former glory.According to observers, A&P nearly destroyed itself in the early 1970s when it launched an industrywide price war by converting stores to a new price-driven format called WEO -- Where Economy Originates. The undertaking proved to be a disaster

They once were giants: Penn Fruit Co., National Tea, Grand Union and A&P.

While the first three have disappeared, A&P has had to struggle to regain its former glory.

According to observers, A&P nearly destroyed itself in the early 1970s when it launched an industrywide price war by converting stores to a new price-driven format called WEO -- Where Economy Originates. The undertaking proved to be a disaster and was a major impetus for A&P's founding family, the Huntington Hartfords, to sell its holdings to West Germany's Tengelmann Group in 1979.

Under Tengelmann and Chairman James Wood, A&P began exiting markets where it couldn't get union parity and expanding into new markets through acquisition.

But as the industry began focussing more on merchandising, A&P sales began to slip -- a situation that was exacerbated by the 1990 acquisition of two Canadian chains with union issues, Miracle Food Mart and Ultra Food Mart. A&P ultimately franchised those stores under the nonunion Food Basics banner in 1995.

It began to address other issues in 1998 when it launched Project Great Renewal, a series of strategic initiatives designed to generate greater efficiencies and more profitable sales, which included the shutdown of nearly 300 underperforming stores in 1998 and 1999. In 2000, it launched Great Renewal II to upgrade its supply chain infrastructure.

While A&P survives, Penn Fruit, National Tea and Grand Union do not.

Penn Fruit was a strong player in the Philadelphia market that went toe-to-toe with A&P, Food Fair and Acme Markets. But a predatory price war in 1972 weakened the operation, and it stunned the industry in 1975 when it filed for bankruptcy protection under Chapter 11.

For National Tea, once the nation's third-largest chain, a price war in its home city of Chicago in 1975 proved to be the beginning of the end. Late in 1976, National disclosed plans to sell the bulk of its Chicago stores to A&P and to shut down the division, which accounted for more than a third of its total volume.

In 1982 Loblaw Cos., Toronto, Canada, gained majority control of the chain.

In 1995, it sold 60 National Tea stores in St. Louis and 29 in New Orleans to Schnuck Markets, which spun off the New Orleans stores to Schwegmann Giant Food Stores.

Grand Union was once a dominant player in the Northeast and Southeast.

After several management changes and three Chapter 11 filings between 1995 and 2000, Grand Union opted to liquidate its assets, selling most of its 200 stores at auction to Ahold USA, Shaw's Supermarkets, Delhaize America and C&S Wholesale Grocery Co., its supplier.