WHO'S UP, WHO'S DOWN AND WHO'S DESTINED TO LEAD

One of the more telling reports that SN publishes on an annual basis is in this week's issue. It's SN's Top 75 report, which is the ranking by sales volume of the largest food-distribution companies doing business in the United States and Canada.In reality, it's more than that. It's a form of a report card on the industry that highlights a simple measure, specifically which companies are selling more

One of the more telling reports that SN publishes on an annual basis is in this week's issue. It's SN's Top 75 report, which is the ranking by sales volume of the largest food-distribution companies doing business in the United States and Canada.

In reality, it's more than that. It's a form of a report card on the industry that highlights a simple measure, specifically which companies are selling more goods and which ones aren't.

You can learn more about who's building business and who isn't by reading the narrative that starts on Page 18. The list itself starts on Page 20. This year's list includes some additional players: Membership clubs, convenience stores and all discount-heritage supercenters. Inclusion of these trade channels makes this year's data more reflective of how food-at-home sales really occur.

One caveat concerning the list: In the increasingly complex world of multichannel distribution, it's not possible to factor out food-only sales. So, in some instances, sales figures include sizable revenue attributable to sales of general merchandise. That's particularly true of supercenters and membership clubs.

Fair enough: Many conventional operators, such as Kroger Co. and Albertson's, have appreciable sales in nonfood too. But this should be weighed when interpreting another important bit of data in this week's issue, the market-share chart on Page 28.

With all that in mind, let's turn our attention to one of the more startling developments shown in this year's ranking: The continuing ascendency of Wal-Mart Stores' supercenters and club stores. The top line of Wal-Mart supercenters, plus that of its Sam's Clubs, hands that company an impressive $85 billion of sales volume, much of it in sales of supermarket-like product. Wal-Mart's total top line is $221 billion. Wal-Mart supercenters alone register volume of about $67 billion, of which about 30% is in groceries. Supercenter sales are nearly $10 billion more than that on last year's list.

By comparison, the nation's largest conventional operator, Kroger, has $50.7 billion in sales volume. Another comparison: The nation's second-largest supercenter operator is the limping Kmart Corp., which generates some $5.9 billion from its Super Kmarts. Returning to conventional stores, Kroger widened its lead a bit over Albertson's, the third-ranked operator, largely because of the latter's store-closing program and Kroger's sales gain of less than $1 billion. Safeway, fourth largest, also drew closer to Albertson's for the same reason, plus its own sales gain of more than $1 billion.

Any look at sales-performance rankings such as these raises questions about who the real leaders in the industry are; companies that are changing the industry. So this week's issue of SN also features five food-distribution companies that fit that leadership definition. The feature is referenced on Page 1.

The five companies profiled -- with a nod to recognizing several trade channels -- are: Wal-Mart, Ahold USA, Fleming, Costco Wholesale Corp. and 7-Eleven.

Take a look at the news feature to find out what core strategies define each of these innovative companies.