Wakefern Seeking New Customers

Wakefern Food Corp. is actively looking for non-member wholesale customers an approach that represents a major change in our mind-set, according to Joseph S. Colalillo, chairman and chief executive officer of the member-owned cooperative. We're still focused 100% on our members and their needs, but if the right opportunity [to supply a retailer] comes along, we won't say no anymore,

ELIZABETH, N.J. — Wakefern Food Corp. here is actively looking for non-member wholesale customers — an approach that represents “a major change in our mind-set,” according to Joseph S. Colalillo, chairman and chief executive officer of the member-owned cooperative.

“We're still focused 100% on our members and their needs, but if the right opportunity [to supply a retailer] comes along, we won't say no anymore,” he told SN. “We'll look at it and see if there are benefits for us.”

Separately, Wakefern last week was thought to be expanding its retail base in a deal with Ahold to buy nine Stop & Shop stores in southern New Jersey (see related story on this page).

Wakefern has been approached in the past by retailers interested in using the company as a wholesale resource, Colalillo said, “but we weren't willing to listen. Now we're out there telling people we're willing to listen and to take on wholesale business.

“In the past we said, ‘No way,’ but today we're becoming more aggressive and willing to go where the opportunity takes us.”

Wakefern has “two or three” wholesale customers, Colalillo said, though the only one he would cite by name is Heinens, a chain of 17 stores based in Cleveland. Colalillo said Heinens is carrying Wakefern's ShopRite private-label products.

Geography will play a part in how much Wakefern is willing to expand its wholesale efforts, Colalillo pointed out. “We know our limits,” he said, though he declined to pinpoint how far from its base here the company is willing to distribute.

He said the company has always had a wholesale division, “but we're looking at it in a different way and putting research behind it.”

Wakefern used to distribute HBC items to Richfood before the Richmond, Va.-based wholesaler was sold to Supervalu.