Before 1930, few people could imagine a self-service store that sold all kinds of foods at volume discounts under one roof.
But one person did, and he put his imagination to work. Michael J. Cullen, considered the founder of the modern supermarket format, is one of four individuals — including a pair of brothers — being inducted into the 2009 SN Hall of Fame. The others are Robert and James Ukrop of Ukrop's Super Markets, who turned their parents' store into a regional chain that reigned over Richmond, Va., for decades, and John Mackey, who founded Whole Foods Market and in 30 years grew it into one of the most successful food-retailing banners in the world.
Cullen first posited the concept of a supermarket back in 1913, but spent several years working for other grocery retailers — including A&P and Kroger Co. — before pitching the idea to Kroger and then setting out on his own.
In the midst of the Great Depression, Cullen's King Kullen supermarket thrived. “These are tough times, and I am on the level when I say I will do more than any other man in this country to save the American people money,” Cullen was quoted as saying at the time.
While Cullen created a concept that could be cloned for the masses, the brothers Ukrop took that concept in the other direction and reinvented the supermarket for the local Richmond community.
With a strong focus on health and wellness and prepared foods, an innovative flair for merchandising and a principled approach to how it treats employees, Ukrop's embraced the people it serves, and it has been embraced right back.
Mackey entered food retailing as just another vegetarian health food enthusiast, but, as his competition has learned, Mackey doesn't fit the laid-back, Birkenstock-clad stereotypes of the natural-food co-op.
With a burning passion for the business, Mackey demonstrated that natural and organic foods can be a hit on Main Street and on Wall Street too, while at the same time embracing social ideals.
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