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Industry loses visionary leader Allen I. Bildner

Allen I. Bildner
Allen I. Bildner

Funeral services were scheduled Sunday for Allen I. Bildner, former chairman and CEO of Kings Super Markets, who died Feb. 5 at the age of 89.

Bildner served as chairman of Food Marketing Institute from 1986 to 1988.  He was also a founder and former chairman of the New Jersey Food Council.

In 2002 SN named Bildner one of the industry’s 50 visionaries for his “ability to reach and respond to emerging trends.” At the time he said, “The two most important resources supermarket companies have are the customers they serve and the people that make up the team.”

Bildner said Kings was founded in Long Island, N.Y., in 1936, operating under the banner Big Ben Markets, with the slogan “Never Undersold.” The company was owned by the Bildner family for 52 years, growing to 15 stores before its sale in 1988 to Marks and Spencer. 

Bildner took over the family business in 1956 after his father retired, by which time the company had shifted its operations to New Jersey, though it was still stressing low prices along with high customer service.

Observers said Bildner was one of the first retailers to envision the importance of quality fresh foods within a conventional supermarket, shifting Kings’ emphasis in the early 1980’s from a price orientation to one stressing quality and service, along with innovations in perishables.


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Among the innovations Bildner oversaw at Kings were the introduction of takeout meals; value-added foods such as cut fruit; fresh seafood displayed on ice; fresh orange juice squeezed and sold on the sales floor; and an in-store cooking school that offered accredited certification for professional chefs.

Bildner was credited by his peers with doing methodical market research to identify the needs of Kings’ shoppers and how the stores stacked up against competition; monitoring broader national trends; hiring the industry’s first vice president of consumer affairs; and distributing 20% of pre-tax profits to employees as performance bonuses.

According to one observer, “You usually find leaders exceptional in one of three things. They are great with people; they are really smart about business; or they really work hard. Allen had all three attributes.”

Bildner is survived by sons Rob and Jim, five grandchildren, and a sister.

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