Changing shopper behavior amid the coronavirus crisis fueled an almost 10% year-over-year sales increase at grocery retail cooperative Wakefern Food Corp. for fiscal 2020.
Wakefern posted retail sales of $18.3 billion in for the 53 weeks ended Oct. 3, up 9.75% from a year earlier. The Keasbey, N.J.-based company reported year-end results during its annual shareholder meeting, which this year was held as a virtual event due to the pandemic. Participants included Wakefern shareholders, store management and staff.
The year saw the emergence of a new customer with new expectations, including cooking at home and shopping online more often, according to Wakefern President and Chief Operating Officer Joe Sheridan (left). That led Wakefern to boost capacity for its online shopping services, such as ShopRite from Home, as well as improve and expand the digital shopping experience, he said.
“Our customers turned to us for reassurance and for the things they wanted and needed for their families during this challenging time, and we were there for our customers, our neighbors, our friends and our families,” Sheridan explained during the Oct. 22 meeting. “There have been a lot of changes to how we operate and how people shop, but our goal is always to provide the best and safest possible shopping experience for our customers. And that’s exactly what we are doing.”
In the annual meeting, executives noted that Wakefern and its independently owned and operated supermarkets rose to the challenge with COVID-19 outbreak, keeping stores stocked and running smoothly while implementing the latest safety protocols at all stores.
“Our store associates embraced their roles. Their courage and commitment was amazing, their teamwork energizing,” Wakefern Chairman and CEO Joseph Colalillo (left) said. “Throughout the last seven months, I’ve witnessed our entire organization live our purpose of caring deeply about people, helping them to eat well and be happy. It never had to be said; it’s just what we did.”
Key initiatives in 2020 included the expansion and continued rollout of the Bowl & Basket and Paperbird private brands, the rebranding and expansion of its Wholesome Pantry “free from” and organic brands, and the pilot launch of Fresh to Table meal solutions, according to Chris Lane, executive vice president at Wakefern. Announced earlier this month, Fresh to Table is a store-within-a-store concept that spotlights meal solutions and healthy, on-trend foods in a variety of grab-and-go formats, also available for order online.
Lane said Wakefern also opened its second stand-alone micro-fulfillment center (MFC), which uses advanced robotics to assemble ShopRite from Home online grocery orders, expanding the capacity and reach of its e-commerce service. The new facility, in Egg Harbor, N.J., serves several ShopRite stores in the area operated by member Village Super Market. Plans call for Wakefern to open more of these automated warehouses over the next few years, Lane added. Powered by Takeoff Technologies, Wakefern’s first MFC opened in July 2019 in Clifton, N.J., serving ShopRite stores in North Jersey and New York operated by member Inserra Supermarkets.
“Step by step, we persevered and chipped away at our goals during 2020, even as we simultaneously responded to a global pandemic. And for that, we can only thank each and every one of you,” Lane said in the meeting.
Also during the event, Colalillo presented this year’s Chairman’s Award to former Chief Financial Officer Doug Wille, who recently retired from Wakefern after more than four decades at the company. Neil Falcone, previously vice president of ShopRite Financial Services (SFS) and corporate finance, has been promoted to CFO, succeeding Wille.
Wakefern, too, announced board elections. Geoffrey Eickhoff, president and COO of Eickhoff’s Supermarkets, has joined the company’s board, while Vince Lo Curcio, owner of Nutley Park ShopRite, retired after 10 years of service on the board.
Wakefern shareholders re-elected to the board of directors included Colalillo, Sheridan and Lane, who remain in their current posts, as well as Sean McMenamin, Larri Wolfson, Dominick Romano and Irv Glass as vice chairmen; Lawrence Inserra Jr. as treasurer; Jeffrey Brown as assistant treasurer; Richard Saker as secretary; and Ned Gladstein, Nicholas Sumas and Shawn Ravitz as assistant secretaries.
During fiscal 2020, Wakefern opened four new ShopRite stores and added a new member, Nicholas Supermarkets, owned by the Maniaci family, which operates four The Fresh Grocer stores in northern New Jersey. The cooperative also added Fairway Market as a new store banner when member Village Super Market acquired five of the bankrupt chain’s stores (four in Manhattan, one in New York’s Westchester County).
Overall, Wakefern’s retail network now encompasses 50 members and 359 supermarkets in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island under the ShopRite, The Fresh Grocer, Price Rite Marketplace, Gourmet Garage, Fairway Market and Dearborn Market banners. The company employs more than 80,000 people.
Wakefern came in fourth on the NCB Co-op 100 list of the nation’s largest cooperatives. Compiled by the National Cooperative Bank, the list was released last week and is based on 2019 revenue. Wakefern is the biggest U.S. retailer-owned cooperative.
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