ShopRite operator Wakefern Food Corp. saw sales edge down in fiscal 2021 after heightened consumer demand triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic boosted prior-year results.
Keasbey, N.J.-based Wakefern tallied retail sales of $17.8 billion for its fiscal year ended Oct. 2, down 2.7% from $18.3 billion for the 53-week 2020 fiscal year, when sales jumped nearly 10% as shoppers stocked up during the coronavirus crisis. However, the grocery retail cooperative’s sales remain elevated. On a two-year stack, sales are up more than 7% from $16.6 billion in fiscal 2019, which represented a 0.7% gain from the previous year.
Wakefern reported year-end results on Friday following its annual shareholder meeting, which marked the company’s 75th anniversary as well as a return to an in-person event, along with a virtual audience. Participants included Wakefern shareholders, members, and store management and staff.
The milestone anniversary comes at a time when the industry continues to be reshaped by the pandemic, according to Wakefern President and Chief Operating Officer Joe Sheridan, who thanked members and the thousands of store personnel for their extra efforts.
“Seventy-five years is a big deal, pretty remarkable given that family-owned businesses rarely survive past the third generation,” Sheridan said at the meeting. “It’s important that we pause and recognize this milestone and use it as a moment to reflect on what made us great in the past and what will keep us great to ensure that we keep moving forward for generations to come.”
To that end, Executive Vice President Chris Lane noted Wakefern’s innovations during 2021 to enhance the customer experience both in-store and online.
The year saw Wakefern drive own-brand expansion, led by its Bowl & Basket, Paperbird, Wholesome Pantry and Wholesome Pantry Organic labels. In stores, the co-op continued its rollout of the Fresh to Table department, including at ShopRite stores in Poughkeepsie and Cortlandt, N.Y.; Philadelphia; and Brookdale, N.J. A store-within-a-store concept, Fresh to Table made its debut last fall and highlights meal solutions and healthy, on-trend foods in a variety of grab-and-go formats.
And on the digital front, for its ShopRite from Home online shopping service, Wakefern began piloting delivery robots from automated logistics specialist Tortoise as well as an automated storage-and-retrieval system from Kardex to improve fulfillment of online grocery orders. In addition, Wakefern adopted the dunnhumby customer data science platform as its mainline category management and merchandising solution to sharpen customer-centric decision making. Wakefern, too, extended the rollout of CB4 store execution technology across its ShopRite and Price Rite Marketplace banners.
“We are all invested together in this partnership, our cooperative,” Lane told annual meeting attendees. “Teamwork was the key to Wakefern’s founding and early successes, and I’m confident it’s the key to Wakefern’s future.”
During fiscal 2021, Wakefern opened four ShopRite and four Price Rite supermarkets and welcomed new member Madison Foods Corp., owned by the Slawsby family. A former Save A Lot operator, Brockton, Mass.-based Madison now operates four new Price Rite stores in the Boston area.
Overall, Wakefern has more than 80,000 employees and a retail network of nearly 50 members and 361 supermarkets in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island under the ShopRite (nearly 280 locations), The Fresh Grocer, Price Rite Marketplace, Gourmet Garage, Fairway Market and Dearborn Market banners. In January, Wakefern unveiled plans to shut 62 of its 209 ShopRite pharmacies and sell their prescription files to CVS Health.
The Oct. 21 annual meeting and 75th anniversary celebration included recorded video “thank yous” and congratulatory messages from local celebrities, athletes, community and industry leaders, and representatives of the Special Olympics New Jersey and several food banks supported by Wakefern. Also, Chairman and CEO Joseph Colalillo presented this year’s Chairman’s Award to Dewey Cannella, Wakefern’s recently retired vice president of labor relations, for his 30-plus years of service.
“As we reflect upon the rich legacy of our cooperative — and the history of our family businesses — we also focus on the future, mindful that we are here today because working together, our founding families had the foresight, determination and grit to always look forward,” said Colalillo, owner of ShopRite of Hunterdon County, which has five stores in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. “Seventy-five years later, we are still made up of family-owned businesses with deep roots in the communities where our stores operate.”