- Wakefern Food Corp. has added New Jersey-based Nicholas Markets to its cooperative, according to a press release emailed to Grocery Dive. Wakefern now has 51 companies under its umbrella.
- Nicholas Markets operates four grocery stores under the Foodtown banner in North Haledon, Cedar Grove, Colonia and the Township of Washington in New Jersey. They will be rebranded under Wakefern's The Fresh Grocer, bringing the banner's total store count to 13.
- Nicholas Markets, which is family-owned and operated, was previously part of the Allegiance Retail Services cooperative.
Foodtown stores have been undergoing a brand refresh lately, according to NorthJersey.com, as grocery competition in the region intensifies. The brand was once a major player, but a number of stores were sold or converted during the 1990s.
Numerous grocers — Lidl, Save-A-Lot, BJ’s Wholesale Club, Walmart, Aldi, Target, Stop & Shop, ShopRite, Whole Foods and Wegmans — have taken up real estate in the state over the years. The growing fight for shopper dollars is not lost on David Maniaci, president and CEO of Nicholas Markets.
"The competitive landscape in New Jersey has grown fierce in recent years," he said in the statement. "I believe Wakefern’s deep roots in the state will help me navigate this and other challenges facing the supermarket industry."
Independent grocers face a number of challenges in the current grocery space, including limited labor and a lack of financial resources to expand e-commerce offerings that mainstream players enjoy. Aligning with a cooperative that can provide some of the perks brands like Kroger or Walmart have is one way to address some of these competitive gaps.
As the largest retail cooperative in the U.S., encompassing 51 members operating 353 supermarkets, Wakefern has invested in helping small businesses under its umbrella try to make strategic shifts in its operations, from store remodels to expanding their private label lines to improved technology. On the tech front, the cooperative recently extended an automated inventory tracking pilot program that uses shelf camera-based computer vision to track what’s on the shelves through hourly data updates. It’s also testing 10 micro-fulfillment stores in partnership with Takeoff Technologies for online orders for cooperative member Inserra Supermarkets and its ShopRite stores. Wakefern launched its online website in 2002 and its first app in 2009. It recently updated its website to provide more lifestyle-focused content.
These moves help smaller grocers try to stay on par with bigger retailers as they grow their footprint. Wakefern's efforts appear to be making some dents. It reported $16.6 billion in sales for the fiscal year ending Sept. 28, a 0.7% increase over the previous year.