It's Personal

Why we are passionate about supermarkets.

Lawrence Weslowski Jr.

Goodbye, Schnucks. Hello, Kroger. For better or worse, we expect to be seeing a lot more of you.

By the time this column comes out, Schnucks grocery stores will be gone in greater Memphis after a ten-year run. Eight of them will have been converted to Kroger, bringing the number of Kroger stores in metropolitan Memphis to 43.

The news, which had been rumored for weeks before the official announcement in September, seemingly had everyone talking about the relative merits of the supermarket companies and potential new entrants.

Kroger, based in Cincinnati, is a public company with 338,000 employees and 2,460 supermarkets plus hundreds of convenience stores and jewelry stores. Its stock, trading at around $21 recently, is considered a good recession play for investors. Kroger earned $280 million in its fiscal second quarter and expects same-store sales growth of 4 to 5 percent for the year.

Schnucks, based in St. Louis, is a privately owned, three-generation family business with more than 90 stores. It entered the Memphis market in 2002 when it bought 12 Seessel’s stores from Albertsons.

But financials, quarterly reports, and balance sheets were not what had people talking. This is about produce, parking, prices, meat and seafood selection, bread and bagels, and checkout clerks.

Food is the new football. Competitive cooking, celebrity chefs, and extreme eating programs compete with ESPN and know no seasonal limitations.

I’ll take 30 minutes of Giada over 30 minutes with Dan Patrick any day. And I’ll never throw another touchdown pass, but I can whip up a passable chicken casserole with the help of the Barefoot Contessa.

Grocery stores are modern-day community centers where we can catch up with friends and trends and see and be who we really are in clothes that were likely as not thrown on at the last minute. We’re all equal at the checkout line or the meat counter. “Hey, haven’t seen you in a while. So what are your kids — or your parents — up to these days? Glad/sorry to hear that. Gotta run.”

Grocery shopping is economics made understandable. What I know about global trade could be written on the head of a pin, but you don’t have to follow commodities prices to appreciate frozen shrimp from South America on sale at $5.99 a pound or farm-raised salmon at $7.99 a pound or not-from-concentrate grapefruit juice at $2.50 a half-gallon. And it’s cause for celebration when the Ripley tomatoes come in at under $1 a pound in August and locally grown corn shows up at three ears for $1.

A well-stocked grocery store is a source of small and guilty pleasures. Who hasn’t compared the cost of dining out at Houston’s or the Grove Grill to splurging on steak and fancy salad fixings at Whole Foods? The stock market has been a massacre lately, but there are bargains to be found in every aisle.

When you’re traveling, grocery stores are a window to the community and culture. I have a friend who goes out of her way to load up at Trader Joe’s every time she’s in Atlanta. Unfortunately, that goes both ways. Memphis is underserved by high-end grocery stores. It must come as something of a rude awakening to out-of-towners and newcomers to visit the meat counters or see the seafood selections at any of our larger supermarkets.

With Schnucks gone and Easy Way cutting back and Piggly Wiggly giving up, Kroger must do better. We’re a captive market now, but not an ignorant or undemanding one. Show us what you can do with a billion dollars a year in earnings.

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