The closing of 25 Superfresh stores in the Baltimore area this summer meant new opportunities for other grocers looking to move to the region.
One of those was the ShopRite chain, which opened stores last month in old Superfresh buildings in Timonium and White Oak.
ShopRite is part of WakeFern Food Corp., a cooperative of companies that pool their resources to buy food at lower prices and thus have more money to spend on marketing.
The New Jersey-based co-op includes 47 members that own more than 230 ShopRites in six states; it lists eight other stores in Maryland. The Sumas family, which opened its first supermarket in 1937, owns the newest locations. Four generations of the family have run stores in New Jersey and Pennsylvania through their company, Village Super Market Inc.
Bill Sumas, vice chairman of the company, talked to The Baltimore Sun about entering this market during a visit to the Timonium store in preparation for its opening.
How does a co-op benefit the customer?
A co-op benefits the customer in a lot of ways. Good prices. Community involvement. ... Members of the family are very active in the business every day. Everyone is working on a high level of expertise and it works.
How can you succeed where Superfresh couldn't?
We are a little more flexible in meeting the needs of the customers. ... Our marketing expertise is second to none.
Grocery chains have incredibly small margins — how do you deal with that?
Yes, we have 1 percent margins.
Because of the economies of scale that the co-op makes possible and the family's involvement, it keeps us moving in the right direction.
Why did you want to come to the Baltimore area?
We had other members come. … We looked at the success of those operations. … When the real estate came open because of the bankruptcy, we decided it was a good opportunity to come to this area.
The stores the others have opened have done well?
Yes, they have. They opened in 2008, and those stores are doing well. … We thought that we could take advantage of that.
What people liked about Superfresh was their double coupons. Will you have a coupon strategy similar to what they have?
Yeah, we have double coupons and sometimes triple coupons. We have senior savings, and we have everyday values as well.
Superfresh had 25 or so locations. Why did you choose this one and why didn't you choose more?
We actually chose three. We weren't able to secure the Ellicott City location. Shoppers [Food & Pharmacy] got that one. We are still looking for more opportunities.
What can shoppers expect? What is going to be different?
We have an everyday dietitian to serve the community for dietary needs. We also have shopping at home on the Internet. That means you can shop on the Internet and [pick up groceries from a store]. That will be coming soon.
Was this Superfresh location one of the better performing ones? Is that why you picked this one?
It was. We looked at the area, demographics and sales.
Had you looked at this market before?
Yes, I actually looked at it five years ago. But there wasn't any real estate. What was available wasn't big enough. When you buy a store like this, whether it's Superfresh or Giant, you're eliminating a competitor basically.
What was wrong with the other Superfresh locations?
They were a little smaller or they lacked parking. They lacked room for expansion. ShopRite's format is about 65,000 square feet. [The Timonium store] fell a little short, but we will be able to make it work.