In a business as volatile as groceries, a chain's 100th birthday is not an everyday occurrence, but it's something that Stop & Shop got to celebrate over the weekend at one of its stores in Somerville, the city where the company traces its roots.
"Not many companies make it to 100 years," Joe Kelley, the president of the company's New England division, told shoppers and employees at a Saturday event that featured balloons and cake.
The Quincy-based chain's marketing mantra is, "Fresh ideas for 100 years," Kelley noted during his informal speech. "But I like to say, 'Fresh ideas for the next 100 years.'"
Managing to survive 100 years in the hyper-competitive supermarket business is no mean feat, especially since the Greater Boston food business seems to be in flux.
For the last three months, locals have been riveted by the Market Basket saga and the story of two feuding cousins. Meanwhile, the Shaw's-Star Market chain got a new owner last year, and Wegmans, a Rochester, N.Y.-based chain, is on the march. It opened a huge store in Northborough in 2011, and more are on the way, including one set to open in Burlington next month.
Then there's Roche Bros., which plans to open a supermarket in Downtown Crossing space once occupied by Filene's Basement. Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe's have their followings. And if that weren't enough, discounters Walmart and Target look to grab a larger share of the consumer's grocery dollar. Maybe all that competition is one reason why the Johnnie's Foodmaster nameplate recently vanished from the local scene.
Still, Kelley is optimistic that Stop & Shop will remain strong. Technology and innovation are two reasons why, said Kelley, who began his grocery career in 1984 as a deli clerk at a Purity Supreme store in Brookline.
Since 2011, he's presided over the Stop & Shop division made up of 213 stores in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. The chain operates other stores in such states as New York and New Jersey. All told, there are nearly 400 stores. Stop & Shop has been a subsidiary of the Dutch supermarket operator Ahold since the mid 1990s.
One recent change in the food industry was caused by the recession, Kelley said. Once upon a time, many consumers did most of their shopping at a single store. But when the economy started weakening around 2008, consumers started scrambling for discounts, and one result was that consumers started going to several stores to cherry-pick the best deals.
"Couponing went through the roof," Kelley said.
Even though the economy has since rebounded, many consumers have gotten into the habit of buying produce at one store or maybe fish and paper products at another. In other words, they continue to fragment their grocery dollar at several different stores.
As Kelley explains it, the Stop & Shop strategy for wooing this consumer seems straightforward, "If we can maintain the majority of the shop, we win."
Chris Reidy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.