Taking Stock

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Local Notes

Ahold reported strong first quarter earnings with worldwide sales up 4.4 percent (at constant exchange rates) for the period ended April 21. In the U.S., where it operates 774 stores, net sales were $8.1 billion, up 3.4 percent due to solid identical growth and benefiting from the inclusion of 15 former Genuardi stores acquired last year. The Amsterdam based retailer noted that its U.S. identical sales growth of 1.8 percent (1.9 percent excluding gasoline) was driven by more effective promotions and the strong performance in its Stop & Shop divisions during adverse weather events. The move to selling more generic drugs had a negative effect on sales growth; however this was offset by the positive effect from the timing of New Year’s Eve sales. Ahold USA gained market share in all four divisions, Ahold stated. Underlying operating margin was 4.1 percent compared to 4.2 percent last year. Locally, Ahold USA is building its third grocery Pick-up Point (PUP) for its Peapod business in Chevy Chase, MD. The new depot should open later this summer and will also house a Giant/Landover gas station. Current Peapod dedicated PUPs are located in Clarksville, MD and Columbia, MD (both in Howard County) and other PUP depots are expected to open in the next 18 months…Costco, a true master of depot, could open as many as 150 new stores by 2018, according to CFO Richard Galanti. The Issaquah, WA sales machine has already opened 19 new club locations through the first nine months of its fiscal year and nine more are expected to debut over the next couple of months. Galanti, speaking during Costco’s quarterly conference call, said half of the warehouses would be built in existing markets and the remainder in new markets, both in the U.S. and overseas. And by the way, the nation’s largest club merchant once again posted some stellar numbers: earnings rose 18 percent to $459 million, overall revenue increased 7.8 to $23.6 billion and comp store sales (excluding fuel and foreign exchange rates) grew a mighty impressive 7 percent…on a smaller scale, but impressive in its own right, is the new store opened by Scott Karns and his family last month in Carlisle, PA. The 40,000 square foot former Nell’s unit is the eighth Karns store and a shining example of the entrepreneurial skills and passion for the business of an excellent independent grocer. Best of luck in your new digs…also in Central PA comes word that Quintin Frey, president of Turkey Hill Dairy, will be retiring on August 4. As the third generation leader of the family-owned dairy (which is now owned by Kroger), Frey did a superior job of leading the Turkey Hill brand to new heights (in his 22 years as president, he was tripled the size of the company – sales are now $325 million annually). Beyond his business acumen, Quintin Frey is one of the good guys in our business – humble, accessible and easy to talk to. He’ll be staying on for a while as “brand ambassador,” but his leadership skills and his high level of ethics will be tough to replace…Happy birthday Jay Thomas! The founder and now retired former CEO of Towson, MD-based Superior Food Brokerage just turned 90 and I’m glad to hear that he‘s still got game. Jay is one of the first people I met when I arrived from Boston in 1978, and I have always valued his business acumen and admired his graceful manner. May you have many, many more happy birthdays…also a tip of the hat to Benjy Green and his team at B. Green & Co. where they are are utilizing an innovative approach to improve the health of citizens located near its Food Depot store on Frederick Avenue in Baltimore City. B. Green has hired a dietitian (Sheryl Hoehner) to help educate residents of that area about healthier food choices and is working with Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake in the city’s “Food Desert Retail strategy.”…in another food desert – southeast DC – BrightFarms will build a 100,000 square foot hydroponic greenhouse in impoverished Ward 8 (Anacostia) that will grow up to one million pounds of food annually (tomatoes, lettuces and herbs) capable of serving 5,000 area residents. The initiative will add 2.5 acres of new cultivatable land in the District… I must have blinked and missed it. I’m talking about the completion of Food Lion’s “repositioning” of its 178 stores in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, West Virginia and Northern Virginia. Yes, Food Lion did noticeably lower prices, but other than some other tweaks that I’d regard as secondary, I’m pretty unimpressed – let’s just say it bears no resemblance to Giant/Landover’s “Project Refresh”. It’s going to take a lot more visceral improvement before the company can substantially increase market share and improve its consumer perception…I’m sad to report several deaths of note over the past month. Now playing first-string organ in heaven is Ray Manzarek, the great keyboard player from The Doors, who passed away at the age of 76. While outrageous Doors singer Jim Morrison attracted most of the spotlight for the band’s still timely music (they haven’t played together since Morrison’s passing in 1970), Manzarek’s keyboard playing clearly provided the group’s foundation, so much so, that the four man ensemble didn’t utilize a bass player (Manzarek handled those duties with his left hand). Also leaving the planet was Jean Stapleton, who will be forever linked to her role as Edith Bunker, Archie’s somewhat dimwitted (but uncannily street smart) wife in the iconic TV show “All In The Family.” In reality, Stapleton was more than the malaprop portraying “Dingbat” who became the butt of many of her bigoted husband’s comments. Stapleton was an accomplished stage actress who also appeared in dozens of films and other television roles. She was 90…one of my favorite football players of all time has also left us. David “Deacon” Jones,” arguably the best defensive tackle in the history of the NFL, died at age 74 at his home near Los Angeles. In his day, there was no player feared more than Jones, who had the quickness of a linebacker and the strength of a nose tackle. His patented “head slap” move (now illegal) allowed him to beat offensive lineman (and knock them silly, to boot) and record an unofficial 173.5 sacks (a term he also coined) in his 14 year career which was mostly spent with the LA Rams. However, the NFL did not count quarterback sacks as an official stat until 1982, long after Jones retired.