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TOP 100 PRIVATELY HELD COMPANIES: No. 1 Wakefern says ability to adapt to different needs and different times are keys to its success

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Wakefern CEO Joseph Colalillo: “Our short-term goal is to change with the marketplace.”
Wakefern CEO Joseph Colalillo: “Our short-term goal is to change with the marketplace.” - ()

Chances are, if you've visited a ShopRite this summer, you've noticed some big changes.

From expanded prepared-food sections, to sushi and oyster bars, and even in-store dietitians, Wakefern Food Corp.’s grocery stores have officially become one-stop shops for busy families.

That’s largely because of the mantra that has helped sustain the success of the $14.1 billion supermarket cooperative: Know thy customer.

“I’m most proud of our ability to meet the changing needs of the consumer and our associates,” said Joseph Colalillo, Wakefern’s second-generation CEO. “As we go into each community, we take notice of what’s different about them. … So a store in Newark may have different merchandise than one in Flemington.”

Many of its competitors have fallen on hard times in recent years. But Wakefern — which is No. 1 on this year’s NJBIZ Top 100 Privately Held Companies list — has actively met community demands to increase its revenue 4 percent over last year.

“Our short-term goal is to change with the marketplace,” Colalillo said.

Founded in 1946, the retailer-owned cooperative is now comprised of 47 family businesses that individually own and operate more than 250 supermarkets under the ShopRite banner in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware, and the PriceRite banner in Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

As the merchandising and distribution arm of both ShopRite and PriceRite, Wakefern also distributes products to other supermarkets throughout the Northeast.

“There are different ways to connect with a community,” Colalillo said.

Click here to see the list of companies No. 100 through No. 1.

“Being proactive on how we can connect with our communities differently has helped us to better understand the needs of our consumers and how they are changing.”

What Wakefern does with this information is truly impressive: its ShopRite in Morristown, for example, includes a health and wellness center, a fitness studio, a European food hall, a liquor store, child care and even in-house cosmetologists for its beauty section.

“Reinvesting in and expanding the stores has allowed us to compete and remain No. 1,” Colalillo said.

“Over the last three to five years, we’ve made a commitment to better learn the business and experiment with it,” he said. “The Morristown location, for instance, is a vision for families that have said, ‘This is what we need and this is how you should do it.’ ”

Colalillo said Wakefern will continue to experiment from member to member to see how different consumer needs can be met.

Its next frontier will be to perfect ShopRite’s online presence — ShopRite at Home — now that “digital era” consumers who once came in to shop with their mothers are now all grown up with their own families.

A smooth online shopping experience and mobile app is key, Colalillo said, to competing in the online marketplace.

“We look to the future about how to strategically compete with chains and online retailers,” Colalillo said.

“Part of our challenge is understanding which categories are going online in the first place, because we’ve got to keep that customer in our store.”

#1 Wakefern Food Corp.
Headquarters: Keasbey
Founded: 1946
Leader: Joseph Colalillo
Industry: Retailer (food)
2013 revenue: $14.1 billion
Last year’s ranking: Did not participate

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