Eater Chicago reacts to last week's story about Kroger's announcement about how, if the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) approves its $24.6 billion acquisition of Albertsons, it will sell more than 400 stores to C&S Wholesale. The question asked by Eater Chicago: What will happen to Mariano's?
Kroger acquired Mariano's - which was started by former Dominick's Finer Foods CEO Robert Mariano when he was CEO/chairman of Roundy's - in 2015. Last week's announcement specified that Kroger will be selling the Mariano's banner to C&S. However, it also said that 14 total stores in Illinois would be divested - and there are 44 Mariano's stores in the Chicago area.
Albertsons also owns the Chicago-based Jewel-Osco chain, while Kroger also has 10 Food 4 Less stores there.
Since leaving Roundy's, the story notes, Robert Mariano has gone on to co-found Dom’s Kitchen & Market, which currently has two stores in Chicago. The new company's name is a nod to Dominick DiMatteo — the founder of Dominick’s Finer Foods.
Noting that C&S also operates supermarkets under the Grand Union and Piggly Wiggle banners, Eater Chicago suggests that "there’s a good possibility that Chicago could see a few more Piggly Wiggly’s. Or at least Mariano’s in Piggly Wiggly’s clothing."
- KC's View:
There are a lot of moving pieces here, and we have a ways to go before we find out how all this will shake out.
But let me make a radical suggestion. Since it appears that a combined Kroger-Albertsons entity would have to rebanner whatever Mariano's stores it keeps, C&S should not only hold onto and use the name, but make a concerted effort to restore the banner's original distinctiveness.
I have never met anyone in Chicago who thinks that the Mariano's stores are as good now as they were when they were being run by Bob Mariano. People there tell me that this has been one of the rare cases when Kroger has not been able to maintain the brand's equity; Harris Teeter's continued excellence is said to be a better example of how Kroger usually handles these things.
I have to wonder if C&S would be making a mistake if it tried to keep the Mariano's name but make them more like Piggy Wiggly or Grand Union. It also would be making a mistake if it shed the Mariano's name, which continues to have a lot of value in that market.
Maybe C&S could actually try to burnish the banner's reputation, and then take the lessons it learns and the programs it rolls out there and apply them to other banners it owns around the country. C&S is positioned to become one of the country's major retailers, and it probably doesn't make sense to apply a one-size-fits-all approach to its various stores. The Mariano's banner may actually offer it a unique opportunity.