Food City focuses on trends as it marks an anniversary

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Print this page by Hope Katz Gibbs
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Food City has more than 130 stores employing 16,000 people in four states.
Photo courtesy Food City

As Abingdon-based Food City celebrates its history, President and CEO Steve Smith is keeping his eye on emerging consumer trends.

With supermarkets nationwide offering a growing number of products and services, staying competitive can be a challenge, he says.

Food City is a $2.5 billion family business. Smith’s father, Jack,  and three other family members opened an 8,800-square-foot Piggly Wiggly supermarket in Grundy in 1955. 

Since then, Food City has acquired Piggly Wiggly stores in Southwest Virginia and Eastern Kentucky and Quality Foods/Food City, White Stores, Winn Dixie and BI-LO stores in east Tennessee. It also has undertaken an aggressive program to build new stores while remodeling and expanding others.

Food City recently celebrated its business legacy, which stretches back more than a century. “Among those acquisitions was a store that opened in 1918, hence the 100th-year celebration,” Smith explains.

Food City now has 16,000 employees at more than 130 stores, and the company’s 1.2-million-square-foot distribution center in Abingdon. “Our industry is very competitive and operates on a 1 percent profit margin,” Smith says. “We juggle a lot of moving parts, which keeps us on our toes.”

Staying relevant is essential, Smith emphasizes, pointing to Food City’s comprehensive marketing campaigns geared to a range of demographic groups in the states where it operates: Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia and Kentucky.

Food City is known for its connection to NASCAR racing, contributing more than half a million dollars to local organizations through its annual Family Race Night events.

Additionally, the company supports scores of community-based organizations, activities and initiatives in the markets it serves.

There are some things Food City won’t budge on, Smith insists, such as having butchers in stores, providing large seafood sections and selling produce grown by local farmers.

“But our stores will continue to change as consumer’s shopping habits change,” says Smith, who knows that in addition to fresh food, the top reasons people visit Food City include friendly employees, competitive prices and cleanliness. “In the years to come, we’ll just keep doing what we do well. We love our business, we love our industry, and we are proud to feed America.”

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