In the United States, the Kroger Company is the largest supermarket store. It owns and operates about 1,300 supermarkets in 24 states, mostly in the Midwest, South, Southeast, and Southwest. More than 1,050 of these are under the Kroger name, with the rest operated by its Dillon Companies, Inc. subsidiary under names such Dillon Stores, King Soopers, and Fry’s. The company’s supermarket operations account for more than 93 percent of sales, with the balance coming from the more than 800 convenience outlets Dillon operates under various names in 15 states. Kroger also owns and manages 37 food processing plants that produce dairy, bakery, deli, and other supermarket items.
The Kroger Company dates back to 1883, when Bernard H. Kroger founded the Great Western Tea Company, one of America’s first chain stores. When his father lost the family dry goods store in the 1873 panic, Kroger dropped out of school and went to work. He began selling coffee and tea door to door when he was 16 years old. He ran a Cincinnati grocery store at the age of 20, and at the age of 24, he became the sole proprietor of the Great Western Tea Company, which had four stores by the summer of 1885. Kroger’s savvy shopping during the 1893 crisis boosted the number to 17, and by 1902, the company had grown to 40 stores and a plant in Cincinnati. Kroger incorporated in 1902 and changed the name to The Kroger Grocery and Baking Company.
B. H. Kroger was described by Kroger Company history as a “crazy” who was obsessed with quality and service. His second language was profanity, and he frequently instructed his managers to “push the price as low as you can go so the other fellow doesn’t slash your throat.”
The absence of middlemen between the store and the client contributed to Kroger’s success. Kroger’s company was the first to bake its own bread for its stores in 1901, and Kroger purchased Nagel Meat Markets and Packing House in 1904, making Kroger grocery stores the first to have meat departments.
This significant breakthrough, on the other hand, was not easy to achieve. Butchers used to shortweigh and take sample cuts home with them, which ran counter to B. H. Kroger’s stringent accounting rules. When Kroger put cash registers in the meat departments, they all broke for no apparent reason. When Kroger employed female cashiers, the butchers shut all the windows to “ice out” the ladies, then let loose with such vulgar language that the women quit within days. When Kroger hired young guys to work as cashiers instead of women, the butchers threatened them with violence. But Kroger was adamant, and in the end, his cost-cutting, efficient practices triumphed.
Kroger has always been engaged in both manufacturing and retail. The German immigrants in Cincinnati loved his mother’s homemade sauerkraut and pickles. Kroger even experimented in the rear of his store to create a “French brand” of coffee, which is still sold in Kroger stores today.
The Kroger Grocery and Baking Company quickly expanded outside of Cincinnati, with locations in Hamilton, Dayton, and Columbus by 1920. Kroger began his first long-distance expansion in 1912, when he purchased 25 stores in St. Louis, Missouri. Kroger purchased a fleet of vehicles at a period when most chains just rented trucks as needed, allowing him to expand the company into Detroit, Indianapolis, Springfield, and Toledo, Ohio.
B. H. Kroger sat on the president’s national war food board and the governor of Ohio’s food board when America entered World War I in 1917. His eloquent and straightforward speech collected significant funds for the Red Cross and Liberty Bonds.
Following Kroger’s predilection for buying smaller, financially shaky companies in areas near to established Kroger territory, The Kroger Grocery and Baking Company continued to develop after the war. Kroger sold his shares in the company for more than $28 million in 1928, one year before the stock market crashed. William Albers, one of his executives, was named president. Kroger had 5,575 stores in 1929, the most the company had ever had.
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