Local IGAs going strong despite competition from chain stores

By Lisa Capobianco
Staff Wrtier
From retail stores such as Walmart and Target to supermarket chains such as Stop and Shop to local pharmacies such as CVS, consumers can buy their groceries from a variety of places.
For local, family-owned grocery stores like Gnazzo’s in Plainville and Tops Market in Southington, they can feel the competition growing, as more consumers are surrounded by larger supermarkets throughout the state. In its 2014 fiscal report, Walmart stated that its store in the U.S. has attracted nearly 140 million weekly shoppers, and delivered net sales of over $279 billion, an increase of $5 billion from last year.
“There’s so much competition in our area,” said Keith Gnazzo, who helps run operations in his father’s store. “Part of our business has fallen because there’s so much there’s so many choices out there.”
“We’re competing with a lot of images out there,” said John Salerno, the owner of Tops Market in Southington. “The pie is just getting cut in too many slices…everybody is selling food today.”
Besides stores like Walmart and Target, Gnazzo said the competition also has come from fast food restaurants, which have become convenient places for consumers to pick up their meals on the way home. In response to the competition with fast food chains, Gnazzo’s offers a variety of pre-made hot meals to-go.
“We’ve added hot foods people can take,” Gnazzo said.
Gnazzo’s Food Center has operated in Plainville for nearly 80 years now, and is well-known for the fresh meat sold every day, which is something Gnazzo’s has promoted for years, said Gnazzo.
“Our meat is fresher than other chains,” said Gnazzo, adding that the store also sells fresh apples and peaches from local farms in the summer.
Kenny Gnazzo, Keith’s father, said despite the competition from chains like Walmart and Stop and Shop, Gnazzo’s still remains competitive through its meat department.
“We grind our meat two to three times a day,” said Kenny, noting that the packaged meat in the grocery chains does not uphold the same quality. “We still have butchers.”
Salerno said Tops also remains competitive through its meat department.
“We trim better in our meat department, so there’s more value in it,”
said Salerno, noting that Tops makes everything from scratch whether selling salads in the deli or artisan breads in the bakery department.
Ashley Page of the communications department at IGA Corporate said the number of local independently-owned supermarkets have grown over the years nationwide. Currently, the number of IGAs is up to 1,200 stores across the U.S. In Connecticut, said Page, there are currently 50 IGAs.
“IGA is thriving,” said Page, adding IGA Corporate serves as a “marketing arm” for local stores, providing them with the strategies they need to remain competitive in the economy, such as digital marketing through an innovative website.
Over the past 30 years, Tops has doubled in size and also began moving into new areas of food retailing. Salerno said Tops has tried to remain competitive with their prices by providing customers with cash rewards that do not require a coupon or minimum purchase, and a special savings club card that offers discounts on every purchase.
“We have our regulars like every other store,” said Salerno, adding that the number of customers at Tops has not decreased. “We do have customers who are loyal.”
Page said, over the last few years, locally-owned grocery stores have gained a loyal fan base, as more customers have focused on staying local when buying products. She added that local IGAs have also focused on giving back, looking for new ways to reach out to their community while still maintaining competitive prices of the products they sell.
Both Gnazzo’s and Tops have supported their communities over the years. Gnazzo’s has given back to the Plainville Food Pantry, such as lending a hand during its annual food drives. Tops has also supported local philanthropies, including Southington Community Services and Bread for Life among others. Recently, Tops donated a thousand pounds of food to Southington Community Services through the local community group Nancy Nurtures, which was created last August to remember the life of Nancylee Binder Salerno, who was killed by a drunk driver.
“IGAs have always been community-focused,” said Page. “It’s that personalized service you’re not going to find at a larger chain store.”

Comments? Email lcapobianco@southingtonobserver.com.

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