The Grocery Wars

Picture this: fourth grade me has just finished up a long day in the classroom. I have presented a book report, participated in the spelling bee, and mastered a new letter in rocket math. My brain is tired, and all I want is to go home and maybe even take an after-school nap. However, upon picking me up from school, my mom breaks the news to me that we have nothing for dinner tonight, so we have to head to the grocery store. Unlike most kids, I actually enjoyed errands to the grocery, because it meant that I could attempt to sneak cookies, cupcakes, and whatever else caught my eye into the cart without my mom noticing. And I could get a free rainbow cookie. What could be better?

Photo courtesy of Ukrop’s Homestyle Foods via wtvr.com.

I still remember walking into Ukrop’s circa 2011, instantly overwhelmed with the smells of freshly baked White House rolls, fudge pies, and rainbow cookies. As I looked to my right, I saw glass counters filled with fried chicken, potato wedges, and other various sides. The familiar faces of the workers in their forest green uniforms provided me with a sense of comfort as my mom and I patrolled the aisles in search of the week’s groceries. However, in October of that same year, the Ukrop’s that I knew and loved was uprooted and replaced with Martin’s. Now, our family weekly grocery runs were replaced with sights of neon green uniforms and red lettering around the store. The traditional bakery items remained the same, and I grew to love the new store. I had become accustomed to seeing containers of fluffy white icing, plastic boxes of homemade chocolate chip cookies, and enormous sheet cakes decorated with colorful balloons and cursive handwriting. However, little did I know the sense of comfort provided by a bakery would soon be replaced.

Six years later, hearing the news of the “Publix takeover,” many people are confused, shocked, and overall speechless. For grocery shoppers around Richmond, the introduction of yet another grocery store is good, as this will lower prices due to competition. With a grand total of at least seven major grocery store chains in the Richmond metro area, each franchise is competing for customers and thus lowering their prices daily. Other chains, such as Kroger, Fresh Market, and Walmart, will continue to face competition as usual. However, Kroger in particular is planning to take on extra measures to keep up with the development of Publix/Martin’s and the competition they expect to face. The store plans to expand on “Clicklist,” a service in which customers can pre-order their groceries online, and then go pick them up from the store. As for Publix, the store “is excited to serve the area” using their “aggressive growth plan,” with hopes to become more and more popular in the coming years. While many Richmonders are sad to see Martin’s go, there are also many who are excited to see what Publix has to offer.

Image courtesy of ukropshomemades.com. 

This kind of shock is a familiar one to long-time grocery shoppers. When news was released of the transition from Ukrop’s to Martin’s, many were worried about the future of their pantries and refrigerators. I remember feeling worried about whether or not the rainbow cookies would still be sold, but I was later reassured that the Ukrop’s bakery would remain in all Martins’ stores. Laney Reed (‘18) also shared a similar worry, stating that her “favorite food from Ukrop’s was the rainbow cookies and the rolls.” Amy Kaplan (‘18), another fan of the cookies, recalls being most sad “when Ukrop’s was replaced by Martin’s,” and hopes that the Publix bakery will “live up to that of Ukrop’s.”

Publix is popular in many southern states, including Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina, and many believe “it was about time” Virginia got a Publix of their own. Known for their “top-notch customer service, sub sandwiches, and birthday cakes,” Publix is set to make its debut in Richmond “towards the end of 2017,” although the company has yet to set a specific date.. The grocery store is buying ten locations in Richmond from Dutch “retail conglomerate” Royal Ahold NV, the parent company of Martin’s. Ahold plans to merge with Food Lion as well, once the company gets settled in Richmond. The nine remaining Martins’ locations will operate for the coming six months to a year “until those locations are sold and transformed into a Publix.”

“Shocked, ashamed, and betrayed” are just a few words that come to Grace Edwards’ (Douglas Southall Freeman ‘18), Rebecca Rogers’ (Godwin High School ‘18), and Carter Bristows’ (Douglas Southall Freeman ‘18)  minds when asked how they are feeling about the Publix takeover. These feelings are largely due to the supposed loss of the famous Ukrop’s bakery. However, while a corner of every Publix store will not house the familiar white, card-board boxes of cakes and pies, Kroger grocery stores will. Since February 15th, Ukrop’s bakery items have been available at 18 local Kroger locations. With items ranging from White House Rolls, sandwiches, green salads, deli salads, entrees, side dishes, soups, cookies, brownies, pies, cupcakes, cakes, pastries, breakfast items and muffins,” Kroger will still offer Ukrop’s favorites that many know and love.

Now the only question remaining is, will the Publix environment, food, and bakery live up to the reputations of Martins’ and Ukrops’? Annie Ryan (‘18), a former Charleston, South Carolina resident thinks so. Ryan loves the entire atmosphere that Publix has to offer, and her personal favorite part is “getting a sub sandwich made right in front of you.” Also familiar with Publix, Claire Powell (‘18) is “pretty hype” for the store to come to Richmond. Powell went to Publix multiple times during a recent softball tournament in Atlanta, and “loved what they had to offer.”

Each year, my swim team and I travel to Orlando for a week-long meet and do our grocery shopping at Publix. We always find what we need for the week and are pleasantly surprised at the similarities between Publix and Martin’s. Stocked with delicious cakes, cookies, and cupcakes, I think Publix’s bakery will be able to rival that of Ukrop’s. Mike Schuler, my uncle, also lives in Florida and thinks “Publix is great.” So great, in fact, that he even got his wedding cake there. Overall, most people seem pretty excited for Publix, although letting go of Martin’s will be a tough change.

Another grocery that has been a great addition to our city and surrounding area is the “grocery gamechanger,” upstate New York-based Wegmans. The first Wegmans opened in the Richmond area in May 2016 and they now have ten store locations in Virginia alone. Featuring variously themed food bars, 24 checkout lanes, and four self-serve lanes per store, Wegmans is “heaven in a store,” says Powell.

Photo courtesy of wegmans.com

Richmond’s “dynamic grocery market” has opened up a world of change throughout the city. First Ukrop’s and now Martin’s, I can’t help but wonder how long the Publix chain will last before another grocery replaces it.  While I will miss the familiar green uniforms, I am excited for the arrival of Publix and happy to know that I don’t have to go far if I am craving a rainbow cookie.

Featured image courtesy of publix.com.

About the author

Caroline is a Junior at Collegiate School.