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The Richmond Times Dispatch has an interesting piece about the impending closure of the sale of 25 Ukrop’s stores in Virginia to Ahold, which it suggests will eventually lead to Ukrop’s looking a lot more like a Martin’s Food Market, the 26-store chain that Ahold’s Giant-Carlisle division operates.

Among the expected changes - the Ukrop’s banner could be converted to Martin’s, and the stores are likely to feature self-service checkout lanes as well as alcohol sales - neither of which have been part of the Ukrop’s culture. And, it is expected that one of the first changes that to be made will be the opening of Ukrop’s on Sundays...which under family ownership has been a day of rest for the chain.
KC's View:
At least according to the Times Dispatch, change won’t necessarily be a bad thing. For example, “Shoppers at the Waynesboro Martin's may smell the aroma of doughnuts being freshly made in the store bakery. That doesn't happen anymore at Ukrop's stores. The chain's baked goods are made at a central location and shipped to stores daily.

That’s an interesting observation.

If one had to guess which of two companies would feature the aroma of fresh doughnuts - Ukrop’s or an Ahold-owned store - I’m reasonably sure that most people would guess Ukrop’s. And yet, that seems not to be the case.

This could explain at least one of the reasons that Ukrop’s saw its fortunes declining. Maybe the culture of food that helped define the company got a little bit diluted. And maybe the distance between Ukrop’s and its competition got a little bit shorter, even while Ukrop’s rested on the laurels of being a legendary retailer. (Cautionary note: Any company that actually has laurels to rest on ought to take them outside, burn them, and scatter the ashes far from headquarters. Even legendary retailers have to earn that sobriquet each and every day. You were legendary yesterday. Today, you have to earn it all over again.)

Now, it’s also interesting that the Times Dispatch reports that the baked goods made for Ukrop’s at a central location “will continue to be sold to Ahold under a new venture the Ukrop family will operate.”

What’s the over-under on low long this deal lasts? Of course, there may be contractual obligations as part of the sale to Ahold. But it seems to me that the best way to make this sale work is to assure that a culture of food is maintained and even improved at Ukrop’s.

And if it ends up that Ahold is the company that accomplishes this...well, a lot of us are going to have to rethink our assessment of the company and this deal. We’ll see.