What Happened to A&P Grocery Stores?

Today, the A&P, once the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Co., and the largest grocer in the U.S., is no more.

How did it get there ?

Simple. It neglected its core brand, A&P, and went trudging off in all sorts of different directions in search of something new. A&P has been doing this for decades, and now, finally, a retailer that was once as powerful as Walmart is gone.

A&P, just celebrating its 150th anniversary, was at one time a hybrid between Starbucks and Wal-Mart; the nation’s leading grocery store chain AND a national leader with its coffee roasting operation, Eight O’Clock. It was as if Starbucks expanded its brand into deluxe grocery stores. Today, it is a regional Northeast grocery store chain with a hodgepodge lodge of grocery store brands, including Super Fresh, Pathmark, A&P and Food Emporium.

Earlier this year, as the chain was on the brink of bankruptcy, it was busy doing a new line of food products under the Food Emporium brand. Now, using a retail brand and developing store brands is a smart strategy, but a company does not do this when it is losing money. And investing in food brands like Food Emporium at such a time is rather like making repairs to the Queens costume jewelry while the Crown Jewels sit in a bank vault. Fix those Crown Jewels and put them out on display in the Tower of London, please! Instead, A&P sold off Eight O’Clock. It should have done the opposite; sold off all the other grocery chains and kept the remaining A&P stores and the coffee brand. (By the way, the new owners of Eight O’Clock are already screwing with the packaging; see link below.)

Other than the new collection of international specialties under The Food Emporium Trading Company brand, the company has in recent years focused on a selection of new store and retail brands. Can we discuss the nightmare of the odd Farmer Jack retail brand? It has missed a rich legacy of dozens of store brands (see link below) that are quite beloved. Some of the current store brands include:

  • Green Way
  • Hartford Reserve
  • Via Roma
  • Market Spa
  • Live Better
  • Preferred Pet

Recently, Brand Packaging named A&P v/p and exec Doug Parker as a 2010 Brand Innovator. Parker had this to say:

  • BEST ADVICE YOU EVER RECEIVED: “Don’t follow the beaten path.”
  • WHAT BRANDS DO YOU ADMIRE? The brands that haven’t been created yet!

I would have to disagree with both, at least in the case of A&P. The reality is that A&P has quite storied store brands, and it does not need to follow new paths or create new brands. And in the last 40 years the company has been routinely ditching old, unsuccessful paths, and spending way too much time creating new paths, most recently the awful Pathmark debacle. It needs to get back to its roots, and sell a simple selection of good products at reasonable prices, under one store name, A&P. Furthermore, it needs to get back the classic post war “cupola” store design that customers recall with such fondness. Not that the other retail concept brands don’t have value; Food Emporium certainly does. It’s just that a company with minimum resources has to focus on one thing, namely being A&P.

As it returns to its roots, A&P has a whole selection of great old brand names that could easily be dusted off. Heck, some could later be spun off, just as Eight O’Clock was. Pictured above, an entry on A&P’s Ann Page brand from our Phoenix Contest with the students from the Savannah College of Art and Design.

Below, recent BrandlandUSA stories on A&P.


  • Garland Pollard

    J. Garland Pollard IV is editor/publisher of BrandlandUSA. Since 2006, the website BrandlandUSA.com has chronicled the history and business of America’s great brands.

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  1. Tough times for Grandma, Great A&P. Doug Palmer has lead a fairly successful revival of Own Brands. Taking a 3 tier approach, Food Basics and Home Basics, entry, America’s Choice, mid level, and Hartford reserve, Via Roma, America’s Choice Gold Reserve, and Food Emporium Trading Company, top tier and specialty, it offers a fine selection of quality food products at substantial savings.
    Can Own Brands reverse the fortune? Maybe Jane Parker and Ann Page can be returned as nostalgia brands. Last year Great A&P celebrated its 150th anniversary. Thank god they made it through that year without bankruptcy.
    I agree with the author. The company has indeed lost its focus. It can be the best fresh store in the Mid Atlantic and New York if it knocked out half of its center store, incorporated wine and liquor/beer departments where ever possible, and sold its fine fresh deli, produce, dairy, seafood and meat at EDLP prices. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but offer great fresh food at low prices. That would be a winning contribution. Its successful Food Basics division can be the model for all those crappy Pathmark locations they are stuck with.
    The legacy banners can pare down as well. They need to remind customers that they don’t ever have to sacrifice quality when it comes to honest value. Under cut Whole Paycheck on price, and as the saying goes, No one can beat that A&P!

  2. And the decline of this great brand continues…

    Those interested in the rise and fall of A&P should read a book called The Rise and Fall of the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company by William I. Walsh, published in 1986.

    This ship, sadly, has been sinking for a very long time.

    I remember Tampa losing its A&Ps in the 1970s (except for The Family Mart grocery stores, later sold away in the ’80s). We lost our A&Ps in Atlanta in 1999.

    Even a friend who was the longtime President of the A&P Historical Society and a supermarket location analyst in New Jersey for A&P was laid off by the company earlier this year.

    When the lights are turned out at the last A&P for the last time, it will be a very sad day for our nation and a brand that meant much to it.

    When will that be? Soon, I am afraid.


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