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The End of an Iconic Local Chain
By Nancy E. Sheppard

FarmF imageOn Wednesday, March 14, 2018, SuperValu Inc., owner of iconic local grocery chain, Farm Fresh, announced that they would either sell or close all of its 38 stores in Hampton Roads, Richmond, and Elizabeth City. This announcement brings an end to an over 60-year era in Hampton Roads.

Founded in 1957 by Hampton Roads resident, David Furman, Farm Fresh vowed to be "a neighborhood grocery store providing world class customer service.” The premise was to have a one-stop shop for locals to purchase from a wide variety of grocery items, local produce, as well as other wants and necessities. The brand is "so local” that its name was even chosen from submissions by Hampton Roads’ residents.

In 1986, Farm Fresh purchased Giant Open Air Markets, acquiring 26 additional stores and 43 "Tinee Giant” Convenience Stores. In the mid-1980s, it then purchased Peninsula and Gloucester grocer, Lou Smith Supermarkets. The company became a staple for locals who loved the supermarket’s selection, customer service, local roots, and salad bar.

However, with nationally-owned grocery chains moving in and suffocating locally owned supermarkets, Farm Fresh felt the pain of competition and filed for bankruptcy in 1997. Richfood Holdings, Inc. saved the fledgling brand in March 1998 and vowed to revitalize the company while still allowing it to remain locally operated out of their Virginia Beach headquarters. In August 1999, Richfood Holdings, Inc. was purchased by Minnesota-based SuperValu Inc., which also owns and operates Cub Foods, Shop ‘n Save, Hornbacher’s, and Shoppers. Like Richfood Holdings, Inc., SuperValu Inc. initially planned to keep operations headquartered in Virginia Beach.

Since SuperValu Inc.’s purchase, customers have complained about higher prices while the brand has faced further competition against more affordable brands like Food Lion, Wal-Mart, and the recent additions of Lidl and Aldi. Despite the challenges that the "local brand that could” faced, Farm Fresh still ranked #3 in Hampton Roads grocery chains, and consistently won local "Best of” awards for their bakery, salad bar, and fried chicken.

These accolades, name recognition, and local roots were simply not enough. In the past decade, the brand has been restructured. By 2017, SuperValu Inc. closed a handful of stores and laid off 21 of the 44 merchandising and operations positions at the Virginia Beach headquarters. Farm Fresh executives, including president Mickey Dye, accepted positions outside the Farm Fresh brand with SuperValu Inc. and the headquarters left Virginia Beach and was merged with Shoppers’ headquarters in Bowie, Maryland.

SuperValu Inc. announced that they were exiting Farm Fresh so they could concentrate resources on their wholesale divisions in other states. 21 of the 38 Farm Fresh stores have been sold to Kroger Mid- Atlantic, Harris Teeter (which is owned and operated by Kroger), and Food Lion, and the companies have announced plans to invest money in converting those locations into their own brands. The Farm Fresh in Grafton was sold to Kroger as part of this announcement. The Farm Fresh in Poquoson will remain.

The future of the 17 remaining stores and Farm Fresh’s approximately 3,300 employees is unknown. SuperValu Inc. released a statement that some employees would transition to certain stores’ new owners while others would be offered a severance package. Customer prescriptions for the 17 stores closing will be transferred to other nearby pharmacies.

What is certain is this – it is the end of a long era for a landmark Hampton Roads brand. It was a name that was synonymous with our region and residents relied on for good chicken and a local feel. But like many of the other local brands that have succumb, Farm Fresh is now yet another relic of a bygone era for Hampton Roads to mourn.

For more information on how this will impact your grocery shopping experience, including a list of the stores transitioning to other brands and which pharmacies prescriptions will be transferred to, visit:


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