Everyone has their preferred grocery store, the one they swear by, the one that has the “best deals.” For some of you out there, it’s Safeway. I’ve never encountered a Safeway in my life, or at least I don’t remember seeing one before. So, in my concerted effort to learn about every U.S. grocery store, today it’s Safeway’s turn.
What is Safeway?
Marion Barton Skaggs founded the first Safeway in 1915 in Idaho. At the time, many grocery stores would sell on credit, allowing the customer to have an account that they could pay off at a later date. Skaggs believed that created higher prices, so his business model focused on cash upon purchase. This was the inspiration for the name—purchasing with cash was the “safe way” to buy groceries because it prevented people from going into debt for their food.
Skaggs also designed his store for self-service. Customers could walk up to shelves, pick their own items, and pay for them at the front of the store. This cut down on employee costs, which translated to lower food prices. Skaggs’ model was successful; by 1926 he had opened 428 stores. His business acumen led to further mergers and a public listing in 1928. Safeway was also a pioneer in now-standard grocery store practices like nutritional labels, sell-by dates, selling food by weight, and parking lots. Thanks, Mr. Skaggs.
Who owns Safeway?
After Skaggs retired from the grocery game, Safeway had a wild, up-and-down history of expansion and contraction. They were profitable up to the 1980s when, after a private takeover, they were forced to shutter over two thousand stores. In the subsequent decade, they went public again, rebuilding their locations byacquiring local chains, including my Philadelphia grandmother’s favorite, Genuardi’s. Eventually, Safeway was sold to Albertsons in 2015.
So, I live in Los Angeles and there are a number of grocery stores that are an easy commute from my apartment: Albertsons, Ralphs, Vons, Pavilions. When I go home to Philadelphia, my parents live around the corner from the Acme. My grandmother shopped at the aforementioned Genuardi’s, which was bought by Safeway.
The outlier store is Ralphs, which is owned by Kroger, the largest supermarket operator in the United States; Albertsons is second. And guess what? Kroger announced they were buying Albertsons in 2022. A lot has to happen for that sale to become official thanks to antitrust laws, but odds are it’s going to happen. Naturally, we must ask ourselves: Who owns Kroger? The top three shareholders in Kroger are The Vanguard Group, BlackRock, and Berkshire Hathaway.
Is Safeway expensive?
It depends. Compared to Walmart, yes, Safeway is expensive. According to a recent Washington Post article, Safeway’s prices are over 30% more expensive than Walmart’s and 17% higher than Target’s. But, on average, it’s cheaper than Whole Foods.