It was 130 years ago that Frederick W. Albrecht started Albrecht’s Grocery on a site where Buchtel, Sumner and Center streets intersected in Akron.
He renamed the business Acme Cash Stores soon after that 1891 opening as part of a new cash-only sales business model inspired by a trip to Philadelphia. By 1918, Albrecht had expanded to as many as 40 stores in the area.
That was the start of what is now Acme Fresh Market, the local supermarket chain still owned and operated by Albrecht’s descendants. Over the family-owned company’s long history, it has experimented with creating a retail chain called Click, a pharmacy and convenience store concept called Acme Express, and combining Click retail stores with traditional supermarkets, now known as supercenters.
Those and other innovations and refinements over the decades are what have enabled the Akron business to successfully adapt, survive, continue to provide good jobs and to serve the community’s needs in a highly competitive Northeast Ohio market, said Nick Albrecht. He’s the fifth-generation family member who in April 2019 became president of the Fred W. Albrecht Grocery Co., the parent of the 16-store Acme Fresh Market.
Not long after taking the helm of the company, Albrecht, a West Point graduate and former Army Ranger, found himself in 2020, and now into 2021, leading Acme Fresh Market through the deep and ongoing disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
“Even though we are celebrating our 130th, we are very much focused on what I call our COVID-19 mission statement,” Albrecht said. “That is to continue to use our good judgment [and] make our decisions to operate our stores in a clean, neat and safe manner for our associates and our customers. I start every meeting with that statement and I end every meeting with that statement. Our organization is going to remain focused on that for the foreseeable future, of course. That’s priority No. 1.”
Albrecht talked on a number of topics related to the company’s 130th anniversary.
What follows is an edited question-and-answer session with him.
Q. What is Acme Fresh Market doing for its 130th anniversary?
Albrecht: We’re very excited about our 130th.
The company is holding a promotion for customers. Anyone who spends at least $50 shopping either in person at their local Acme grocery store or online will be automatically entered into a chance to win a free year of groceries. That means three customers will win $5,200 in Acme gift cards.
We came up with a contest called Buckeye’s Best. Ohio entrepreneurs with a good idea for an Ohio-made or -grown food product will be eligible for a $10,000 prize and have the opportunity to sell that product in our stores. An entrepreneur can enter his or her Ohio product at Acmestores.com/best. The winning entrepreneur can use the money however he or she chooses.
Q. How is the pandemic affecting Acme Fresh Market?
Albrecht: We are focused on operating our stores in a safe and clean manner.
The pandemic definitely accelerated things. The pandemic shocked the supply chain of the world. We had to look for different ways to restock our shelves, whether that meant having off-brands or different sizes than we previously offered. The basic, physical shelf is very important.
Operationally, the leadership team uses Microsoft Teams to host videoconferences. We previously met in person at one of our stores.
We already were offering online sales before the pandemic hit. We worked to make it easier to do online shopping and fulfillment. At the height of the pandemic, 10% of our sales were online. Since then, online sales have flattened out but remain significantly higher than pre-pandemic.
We also have a new smartphone app coming out in May that will make it easier for people to order online and then either have their produce delivered or ready for pickup at a store.
My sister and my brother in the business, our board and our associates are what got us through this.
Q. Do you see other changes from your customers?
Albrecht: Yes. One of the things we saw was solid growth in fresh and frozen seafood. We think perhaps that need was previously served by restaurants. People also may be choosing to eat healthier. Seafood has been a great success story.
There also has been increased interest in natural and organic foods during the pandemic. We think that trend will continue.
And there has been increased interest in “immediate consumption” food, or prepared foods.
Q. Acme Fresh Market stresses its connections to local businesses, including in-store products and services. Did that change during the pandemic?
Albrecht: We all leaned on each other and helped each other out. We do best with local. It’s the heartbeat of our company. Those are the best relationships. Our weekly ad flyer names local Ohio businesses and their products on sale in our stores.
Q. Can you talk about future growth plans?
Albrecht: We’re always looking for growth, sales growth. We’re focused on getting our shelves right. By that, I mean stocking each shelf in each store with the right products that customers want. It’s challenging in normal times. We are working to position ourselves for future growth.
Northeast Ohio is nationally known as a competitive marketplace. One of the ways we look at things is in terms of stomachs. You do see people, new competitors, coming in and fighting for a share of the stomachs.
And we’re hiring. Acme is always looking for great people. We look to promote from within. We have had people start as a bagger and rise to become a store director. To apply, go to acmestores.com.
Jim Mackinnon covers business. He can be reached at 330-996-3544 or [email protected] Follow him @JimMackinnonABJ on Twitter or www.facebook.com/JimMackinnonABJ.