Supervalu to consolidae administration of chains; Shoppers Food, Metro to maintain separate identities in operation; No 'philosophical change'


Supervalu Inc., the parent of Metro Food Markets and Shoppers Food Warehouse, said yesterday that it will consolidate the administrative functions of the two chains -- a move that will result in the departure of Metro founder and President John Ryder.

Ryder, who has worked in the retail food industry for 25 years, was not available for comment yesterday, but said in a statement that he will reveal his plans later.

The combined operation will be headed by Bill White, current president of Lanham-based Shoppers Food Warehouse, the third-largest grocery chain in the Washington market with 37 stores.

Metro, the Baltimore area's second-largest grocery chain, has 21 stores in the Baltimore area.

It is not yet known how many jobs will be lost as the administrative team of the combined operation is restructured, said Rita Simmer, the Supervalu spokeswoman.

The changes "do not signal any sort of philosophical change," she said. "We are making efficiencies at the administrative level."

After the consolidation, both chains will maintain their identities, and the change will not be apparent to customers, Supervalu said.

Supervalu acquired Catonsville-based Metro through its purchase of Metro's owner, Richfood Holdings Inc. of Richmond, for $1.5 billion in September.

The purchase made Minneapolis-based Supervalu the 10th-largest supermarket retailer in the nation, and the nation's largest food distributor to supermarkets.

Jeff Metzger, publisher of the Columbia-based trade journal Food World, said he could see more changes down the road.

"Although Supervalu has stated that changing the stores' banners and operations are not a consideration, I can visualize the advantages of the Shoppers' Discount format being used effectively in the Baltimore area," Metzger said.

He said Supervalu may have decided to consolidate under White because the Shoppers organization is considerably larger.

Nonetheless, Ryder is highly regarded in the food retailing industry, Metzger said. "He's a very creative and energetic person who has really made a mark in the Baltimore area," he said. "He's a real star in the industry."

A former A&P; Food executive, Ryder has captained Metro's expansion in the area since the former Basics chain was sold by Rite Aid Corp. to Richfood in 1995.

At that time, there were seven stores. With Richfood's backing, Ryder altered the Basics warehouse concept by creating the larger Metro format and adding fresh produce, meats and seafood to attract customers.

The executive also embarked on a plan to expand store sites. Metro has plans for four additional stores this year, in Ellicott City, at Mondawmin Mall and at two undisclosed locations.

"John [Ryder] is a marketing guy, first and foremost. Bill [White] is a store operations guy. Both are very dynamic and forceful," Metzger said.

"Bill understands the needs of the consumer and he has a strong work ethic," he said.

White has worked in the industry for 30 years, beginning with Stop & Shop. He also worked for Giant Food Inc. and served as president of Piggly Wiggly in Georgia and Mega Foods in Phoenix.

White has been president of Shoppers for three years.

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