Despite a 28% drop in sales from 1929 to 1933 and a number of other challenges, Kroger withstood the onslaught of the depression better than many of its grocery chain counterparts. With nearly 5,000 stores, Kroger was in a dominant position in many of its markets.
One of the “other challenges” came in April 1930, when Kroger chairman William H. Albers resigned to start his own supermarket chain. The Albers Super Markets would become a good-sized player in the Cincinnati and northern Kentucky areas, strongly pushing national brands in their advertising against Kroger’s hot-selling, well regarded private label brands. In 1955, Albers sold out to Atlanta-based Colonial Stores. Beginning in the thirties, Kroger also took on a leadership role in fighting the anti-chain store movement, whose primary target was The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company (A&P), but which constituted a threat to the entire chain store industry. The battle, which played out over nearly two decades, was costly in terms of legal expenses, but also in the form of price reductions necessary to sway public sentiment over to the chains’ side of the argument.
An exciting development for Kroger was the opening of its first departmentalized “superstores” (not to be confused with the much better known Kroger Superstores of the 1970’s). The first of these early superstores opened in 1930 on Government Square in Cincinnati, and similar stores would soon open in Kroger’s other major territories, including Cleveland, Columbus, Louisville, Indianapolis, Chicago, and Madison, Wisconsin. Thirty-four of these deluxe units would be open by 1935.
There were major acquisitions for Kroger from 1928 through 1940, including 85 Cox Grocery stores in the Little Rock area, 58 Oakley Economy Stores in eastern Illinois and western Indiana, and 15 stores purchased from the Model Grocery and Baking Co. of Springfield, Missouri, among others. There was also a divestiture – in late 1934, Kroger sold 53 of its 56 Oklahoma stores to Safeway Stores, Incorporated, citing the difficulty in managing the stores from distant Cincinnati.
Also, a famous Kroger product was born during this period. In 1939, Kroger introduced its special patented process for meat tenderization under the trade name “Tenderay”. Kroger would market their Tenderay beef exclusively until 1942, when it opened the process up to be licensed to other firms. Tenderay, along with older Kroger tradenames Country Club and Big K (which, unlike Tenderay, are still in use) would become a fixture in heartland kitchens for decades.
The photos above are circa 1935 and depict the Kroger store at 2227 Noble Road in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, and appear courtesy of the Cleveland State University Library. Note in the second photo the competing Fisher Foods store right next door. The signage is typical for Kroger in the 30’s. Interestingly, their sign colors during that era were often green, black and white, rather than more familiar Kroger Blue (and “Coral Red”) which came later. Here is a link to a neat film clip from 1947, showing a Kroger store that was probably around ten years old at the time.