The History of Kroger
Our story began in 1883 when Barney Kroger invested his life savings of $372 to open a single grocery store at 66 Pearl Street in downtown Cincinnati. He had a simple motto: “Be particular. Never sell anything you would not want yourself.”
Nearly 140 years later, the Kroger Company is still particular about how we serve customers and community, how we innovate and who we hire. As the nation’s largest grocer with nearly 2,800 stores in 35 states operating under 28 different names, we meet our customers’ changing needs by making fresh food accessible to all. Our current practices are rooted in Barney Kroger’s early efforts to serve customers through food freshness, low prices and innovation—fundamentals that remain at the heart of our Kroger mission today. This is the story of all the people in our history who helped change the way we shop. People who continue to make a difference in the lives of our customers every day.
A History of Innovation Inspires Today’s Shopping Experience
Barney was a born innovator–always looking for new ways to serve customers. In the early 1900s, grocers typically purchased bread from local bakeries then resold it. Bread, Barney reasoned, was the most basic of staples and something he sold a lot of. He realized if he could bake the bread himself, he’d cut his costs and offer customers a fresher loaf at a lower price.
Innovation #1: One-Stop Shopping
Early on, people had to shop a butcher, a baker, and a grocer. Barney knew it would be simpler and more convenient if they could buy everything at one stop from one store, so 1901, Kroger became the first grocer in the country to establish its own bakeries, followed by integration of the meat department.
Today one-stop shopping has grown into something that would make Barney smile—a complete shopping universe with endless variety, in-store dining, wine and cheese shops, sushi and even Starbucks.
Innovation #2: Private Label Manufacturing
Ever the innovator, Barney saw the potential in making his own products. When farmers rolled into town with a harvest bounty of cabbage, Barney saw it was cheap and he bought a lot; more than he could sell—but he had an idea! He took that cabbage home to his mother, and she turned it into lots of delicious sauerkraut. He knew his German Cincinnati customers would love it, and he was right.
The little manufacturing effort born in Mrs. Kroger’s kitchen was the beginning of something big—today, we’re the largest food manufacturing business in America. Kroger operates our 35 food manufacturing facilities that make everything from bread, cookies and milk to soda pop, ice cream and peanut butter. About 40% of private-label items are made at one of our Kroger manufacturing plants. They account for 26% of Kroger’s total store dollar sales, giving our company a significant strategic advantage. We offer an array of private label brands at every price point. With dozens of manufacturing facilities and distribution centers around the country, we also have one of the largest privately-owned truck fleets in the country.
Innovation #3: Grocery Delivery
What began with a horse named Dan, has grown into a national grocery delivery service. In his early days, Barney would saddle up his horse Dan to his wagon and deliver groceries to customer around the greater Cincinnati, Ohio area.
Today, collaborative work with specialized technology partners gives us the expertise to offer our customers even more. Kroger has partnered with Nuro (Robotics), ClusterTruck (food delivery systems), Microsoft, and Ocado (a world leader in grocery ecommerce technology) to help optimize an anything, anytime, anywhere customer experience. Exciting new Drone Express technology allows delivery not only to a street address but to the exact location of a customer’s smartphone. Now, customers will be able to order delivery of picnic supplies to a park, sunscreen to the beach, or condiments to a backyard cookout! We also partner with DoorDash to deliver Kroger Sushi to customers.
Innovation #4: Product Quality Monitoring & Testing
Throughout our history, we have been both innovator and pioneer in the food retail industry. During the 1930s, we were the first grocery chain to routinely monitor product quality and scientifically test foods.
In 2012, the company’s long-standing commitment to food safety and quality earned it the highly prestigious Black Pearl Award, awarded to only one company each year by the International Association for Food Protection.
Innovation #5: The Electronic Scanner
In 1972, Kroger became the first grocery retailer in America to test an electronic scanner. Visitors from around the country attended the event in a suburban Cincinnati store. Technology is key at store operations today. Kroger pioneered QueVision, a faster checkout program that has reduced the time customers wait in line to check out, on average, from four minutes in 2010 to less than 30 seconds in stores today.
Bigger Stores, Better Services
In the 1980s, our supermarkets evolved into combination stores, adding pharmacy, beauty and health care to a growing store selection. Our stores today offer everything from basic grocery staples to organic vegetables, natural foods, and hot meals ready to eat. We operate more than 2,255 in-store pharmacies that fill 238 million prescriptions a year. Floral shops boom with enough blooms to make us the world’s largest florist. And fuel centers in more than 1,545 locations let our customers gas up and save where they shop.
Our marketplace stores have elevated one-stop shopping convenience to a new level. Multi-department stores under the Fred Meyer banner are huge at over 161,000 square feet. We offer a store format for every kind of shopper, including price impact stores and fine jewelry stores.
Growing by Leaps, Bounds & Mergers
Mergers have played a key role in our growth. In 1983, 100 years after our company’s founding, Kroger merged with Dillon Companies Inc. in Kansas to become a coast-to-coast operator of food, drug and convenience stores. This brought not only Dillon’s, but also King Soopers, Fry’s, City Market and Gerbes into the Kroger family.
The biggest merger in our history came in 1999, when we merged with Fred Meyer, Inc. (owner of Smith’s Ralphs, Food 4 Less and QFC) in a $13 billion deal that created a supermarket chain with the broadest geographic coverage and the widest variety of formats in the food retailing industry. That year, we also merged with JayC, Owens Market and Pay Less.
And the mergers didn’t stop there. In 2001, we merged with Baker’s, follower by mergers with Harris Teeter in 2014 and Roundy’s, Pick ‘N Save, Metro Markets and Mariano’s in 2015. This expanded our reach through the Mid-Atlantic states and the northern Mid-West.
We’ve also expanded our business with mergers and partnerships outside the brick and mortar of a grocery store. In 2014, we merged with Vitacost.com, one of the largest pure e-commerce companies in the nutrition and healthy living market. Their platform accelerated our entry into the e-commerce space by several years, helping us serve customers through ship-to-home orders and expanding our reach into all 50 states and internationally. In 2018, we merged with Home Chef to make dinner easier for millions of Americans and partnered with Ocado to revolutionize home grocery delivery.
Thriving Together Today & Tomorrow: Sustainability
Innovation is also at the heart of Kroger’s sustainability efforts. In the mid-2000s, we created a process to rescue safe, edible fresh products and donate them quickly to local food banks. This model has been replicated by other retailers and today fresh products make up more than half of the food distributed nationwide by Feeding America, America’s largest food bank network. Today, we partner with local resources like Last Mile Food Rescue in Cincinnati to get unused food from restaurants and institutions into areas of food scarcity.
The goal of our Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) strategy is to achieve lasting positive impacts through a shared value framework. It benefits people and our planet and creates more resilient systems for our future. The vision for this initiative is: We imagine a world where everyone is Thriving Together. The centerpiece of our ESG strategy is the Zero Hunger | Zero Waste social and environmental impact plan. Introduced four years ago, Zero Hunger | Zero Waste is an industry-leading platform for collective action and systems change at global, national and local levels.
More than a century ago, Barney Kroger laid the foundation for what today is one of the largest companies in America. The business principles that made the first Kroger store successful in 1883—service, selection, value, and a belief that people are what matter most–continue to guide our company’s operations today. As America’s grocer, we take pride in bringing diverse teams with a passion for food and people together with one purpose– to feed the human spirit.