Acme Markets, a storied Philadelphia supermarket brand, said Tuesday that it had agreed to buy 76 A&P stores after the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co., known as A&P, sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Monday.
The acquisition would give Acme 183 grocery stores in Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and New Jersey, a big increase from its current 107. Acme officials would neither disclose the price they will pay A&P for the stores nor say when they expect to close the deal.
Acme, which got its start as a neighborhood grocer in South Philadelphia in 1891, has struggled mightily in recent years and changed ownership during this period. Albertsons, the nation's second-largest supermarket chain, bought Acme in 2013 and now seems intent on reviving it.
Since acquiring Acme, Boise, Idaho-based Albertsons has been working to improve the customer experience and store performance across the Acme division. Acme declined to provide sales figures.
"This is an opportunity to grow the Acme brand in the East, save jobs, and create great stores for customers to shop," said Danielle D'Elia, an Acme spokeswoman.
Of the 76 A&P, Super Fresh, and Pathmark stores that Acme is buying, 36 are in New Jersey and 10 in Pennsylvania, with five in the Philadelphia area. All the stores will be renamed Acme.
None of these 76 are among the 25 unprofitable supermarkets, including 10 in the Philadelphia area, that A&P said Monday it plans to close.
The larger footprint will give the Malvern-based Acme Markets division, which employs 11,000, stronger buying power to negotiate better prices with suppliers and the ability to improve its brand awareness, said John Stanton, a food marketing professor at St. Joseph's University.
"In my opinion, Acme is making a gallant effort to come back to the Delaware Valley," Stanton said.
A request on Tuesday to talk to Acme executives about their plans for the A&P stores the division is acquiring was denied.
A&P and Acme in recent years have faced stiff competition from artisan food purveyors, such as Trader Joe's and Whole Foods, and low-cost retailers such as Walmart. Caught in the middle, the traditional supermarkets have been edged close to oblivion, experts say.
Albertsons, which operates supermarkets under several brand names in 33 states, said earlier this month that it plans a public stock offering to raise money in order to survive in the ultra-competitive supermarket industry.
Acme has a long tradition of having unionized workers represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. UFCW Local 1776, a union that has members working in Acme and A&P supermarkets, has workers in nine of the Philadelphia-area stores Acme agreed to buy from A&P.
"This is good for Acme and our members working there," said Wendell Young IV, president of Local 1776.
Stanton said organized labor could make it more challenging for Acme to regain its footing in the region.
"I am not against unions, but sometimes unions make it more difficult to do some of the more innovative things Whole Foods or Trader Joe's do because wages and benefits are more costly," he said.
To remain viable, Acme needs to find its target consumer and market exclusively to that group, Stanton said.
"You can easily describe what a shopper at Walmart and Whole Foods looks like because these companies successfully cater to a specific consumer," he said.