A third family-owned supermarket company based in Lancaster County is selling its business to Giant Food Stores.
Musser’s Market announced Sunday night it is divesting its three stores — at the Buck, outside Mountville and in Lebanon — for an undisclosed price.
Musser’s three stores will close Oct. 17. The stores will be dark for about a week for remodeling, then reopen under the Giant banner.
The fate of Musser’s 350 employees is unclear.
They can interview with Giant for jobs at the stores, but a Giant spokeswoman declined to estimate how many employees its new locations will have.
The transactions continue a seismic shift in grocery shopping here toward regional and national chain stores.
The three independents cited a similar litany of reasons, including growing competition, especially from chains, as well as increasing expectations from shoppers and changing shopping habits.
Those competitors have much deeper pockets, enabling them to spend more on technology, marketing and facilities.
“… It has become clear that the only way we can continue to service our customers and give our employees better opportunities is to provide a company that can meet these new needs,” Musser’s said on its Facebook page.
All three family-owned supermarket companies had been part of the county grocery industry for decades.
Musser’s, for instance, opened its first store in 1925 at the Buck in East Drumore Township.
Darrenkamp’s announced last September it would close all four of its stores — in Willow Street, Mount Joy, Elizabethtown and Etters (York County) — after 86 years in business.
Darrenkamp’s then sold its Willow Street store to Giant. It reopened under the Giant banner in November.
Ferguson & Hassler announced in May it was selling to Giant after 103 years in business. The Quarryville store reopened in June as Lancaster County’s 10th Giant.
Musser’s announcement Sunday was no surprise. Industry trends and consumer preferences have been putting intensifying pressure on small, independent supermarket companies for years.
Musser’s acknowledged that pressure in February, when it closed its small store in Columbia.
Industry analyst Jeff Metzger, publisher of Food Trade News, which covers the mid-Atlantic supermarket industry, put it this way.
“There’s a huge advantage when you have size and scale, and you don’t have to worry about capital needs as much as smaller retailers do,” he said.
It’s no coincidence that as local independent grocers are folding, regional and national chains are flexing.
Consider the amount of change in the local supermarket industry since the start of 2018.
Wegmans and Whole Foods arrived. Giant and Aldi added locations. Weis upgraded stores. Lidl pursued plans to open here. Online ordering, home delivery and curbside pickup became common amenities for shoppers.
Under the circumstances, Musser’s decided to be proactive.
“We approached Giant Food Stores directly and felt they would be the best fit for our locations, customers and our employees,” Musser’s said on Facebook.
Brian Musser, one member of the fourth generation of the family to own and manage the business, declined to elaborate on the reasons stated in the Facebook post.
Employees were notified of the sale on Sunday, he said. Musser, director of operations, declined to describe how employees reacted to the news.
The Buck store at 35 Friendly Drive is Musser’s largest location, at 58,000 square feet, according to Musser’s website. It has about 140 employees, said Musser.
The Mountville store of 44,000 square feet at 3985 Columbia Ave. in West Hempfield Township opened in 2009. The Lebanon store of 35,000 square feet at 1750 Quentin Road opened in 2013.
“We recognize the deep roots and strong reputation (the Mussers) have in Lancaster and Lebanon counties. We look forward to continuing their legacy of caring for families and the community,” said Giant President Nicholas Bertram in a prepared statement.
Even without adding Musser’s, Carlisle-based Giant already has a sizable lead as the leading grocery retailer operating here.
For the fiscal year ended in March, Giant’s Lancaster County stores generated $332.9 million in revenue (excluding gasoline sales), up 4.3% from the prior year.
That revenue figure does not include revenue generated by the newly acquired stores.
Giant’s local revenue accounted for 21.8% of the $1.53 billion spent on groceries in Lancaster County in fiscal 2019, according to Food Trade News, a regional industry publication.
The runnerup is wholesaler C&S, which supplies more than 30 independent grocery stores and supermarkets in the county, including Musser’s.
These independent stores saw their collective revenue tumble 22.9% to $244.8 million, according to Food Trade News. That was good for a 16.0% share of the grocery business here.
That plunge largely stemmed from the shutdown of C&S customer Darrenkamp’s. The changes at two other C&S customers — Ferguson & Hassler and Musser’s — will be reflected in fiscal 2020’s figures.
Other independents served by C&S include Stauffers of Kissel Hill, Oregon Dairy, John Herr’s, Yoder’s, Weaver’s and Dutch-Way.
Giant, which opened its first store in Lancaster County in 1979, has been aggressively expanding its presence here.
Besides acquiring stores, it’s enlarged and remodeled existing stores, converted its idle city supermarket to a hub for its home-delivery business, upped its charitable donations and made other changes.