SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — Eighty years after opening its first grocery store, Big Y Foods Inc. has big plans for its future, one that includes convenience stores.
Springfield-based Big Y has seen its store count grow from 56 stores and more than 9,200 employees in 2010 to 63 stores throughout Connecticut and Massachusetts with more than 10,000 employees. Owners, The D'Amour family, predict Big Y could grow to 150 stores during the next two decades, according to a report by MassLive.com.
While the founding family took note of "fierce competition" as far back as 1944, it has gotten even more intense. Today, Big Y competes with full-line supermarkets, drugstores that carry grocery staples like milk and eggs, big-box department stores with expanding grocery lines, discount stores and the warehouse clubs.
Changes were a theme recently when a group of D'Amour family members working for Big Y gathered at the company's Wilbraham, Mass., store. They spoke of the long shift into ready-made meals and the growing focus on local products, including local beer, according to the news report.
Some initiatives are returns to the past. For example, Big Y makes extensive use of local farmers, some of whom supply just one or two stores in their hometowns, the report noted.
Charles D'Amour, president and chief operating officer, noted how, with local products, the grocery business seems to be circling back on itself. His first job in the markets was cleaning and sorting returnable milk bottles. Today, the Wilbraham location is back to selling milk in returnable glass bottles from Shadow Valley Farms in Somers, Conn.
But even as the grocery business returns to its roots, Big Y is branching out into other channels, namely convenience.
As 2015 closed, the grocery retailer entered into an agreement to acquire the operating assets of three O'Connell Convenience Plus stations in Massachusetts. The locations are in Hadley, Longmeadow and Wilbraham, as CSNews Online previously reported.
These holdings join two existing Big Y Express gas and convenience stores in Massachusetts. The first Big Y Express store opened in Lee in 2013 as a joint venture with petroleum marketer and c-store operator F.L. Roberts & Co. The other Big Y Express is a wholly owned location in Pittsfield and is adjacent to an existing Big Y World Class Market.
"It's taken us time to figure out the convenience store business," said Claire D'Amour-Daley, vice president of corporate communications. "How do we staff those stores? Where should we put them?"
Charles D'Amour told MassLive.com the convenience store business is changing. People are looking for better meal choices whether that's in the supermarket or in the convenience store.
"Everybody is time starved. But they still want good food," he said. "In the end, it all comes back to food."
As Big Y works toward its goal of 150 stores, the retailer looks for high-traffic spots with good demographics, explained Matt D'Amour, senior director of real estate, store development.
There are opportunities to grow store count by "infilling," putting more stores into Big Y's existing geographical footprint. The chain is also looking at expanding its reach further east in Massachusetts and possibly into New Hampshire, Vermont and Rhode Island.
"We've discussed all those possibilities," Matt D'Amour said. "Everything is on the table."