Walmart continues its reign as the dominant player in the Fredericksburg-area grocery market for the seventh straight year.

Its 10 area stores raked in a total of $302 million in food and drug sales from April 1, 2018, to March 31, according to Food World magazine’s latest annual market share study of the Mid-Atlantic region. That’s a nearly 1 percent increase from the previous study’s tally of $299.1 million in sales for Fredericksburg and the counties of Caroline, Culpeper, King George, Orange, Spotsylvania, Stafford and Westmoreland.

“Walmart’s results over the past 12 months were among the best of all operators in the Mid-Atlantic,” according to the study. “However, unlike previous years, the world’s largest retailer did not accomplish its gains primarily through new stores. ... Improvement came from better execution at store level, successful integration of its buy online pickup in store program and its tenacity to protect its low price image.”

Giant Food maintained its position in second place with $186.86 million in sales. That’s a 16.5 percent increase from the $160.38 million it rang up in the previous survey.

CVS has also seen its sales increase. They went from $106.6 million in the last survey to $118.95 million. That put it in third place, knocking Weis Markets into fourth. Weis, which shuttered one of its four Stafford County locations Nov. 1, saw its sales slip from $118.95 million in the 2018 study to $105.36 million.

Food Lion, which had sales of $98.2 million, once again topped Wawa for fifth place. The grocery chain, once king of area market share, had fallen to sixth place in the 2017 survey after the merger of Giant Foods’ and Food Lion’s parent companies, Royal Ahold and Delhaize, forced it to sell 13 of its area stores to Weis Markets.

The sale was part of a Federal Trade Commission-mandated divestiture, which left Food Lion with 10 stores here. Only one of those is in Spotsylvania and there are none left in Stafford, the area’s two most populous counties. Caroline, King George and Westmoreland have two each, while Orange has three.

Rounding out the rest of the top 10 for the region were: Wawa, $94.82 million; 7–Eleven, $74.8 million; Target, $69.8 million; Wegmans, $64.2 million; and Lidl, $42.1 million. Aldi, Lidl’s chief competitor in the no-frills market, remained in 11th place with $32.1 million in sales.

Wegmans again posted the best area sales for a single store. The Rochester, N.Y.-based chain also moved into the top 10 for the Mid-Atlantic area, and continued to have the highest average per-store sales of any retailer in the market, according to the study.

Costco and BJ’s, the area’s two wholesale clubs, had $27.9 million and $26.5 in sales, respectively.

Publix, which opened its first store here last July, had rung up only $12.5 million in sales at the location in Cosner’s Corner in Spotsylvania by the end of March. The Lakeland, Fla.-based chain is expanding up the East Coast and has added five more stores in Richmond over the past year. It plans to open one in early 2021 in Embrey Mill Town Center in Stafford.

“The opening act hasn’t been particularly good for the industry’s most profitable food retailer, and its inability to make the necessary local adjustments is puzzling, but Publix remains undaunted, convinced that its successful ‘clean stores, great service’ formula which has made them a market leader in several Southeast markets will eventually work in the capital of the Old Dominion,” Jeffrey Metzger, Food World’s publisher, said in his analysis of the study.

“However, this is 2019 and consumer habits are changing—the customer base is younger and less predictable and there’s no Wegmans to deal with in Florida or a Kroger operation in any other Publix marketing area that’s as strong as it is in Richmond. It’s those changing consumer habits that many traditional bricks-and-mortar merchants find most challenging. The data is readily available, but how to find a sweeter spot to gain more shopper loyalty still remains somewhat elusive to most.”

Food World has been publishing a grocery market share survey for the Mid-Atlantic region for 41 years. It found that the Mid-Atlantic area remains “overstored and diversified,” and noted that some chains are shrinking while others are either expanding or starting to enter the market.

Shoppers Food & Pharmacy, for example, has sold or closed seven stores in the region during the past year, and parent company UNFI has been unable to sell the 44 that remain open, the study said. They include a location in Stafford Marketplace, which is the only one left in the Fredericksburg area.

That store had $28.9 million in sales, down from $30.1 million in the previous survey. Its market share in Stafford also slipped from 8.73 percent to 8.38 percent.

Meanwhile, Royal Farms, the Baltimore-based gas station/convenience store/fried chicken chain, is expanding its presence in the Fredericksburg area. It is set to open its third location here soon.

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Cathy Jett: 540/374-5407

cjett@freelancestar.com