Four Berkeley Andronico’s face difficult conditions

Andronico's on Telegraph, one of the four stores in Berkeley. Photo: Tracey Taylor

There are signs that Andronico’s, the local supermarket chain founded in Berkeley in 1929, faces some serious commercial problems. According to a recent report in the San Francisco Chronicle, a number of suppliers are having difficulties being paid. A commenter to Berkeleyside’s recent coverage on Monterey Market reported that two Andronico’s workers were talking about their pay checks being delayed.

Andronico’s has four stores in Berkeley: on Solano (the company’s original store), on Shattuck, on Telegraph, and on University. According to people familiar with the business, the Shattuck and Solano stores do significantly more business than the other two locations. 

At its peak, Andronico’s had 14 stores in the Bay Area, but today there are only eight. Last month, the company moved its headquarters offices from its long-time Albany home to a space over the flagship store in San Francisco. Last year, Andronico’s, which is in its third generation of family ownership under Chairman and CEO Bill Andronico, had a major management shake-up, with four new executives arriving from rival Whole Foods Market.

Andronico’s established a reputation as a seller of premium items, but it faces particularly tough competition in Berkeley from Whole Foods and the two Berkeley Bowl locations for premium goods. At the lower end, it is squeezed by Safeway’s, as well as big box retailers like nearby Costco.

Berkeleyside’s call to the Andronico’s corporate office was not returned at time of publication.

If one or more of the Andronico’s sites were closed, there are reports that Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market, an El Segundo-based chain that has grown from zero to nearly 200 stores in four years, has been scouting for a Berkeley location. Fresh & Easy is a subsidiary of UK-based Tesco, the world’s third largest retailer. Fresh & Easy claims to offer big box-style discounts in smaller locations. Andronico’s is a unionized store, unlike Fresh & Easy.

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  • Bruce Love

    I don’t think your three points tell the right story.  You say (i’ll change the order) 1) purchasing power 2) unions 3) ambiance.      My alternative view is that the problems in recent history for Andronico’s are 1) product selection 2) vendor relations 3) ambiance.

    Buying power:

    I’d be surprised if Andronico’s had stronger purchasing power than Berkeley Bowl.    The per-store Andronico’s volume in Berkeley looks pretty darn weak compared to Berkeley Bowl.  For example, I doubt that Andronico’s University plus Andronico’s Telegraph adds up to a Berkeley Bowl West.  I’d be slightly surprised if they even added up to a Berkeley Bowl Oregon!

    If we consider only Berkeley, BB looks to have at least similar  volume but on the basis fewer facilities and facilities with lower operating costs by most ways of looking at it.   Both BB stores are real models of cost control — they are works of art.   There is very little wasted work at either place.  They are high volume powerhouses.   Andronico’s in-store logistics are way more fussy (hence labor intensive).  The cramped nature of the produce sections at some of those stores, alone, means much higher labor costs per volume of goods sold (or else not spending for those labor costs and having the place start to look shabby and offering sketchy goods).

    The far-afield other Andronico’s don’t much help change that balance:  either those other stores are largely separate or the “warehouse-to-shelf” transaction costs for Andronico’s are much higher.    I think that this and a historic lack of sensitivity to changes in market demand are the root cause of Andronico’s issues.

    I think BB wins on buying power and that this is one of Andronico’s big challenges.  (We’d have to see the books and vendor lists to be sure.)

    Unions:

    I’m not so sure the unionization issue is really at play here, yet.  When I spoke with people at Berkeley Bowl about why they were voting against organizing (at one place) or in favor of decertification of the union (at the other) — the gist was that many felt they had pretty sweet deals and, upon examining what the union proposed, felt they’d be set back.   Leaving aside the politics and ethics of unionization questions, just looking at “the books” — I’m not yet persuaded that for comparable work BB is paying significantly less than Andronico’s.  

    Call the price of labor a draw.

    Ambiance:

    Yes, this is a problem for Andronico’s.   Historically, they have very fussy, labor-intensive store designs.  I think part of the reason they appear a bit graceless when business slows down is not that they languish under union-driven labor costs, but that they suffer under labor-intensive store designs.

    Historically, I think they must have been pretty dazzling, even mesmerizing innovative stores early on, as a result of splurging on labor that way….

    Andronico’s loses and BB wins on the labor cost per square foot of product space due mainly to store design, not unionization.

    Vendor relations:

    I’ll just share some anecdote.  If you go to either BB at the right time, and pay attention … you’ll see lots of the wholesalers crawling over the store.   You’ll also see the (vendor provided) “free sample” crowds.  You’ll also see a lot of churn on shelf-space where volume isn’t high (products get dropped, new ones get tried) — we’re talking quite a lot of shelf space that’s in flux.

    At the same time, BB (they say, as in one story here on Berkeleyside) is pretty aggressive at raising up buyers and department managers from the ranks and training them.

    Basically, BB shows every sign of being some place that wholesalers have to actually work a bit hard to sell into — and more importantly – BB is a place where wholesalers DO work hard and compete hard to get into.

    Selections and general activity convince me that Andronico’s historically is mostly just a sleepy buyer with a few pillar relations with long standing vendors.

    Andronico’s (and the Chronicle’s coverage helps confirm this) isn’t much favored by many vendors.   Hasn’t been for a long time.

    Product selection:

    Go read a Molly Katzen Moosewood cookbook (for example.  Although from the other side of the continent, those books tastefully reflects typical grocery stores of their time) and compare it to what you can figure was Andronico’s product line in the mid/late 1980s and early 1990s.   Andronico’s was a liberating paradise for the nascent foodie culture.    I think it was that contrast – plus conveniences like decent wine and booze and some fancy bakery stuff – that made Andronico’s so special.

    The BB selection has a much better concentration on fundamentals (e.g., produce, seafood, meat, bulk) and the rest of the “dazzling” selection is a lot more dynamic.

    (p.s.: I really wish that Andronico’s or maybe MM or some local would do well enough using a similar enough model to BB to do well.    As importers to the City, Berkeley Bowl does a good job but its not healthy if they are the only game in town besides transnational corporates like TJ and sleepy regionals like Andronico’s.)

  • Jimgvpinc

    I have read all the comments regarding this topic tonight,and must say yours is the most foolish!

  • Duh

    Safeway has how many stores…and let’s see Andronico’s has 8…can you do the math.  I’m quite sure that Safeway can procure it’s goods at a much better cost than Andronicos due to “buying power” GET IT?

  • Shoshana

    Whole Foods and Trader Joes aren’t unionized, it’s true, but it’s not fair to write them off as somehow evil because of that.  The union model doesn’t fit all that well with the grocery store business.  Both companies treat their workers very fairly and have a high rate of employee satisfaction.  Whole Foods even has a whole alternative-to-union system designed to give workers a direct say in company policies and decisions without going through the dinosaur laws of the NLRA.  I personally support both companies for finding a more efficient and less antagonistic way to compromise between employee quality of life and providing an excellent service to the community. 

    It’s not the 30s anymore and Whole Foods isn’t a mine running a company town.  This is not a one dimensional union=good non union=bad issue, so lets not treat it as one.

  • William

    Wow, this is a really great discussion.  I love reading about the history and all the different opinions everyone has.

    I personally live very near the Shattuck Andronico’s but usually do my best to avoid shopping there.  I am vegetarian (and no gourmet chef) and I find that I can get better selection, quality and prices almost anywhere else.  Thus I end up buying most of my food at Berkeley Bowl and Monterey Market.  Andronico’s does seem to have a more yuppie vibe than the other chain groceries stores (hence less “riffraff”) and the lines are always short, but I don’t necessarily find these things appealing enough that I would pay 100% more on produce.

    I had no knowledge of the union status of the different groceries — is there anyway they could advertise this more?  It seems like a critical selling point for some people, but I literally had no idea there was a difference.

  • Anonymous

    This is sad news, but the Andronico’s employees’ customer service has been decreasing for years.  Talking to each other, often about negative subjects, unable to direct customers to particular products (really, bakery employees couldn’t tell me where spices are??)  and just not as friendly as they used to be.  

  • Marie

    You know what?  I shop at just about every one of the stores mentioned so far in these comments, and, as my family tends toward routine, my shopping list doesn’t change a whole lot from week to week.  I’ve ended up doing a fair amount of accidental comparison shopping.  One thing I’ve discovered is that who wins for the title of “most expensive store” TOTALLY depends on the item I’m buying.  The milk and yogurt my family likes is actually cheaper at Andronico’s than at any other store.  Produce is cheaper and better at MM or the Bowl.  Meat and fish are best at the individual markets.  I often go to Safeway for brand-name basics [although the brand-name english muffins we eat are cheaper at Andronico's than at Safeway].  It can be a pain to shop around, true, but if you’re looking for the best food at the best prices, that’s the way to go.

  • kaboomski

    Thanks, TN for an insightful comment that recognizes economic reality without resorting to “class war” paradigm.

  • Souplinecatering

    Hey joon,
    you don’t have a clue what it takes to run a grocery store. Angela is an amazing mgr./ store director.
    Working long tedious hours. Keeping up with trends to make everyones shopping experience a positive one. She is kind and caring to her staff and attends to customers needs. You sound so bitter maybe Andronico’s is better off without customers like yourself. You should take a hard look at Solano Ave every small business is having trouble. If the community would pull together look what positive energy could do. We love Angela And the staff at the Solano staff they are caught in the middle and need our support. Stop your negative ranting and shop else where!

  • Cowreed

    Do you have a clue where your food comes from. You can make all the confit’s in this world but if all you are doing is shopping by price than you might as well eat at subway.

  • Chrisjuricich

    I like andrnico’s but they have always been seen as upscale. If I walk into and
    Andronico’s store, they are just more expensive for most things. It seems that if the buyers oaf wholesale items have a choice, they will pick the most expensive line– and that simply doesn’t work in today’s economy.I go to Andronico’s in the same way I go to 7/11– when I’m in a rush.

    I wish them luck and all, but they need to choose groceries that aren’t always on the high end.

  • http://www.cr3.com Robert Blair Kurtz

    I stopped shopping at Andronicos on Telegraph simply because they stopped giving me change, then short changed me.

    As a very small neighbor merchant, and less than 2 blocks away, I would sometimes (at most twice a month) need quarters unexpectedly.

    I would walk to Andronicos, make a small purchase (under $2) give them a $5 bill and ask for change in quarters. Just enough quarters to get thru the day and get to the bank the next.

    At first I would be given the few quarters requested, then they found out I was a neighbor merchant, and the refused to give any extra quarters, not even $1 worth.  This became a store policy for all their checkers, but may have been targeted just at me…WHY?

    They found out I carried adult products and the conservatives running the place disapproved, so I could not get anything.  Even a rare over charge or a giving back change mistake, would not be corrected.

    The last straw was when I made a normal sub $2. purchase, gave them a $20 bill and got change back as though it were a $5.  I had long stopped asking for quarters, so this was a straight forward mistake that cheated me out of $15.00.

    I asked the manager for a till balance check and was refused.  Because it had been entered as a $5.00 amount tendered that must be right, case closed.

    Telegraph Ave Andronics has a bad attitude and may short change you.

    I did not even say anything about the terrible over pricing, so many others got that right.

    CRAZY BELIEF:  I have long thought the Anronicos people hastened the Berkeley Co-op market system downfall (I was a charter Co-op member, my member # 7379 gotten in the late 40s), by their ‘leveraged buyout/takeover’ rather than allow the Co-op to work out its problems.  Andronicos wanted the buildings and they got them.

    The owners are not nice people, never have been…never will be….GOODBYE…finally

  • Guest

    I’m from the DC area and whenever I get out to Berkeley I shop at Andronicos.   The prices are not much worse than Whole Foods in my home area. The product variety is very interesting. The produce is beautiful and I always buy some great Cal produce there as well as unique items from the bakery. This past visit, I notice many shelves were not stocked and there were no Andronicos cloth bags. That bodes ill.   The management needs to re-address their market. Clearly their advantage had been a variety of interesting local items, but their prices on basics were very high.   We have Trader Joe’s also at home, the prices are low, the products are good quality and quantity but NOT local.  Perhaps Andronicos needs a new image such as becoming the place where you buy local and green. 

  • Lowinger22

    I like going to Andronicos because it is a different experience than other markets.  I shop at the Telegraph location in Berkeley.  I do with that the stores were not that expensive and I might shop there more.

  • Lowinger22

    I agree with you 100%

  • Mike Farrell

    If you’re in the University Ave. area and want real beer try Ledger’s Liquors.
    A multi-generatioal family business 1 mile from campus…  ;-)

  • Mike Farrell

    Safeway is union

  • David Chappell

    In ten years of shopping at the Solano Andronico’s, I’ve never had a bad customer service experience. In fact, I’d single out Angela as being exceptionally good whenever I’ve interacted with her. I have no personal connection with the store–I’m just a customer–but I’m definitely a fan.
     
    Yes, the prices are commonly higher than elsewhere, but do you really want to live in a world of non-unionized grocery stores paying people minimum wage? I don’t, and so I’m happy to shop at Andronico’s.

  • http://www.webhamster.com/ The Sharkey

    Beer enthusiasts disagree with you:

    http://beeradvocate.com/beer/profile/562/46896
    http://beeradvocate.com/beer/profile/562/15286
    http://beeradvocate.com/beer/profile/562/59220

    If you have a refrigerator, you might find that placing beer in it will lower the temperature of said beverage.

  • http://www.webhamster.com/ The Sharkey

    Ledger’s is OK. But it’s difficult to judge the freshness of their stock. Some of the more expensive imports seem to hang out on those shelves for a loooong time.

  • http://www.webhamster.com/ The Sharkey

    Berkeley Bowl has two stores, and they have better prices than Safeway on many items.

     

  • Wahwah Moe

    We lost our money round about $14,000.00 from our Sushi Bar at Andronico’s market in Berkeley since Nov, 2010. Now we quit from Sushi business since Jun 13, 2011 and Andronico’s must be owed above amount to us. We were waiting for our valuable money because we were working Sushi business since Sep 11, 2009 and we had no day off, no vacation, no sick call and no leave with emergency cases. We were working 364 days in a year except 1 day, day off because of X’mass day, the markets are closed. But we are demanding to the Andronico’s President and Corporate that if poosible, we need to get back our money. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Alec-Sevins/100001026837377 Alec Sevins

    That oil company “price gouging” is mostly the fault of Peak Oil, which happened in the U.S. 40 years ago and seems to be happening globally now (world crude oil peak was in 2006 per the IEA). 

    Blame it on the finite nature of petroleum and the bell-shaped depletion curve of all oil wells summed together. The oil companies have to charge more as oil production peaks, since their extraction costs are rising. I’m not saying they’re saints, but look up the acronym “EROEI.”

    Since so much food is essentially grown with oil (via fertilizer and machinery), food prices will rise accordingly. No conspiracy is needed to explain that.

  • Monkeeknifefight

    I would prefer not to wait an hour or more for my Tall Frosty to be frosty.

  • ex employee

    Andronico’s is the worse company to work for. Management single out some employees for no reason at all and harass them, and if that employees report it to HR or the union then management will make other employees harass that employee. they pay people to stalk them and try to have them jumped on and or fired if they have another job. Ask any long time andronicos employee which manager does this and they will all say the same name. by the way the B.P.D & other police department know all about him .