What Is Ralphs? (The Successful Supermarket Chain in Southern California)

Ralphs supermarkets have never had an apostrophe in their name, which may be a letdown to enraged Southern California grammarians. It’s not a case of careless punctuation – simply a grocer that takes the last name of its founder.

You might be wondering, “what is ralphs?”. We’re all interested in learning more about the oldest chain of stores west of the Mississippi. We’ll learn more about that and other topics about Ralphs in this write-up.

What Is Ralphs in 2023?

2631332 aI yuGVJbweLnaErBtgp30yTwFXOud6kTlWHOXUBVk

Ralphs is a Southern California-based supermarket business. It is the oldest supermarket chain west of the Mississippi River, and it is the largest subsidiary of Cincinnati-based Kroger. Kroger also runs stores under the Food 4 Less and Foods Co. labels in California.

George A. Ralphs, a professional bricklayer who went to the grocery after losing his arm in a hunting accident, is the founder of the regional grocer Ralphs. The firm took off after specializing in locally produced food.

Ralphs Grocery Company is the largest food retailer in Southern California, and it has the potential to become one of the major grocers in the western United States. Ralphs runs approximately 400 stores across California, with tens of thousands of products available to customers, sold under the Ralphs private label.

Ralphs was a family-owned business until 1968. It went through two complex mergers to achieve its high-profile prominence in the food retailing industry, finally becoming a division of the Kroger Company.

It grew to be such a dominant presence in Southern California that it was barred from expanding farther in the greater Los Angeles area until 2003. Though most Ralphs stores are called Ralphs, the firm also has many locations in Northern California called Cala Foods and Bell Markets and big warehouse stores in Nevada called Food 4 Less, Foods Co, and PriceRite.

Ralphs Fresh Fare began transitioning several of the company’s stores into markets offering high-quality gourmet food products in 2000.

What Is The History Behind Ralphs?

After being injured in a hunting accident in 1873, a young bricklayer named George A. Ralphs found work in a grocery store in Los Angeles. He had saved enough money to buy his own modest store within a year, and his brother Walter Ralphs soon joined him in the business.

Ralphs Bros. Grocers, a community grocer in downtown Los Angeles that offered regional produce and grains at reasonable costs and prided itself on customer care, was run by the brothers together. Ralphs’ inventory and size grew in tandem with the area’s population growth during the next few decades.

Ralphs Grocery Company was formed in 1909, and two years later, it opened a much larger branch store.

The Evolution of a Family-Owned Grocery Store

4b406a9060841933fcfc237ea15a858a 2

Ralphs chain had eleven locations in 1928. Home delivery service by horse-drawn wagons eventually gave place to self-service and parking lots as the Ralphs brothers focused on updating these facilities. Ralphs began offering bakeries and creameries in their 25 locations in the 1930s, while deli and other in-store amenities arrived in the 1940s.

After the company’s founder, George Ralphs, died, a new generation of Ralphs took over, and by the middle of the century, the family had established Ralphs as one of the state’s leading grocers. Ralphs marketed itself as a high-quality food merchant while still keeping costs low, which helped the company grow to over 100 sites by the 1950s.

By the 1960s, Ralphs had grown to the point that a national retail behemoth believed the company was ready, with the appropriate financing, to expand beyond the boundaries of a family-owned business.

After consistently increasing throughout the decade, Ralphs was approached in 1968 by Federated Department Stores of Cincinnati, one of the country’s leading food chain store owners. Federated bid to purchase the company from the Ralphs family, who had run it since its creation.

Ralphs was ready to sell what had grown into much more than a mom-and-pop enterprise when Federated went into negotiations with them. Ralphs was sold to Federated for slightly over $60 million at the end of the year.

Ups and Downs

Ralphs performed well under its new parent business, keeping a solid and constant presence in the rapidly expanding Los Angeles region. Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, Federated discreetly ran Ralphs, with no national or statewide expansion plans.

Ralphs was among the first to introduce checkout kiosks with laser price scanners.

After a decade under Federated, Ralphs got a new lease on life with the entrance of a new and enthusiastic CEO, a man who had grown up in the grocery sector. Byron Allumbaugh became CEO of Ralphs in 1976 after two decades of working in practically every company department.

At the age of 12, Allumbaugh began working in the meat department of his local grocer. He spent the rest of his life working in fruit stores, dropping out of school to focus on the sector full-time. In 1958, he joined Ralphs, and when they needed a new CEO in the late 1970s, he was the obvious candidate.

Allumbaugh’s aspirations were fundamentally different from his parent’s company’s. He wanted Ralphs to expand statewide and eventually nationally. In the mid-1980s, Federated’s parent firm became exposed to competitors using the new corporate trend of mergers and consolidations.

3a3924a35fdec25b9fd1c6c2d55f9954 1

A specific danger came from a Canadian firm, Campeau Corporation, seeking to acquire its powerful southern rival in the 1980s. Campeau sought a $4.2 billion hostile takeover of Federated in 1988. During the process, Federated put some of its more profitable companies up for sale, including Ralphs Grocery, to help pay off debt incurred defending Campeau’s takeover.

At this point, Ralph’s success, if not existence, was in jeopardy. Several Ralphs competitors, including Lucky and American Stores of California, made proposals when the chain was put on the market. In the end, Allumbaugh persuaded his management team to raise almost $1 billion to buy a piece of Federated.

So, when Campeau finally acquired Federated, Ralphs would only be partially controlled by the Canadian firm, with the Allumbaugh shares providing significant independence. If he hadn’t rallied his colleagues, Ralphs would have become a totally owned subsidiary of Campeau, which went bankrupt later on.

Ralphs Grocery survived its late 1980s battles with its name and management intact, but it had paid a heavy financial price. By 1990, the corporation had lost $51.3 million on $2.8 billion in revenue, and the losses were expected to continue unless restructured.

To bring Ralphs out of the red, Allumbaugh decided to close or relocate several of the chain’s less profitable locations.

Allumbaugh and his team had laid a solid foundation for Ralphs, ensuring its survival during a challenging period despite the setback. The company has a strong reputation for producing high-quality products at reasonable pricing.

Most retailers were cost-effective, especially with automated systems, and ready to make an economic comeback in the early 1990s.

More Mergers and Further Growth

9fffdf139fc761b7d4bc81710e2490d2 1

The takeover of Campeau hampered Ralphs’ objective of growing beyond Southern California, forcing it to focus on strengthening existing stores. Despite its recent setbacks and California’s overall flat economy, Ralphs began to make a return in the early 1990s under good managerial supervision.

One of Ralphs’ most apparent competitors, Food-4-Less, based in Northern California, recognized the company’s newfound expansion. Food-4-Less was more extensive and more profitable than Ralphs at the time and was owned and supported by the Yucaipa Companies, which owned multiple national chains.

Food-4-Less approached Ralphs with a friendly merger proposal in 1993, only a few years after Ralphs’ near-disaster. The concept came from Yucaipa’s dynamic leader Ronald Burkle. Burkle was recognized in the grocery sector and Hollywood for throwing high-profile parties and accumulating famous residences – he was undoubtedly an outlier in the staid field of food retail.

Burkle, already the owner of Dominick’s Finer Foods and Smith Food and Drug Centers in the Midwest, wanted to expand his earnings on the West Coast, and a merger between Food-4-Less and Ralphs appeared like the best way to do it.

After a year of talks, Burkle’s company acquired Ralphs’ debt and paid Ralphs’ shareholders $525 million.

The 1990s was a decade of partner changes and mergers for Ralphs. After acquiring Yucaipa subsidiary Smiths in 1998, Fred Meyer Inc. expressed interest in the lucrative company, the oldest and most recognized west of the Mississippi.

Ralphs was bought by Fred Meyer that year, making it one of the country’s significant groceries. In 1998, Ralphs’ new parent company combined with the country’s most prominent food retailer, Kroger, making Kroger the country’s largest supermarket.

Ralphs, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Fred Meyer and thus a part of Kroger, continued to expand with over 440 stores in operation in 1999, with plans for out-of-state growth, including acquiring ten Nevada-based PriceRite locations.

aff1cae97f19f24cc9bed141267c6d25 1

Following a long-standing company history, the company did not abandon its community, particularly its less fortunate members. The Ralphs/Food-4-Less Foundation gave thousands of dollars in cash and supplies to support charities every year.

The company’s efforts helped develop and sustain a reputation for financial success and humanitarianism lacking in many other giant firms.

What Is Ralphs Role In Pop Culture

Ralphs shaped the American shopping experience through The Big Lebowski and other films it appeared on.

In the Big Lebowski (1998), Jeff Bridges’ character, The Dude walks through a Ralphs grocery. “Is this your only form of ID?” says the Malibu Chief of Police after finding The Dude’s Ralphs Card.

In a mortuary, Walter Sobchak laments about the expensive cost of an urn for a friend’s ashes. “Is there a Ralphs around here?” Walter asks the funeral director as he holds a Folgers Coffee cup viewing the Pacific Ocean.

When Laura, a prominent character in Messiah of Evil, follows a mysterious person into a desolate Ralphs, she is hunted, attacked, and eaten by zombies.

In the 1975 film Dolemite, a Ralphs sign appears.

A Ralphs sign and a film shoot in the store’s parking lot also feature in ShazamThe ! ’s Joy Riders.

Malphs is a parody grocery shop in The Powerpuff Girls.

The album by Public Image Ltd featured a parody of Ralphs packaging.

Ralphs grocery donated practically all of the merchandise used in the 1984 film Repo Man.

In the action film Die Hard, John McClane notices that the fire engines avoid Nakatomi Plaza, where he and his wife are confined.


Ralphs is no longer only a food store or that old supermarket from the 1800s. It’s bigger, grander, and has more options. Many Californians love Ralphs for a good reason: it’s a great grocer.

Leave a Comment