This Is the Largest Retailer in America After Walmart

Douglas A. McIntyre

The National Retail Federation (NRF) has just released its list of the 100 largest retailers in America. As almost anyone would expect, Walmart tops the list. The biggest employer in the United States and a company at the top of the Fortune 500 would naturally hold the number one position. Surprisingly, a niche retailer holds the number two spot.

The NRF looked at retail sales for 2018. Walmart Inc. (NYSE: WMT) posted total retail revenue of $387 billion. Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN) had sales of $121 billion, but it is not a traditional brick-and-mortar retailer. Based on that traditional measure, Kroger Co. (NYSE: KR) ranked second with sales of $120 billion. Kroger essentially sells only one category of products: groceries.

Kroger trails Walmart in other categories, including the number of stores. Walmart has 5,263, while Kroger has 3,035. Walmart is the largest employer in over a dozen of the 50 states. Kroger does not have the top spot in any of them.  However, Kroger has one measure in which it leads by far. It was founded in 1883 by Bernard Kroger. Walmart was founded in 1962 by Sam Walton.

Kroger has struggled somewhat lately. Its most recently reported quarter revenue was essentially flat. For 2019, the number was $37.3 billion. In the same quarter of 2018, revenue was $37.7 billion. Operating profit dropped between the two years. In the most recent quarter, it was $901 million. Last year, the figure was $1.03 billion.

Kroger’s strength is that it sells only one category of products. Americans associate food shopping with the Kroger brand. Its top spot in the grocery business is also a weakness. Retailers such as Amazon and Walmart want to take Kroger’s position.

Food sales are already among Walmart’s top sales generators, based on many estimates. Walmart’s recent earnings improvements were driven, in part, by growing grocery results. And Amazon has entered the grocery market very aggressively. It bought grocery retailer Whole Foods for $13.7 billion in June of 2017. It also has a grocery delivery service. One of the benefits of Amazon Prime, the e-commerce company’s subscription membership program, is Amazon Fresh, a local grocery shopping and delivery business.

While there are many other grocery retailers, the battle of the business nationally has largely come down to Kroger, Amazon and Walmart. Each has upped the ante several times. Grocery delivery was an early area of competition. Grocery order apps are another. Each now offers free grocery delivery within hours of people placing orders. Kroger and Walmart offer programs that allow people to order online and pick up their orders at stores. The competing programs are almost certain to increase as each company drives for market share in an industry with hundreds of billions of dollars in sales nationwide.

Kroger has started something of a retrenchment, as it has closed stores in some states and will open others. It is not, however, one of the retailers closing the most stores.