The Worst Grocery Stores to Work for: The Toxic Culture at Fresh Market, SUPERVALU, and Roundy's


For better or worse, as a lifelong fan of professional football, I've been keenly aware of the situation in the Miami Dolphins' locker room. While I have no idea what's really going on there, the situation brings one important thing to the forefront: It can be almost impossible to understand the culture of an organization when we are on the outside looking in.

At The Motley Fool, we know that a company's culture plays an enormous role in how well it performs over the years. And though it's not a perfect tool, we are lucky to have a website like to help us understand what the culture of a company is really like.

The average rating for a company on Glassdoor is 3.2 stars out of 5, and the average CEO has an approval rating of 69%.

After a search through the company's database of publicly traded grocery stores, three stood out as having particularly low ratings and toxic cultures. Both customers and investors need to be aware of this situation, as this can affect both service and long-term stock returns for each of these three companies.

The Fresh Market I've written many times before about my core problem with The Fresh Market: It really doesn't stand for anything other than high-priced foods. As the company continues its expansion plans across the country, it's worth noting that a lack of identity isn't the only problem facing The Fresh Market: a culture of frustration seems to be taking hold.

Rating (out of 5)

CEO Approval

Would Recommend to Friend




Source: Glassdoor.

The picture painted by employees, especially those with tenures longer than five years, is pretty clear: This was an excellent company when it began, but since going public, satisfying Wall Street has pretty much been the main focus.

Employees on many occasions said that upper management and human resources only took complaints seriously when corporate representatives were about to visit a store. On several occasions, employees said that working for Whole Foods was a much wiser decision.


Source: Mike Kalasnik, via Wikimedia Commons.

SUPERVALU used to be the corporate identity behind Jewel/Osco and Albertson's brand grocery stores. But earlier this year, amid cost-cutting measures, the company sold these stores to a private equity firm. As it stands now, Save-A-Lot-branded stores are the biggest part of the SUPERVALU empire.

But cost-cutting measures have taken their toll, and it is showing among the rank-and-file.

Rating (out of 5)

CEO Approval

Would Recommend to Friend




Source: Glassdoor.

Two themes were echoed the most by angry and disappointed employees. The first was a sign that the company is in a much more difficult financial situation than in years past: Both 401(k) matches and bonus opportunities have been completely eliminated.

The second major problem comes from a leadership vacuum at the highest levels. The CEO position has been a revolving door, and the company has seemed to switch strategies every time a new one is hired. This has been very frustrating for employees, and many have noticed that customers are coming in far less often because of a lack of any coherent strategy by the company nationwide.


Source: Roundy's.

When it comes to a truly awful company culture, no grocery store out there is as bad as Roundy's. This is the parent company for Midwestern chains such as Pick 'n Save and Copps, as well as the relatively successful Mariano's Fresh Markets in Chicago. As it's the dominant grocer where I live, I can say first-hand that this is a company in a serious backslide.

It appears that employees would agree with my assessment.

Rating (out of 5)

CEO Approval

Would Recommend to Friend




Source: Glassdoo.r

Those are some truly awful numbers.

The sentiment at Roundy's is that employees are on a sinking ship, and there's one place where they are squarely placing blame: CEO Bob Mariano. It's true that same-store sales have been falling for quite a while now. Sometimes, the company has even gone as far as to blame the Green Bay Packers' early exit from the playoffs as the reason for slumping sales.

It probably doesn't help that the company's chain of Mariano's Fresh Markets in Chicago are named after the infamous CEO, and most employees in Minnesota and Wisconsin -- where the bulk of stores are located -- see that as the only thing that has management's full attention.

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Fool contributor Brian Stoffel owns shares of Whole Foods Market. The Motley Fool recommends The Fresh Market. It recommends and owns shares of Whole Foods Market. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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