B&W FOODS PARTNER JAY WELBORN WORKS DAILY TO KEEP HIS
FATHER’S LEGACY ALIVE IN THE COMPANY’S 5 PIGGLY WIGGLY STORES
Jimmy Welborn traveled five days a week in his job in the wholesale grocery business, often with his young son, Jay Welborn, beside him.
When his dad decided to try his hand at running a grocery, Jay was in college and hoping to go into the grocery business. Jimmy took Jay to a run-down, old A&P building in Northport and asked, “What if we buy this store?” Jay recalls responding, “Dad, anywhere but here.”
“I couldn’t see what he saw – a customer base that was there looking for a place to shop,” Jay said. “Through word of mouth and good value to the customer, business just grew and grew and grew.”
OPENING STORES WHERE NEEDED
Jimmy and his longtime friend, Ronnie Baker of Pell City, who operates supermarkets throughout East Alabama, opened their first Piggly Wiggly grocery store in 1998 in Northport under the banner of B&W Foods Inc. A second store on Tuscaloosa’s Greensboro Avenue came along two years later. “My dad knew its history, so he was a big advocate of us going after that store,” said Jay.
The partners built a third store on University Boulevard, opening in 2008. “Mr. Baker and my dad decided to start from scratch,” said Jay. “They built a store three times the size of what was here before, so we could serve a broader range of customers.” By 2009, they had a fourth store on Culver Road next to Stillman College.
When the partners began the business, Jimmy Welborn was in remission from two kinds of cancer. He lost his 31-year battle with the disease in 2010, nine months after opening his fourth store. Jay then became the W in B&W Foods.
On the last day of 2020, Ronnie and Jay opened B&W’s fifth store in the Taylorville community of Tuscaloosa in a space previously occupied by Vowell’s Fresh Market. In August, a month after Vowell’s closed, B&W Foods bought it and began working toward reopening the market as a Piggly Wiggly.
The new store’s prominent location off Alabama 69 South attracted the partners. “The Taylorville community is diverse and takes great pride in its schools and businesses,” Jay said.
Jim Page, president and chief executive officer of The Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama, said, “The great thing about Piggly Wiggly is that they have chosen to operate in some of the most underserved areas of our community. They are really part of the fabric, part of the heartbeat of the communities in which they locate.”
LOCAL AND FRESH
“My dad’s philosophy was that all grocery stores have the same can of green beans, the same two-liter Pepsi,” said Jay, who remains a partner at the company his dad founded. “Where we differentiate ourselves is in the produce and meat departments.”
A third of B&W’s sales comes from their in-house cut and packaged meat. “We are local. We are fresh,” said Jay. “We choose to cut our meat fresh in the store, all the way down to our chicken program.”
The distinction of having fresh produce and meat carries through to B&W’s newest store, where all the cold, fresh products are kept in refrigerators with doors as opposed to open-air coolers. “We really, really focus on our perishable departments,” and coolers with doors maintain product at a more consistent temperature than open-air coolers, said Jay. No other grocery in the market has “put everything behind doors,” he said, adding that being able to offer a unique shopping experience is “exciting.”
CONSISTENCY PAYS OFF DURING PANDEMIC
Business has grown since the COVID-19 pandemic began last March, especially early on when most of the shopping being done occurred in grocery stores. “Grocery consumers are making fewer trips but buying more when they choose to shop,” said Jay. More customers also utilize Piggly Wiggly Tuscaloosa’s online shopping app, Grocery Pig Up Powered by Rosie. “We are very proud to offer a LOCAL online shopping option for grocery consumers not wanting the exposure of shopping in person,” he added.
Finding sources for the products consumers want has been tough at times. “We are fortunate to have two prominent co-op wholesale partners,” said Jay. “Our folks work diligently each day to buy quality products at the best value for our customers.”
Maintaining the expected level of service while sales increased has been key. “Our employees have worked extremely hard in a difficult environment,” Jay said. They “have provided consistently fresh, clean and well stocked stores for customers to enjoy. We will maintain that consistency long after the pandemic is over.”
DOWN HOME, DOWN STREET CORPORATE CITIZEN
The B&W Foods stores “try to be as ‘down home, down the street’ as we can,” said Jay.
“My dad was very influential in our development,” Jay explains. “At the end of the day, he cared about people, whether it be our customers or our employees.”
Besides the stores, Jimmy’s legacy lives on with the Mr. Pig Goes to the Market fundraiser, which has raised more than $250,000 for the American Cancer Society and the local hospital’s Help and Hope Fund, which provides assistance to those receiving treatments at the DCH Cancer Center. “We also developed a food voucher program with a nutritionist from DCH to best meet the needs of patients during their treatment,” said Jay. It is “our opportunity to give back to organizations and a cause we are all affected by in some capacity,” said the second-generation operator of B&W Foods.
For the local chamber executive, the connection to community is clear. “Jay Welborn and the whole Piggly Wiggly family are great corporate citizens,” said Jim.
Being part of the community is in B&W Foods’ DNA. “You can be in a community and not participate in it,” said Jay. “We want to be active participants in our community.”
Number of Employees
Ronnie Baker and Jimmy Welborn
Maintaining active membership with two prominent co-op wholesale suppliers, Piggly Wiggly Alabama Distributing Co. and Associated Grocers of the South. We would not have been able to manage inventory as well as we did during the height of COVID without support from both partners.
They occur every day. Never miss an opportunity to close your mouth, open your ears and listen to those around you.
Be who you say you are and do what you say you are going to do.
This article is the cover story of the February 2021 Alabama Retailer
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Originally posted June 21, 2020; Updated Jan. 30, 2021