TUSCALOOSA | NORTHPORT – “We are local. We are fresh.” Those two statements sum up B&W Foods Inc., which operates four Piggly Wiggly grocery stores, three in Tuscaloosa and one in Northport.
All grocery stores “have the same can of green beans, the same two-liter Pepsi,” said B&W Foods partner Jay Welborn. “Where we differentiate ourselves is in the produce and meat departments.” Learning that almost a third of B&W’s sales comes from their in-house cut and packaged meat impressed this year’s Retailer of the Year judges. The stores’ commitment to community also earned Welborn and B&W Foods the 2018 Silver Alabama Retailer of the Year Award in the Annual Sales More Than $20 Million category. The Alabama Retail Association honored the Tuscaloosa area Piggly Wigglys today at the Alabama Retail Day luncheon in Birmingham. Carr, Riggs & Ingram CPAs and Advisors, Slappey Communications and the University of Alabama’s Culverhouse College of Business were the luncheon sponsors.
Ronnie Baker, a Pell City supermarket operator, and Jimmy Welborn, who had been in the wholesale grocery business, opened their first store under the B&W Foods banner in 1998 in Northport. A second store came along two years later on Tuscaloosa’s Greensboro Avenue. They built a third store on University Boulevard, opening in 2008. By 2009, they had a fourth store on Culver Road.
“The great thing about Piggly Wiggly is that they have chosen to operate in some of the most underserved areas of our community,” said Jim Page, president and chief executive officer of The Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama, who nominated Welborn as a Retailer of the Year. “They really are part of the fabric, part of the heartbeat of the communities in which they locate.”
Jimmy Welborn traveled five days a week when he was 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 Welborn said. “Through word of mouth and good value to the customer, business just grew and grew and grew.”
When Jimmy Welborn founded the business, he had cancer. He lost his 31-year battle with the disease in 2010, nine months after opening the fourth store. Besides the stores, Jimmy Welborn’s legacy lives on with the Mr. Pig Goes to the Market fundraiser, which has raised more than $200,000 for the American Cancer Society and the DCH Foundation’s Help and Hope Fund, a food voucher program for cancer patients. It is “our opportunity to give back to an organization and a cause we are all affected by in some capacity,” said the second-generation operator of B&W Foods.
“Jay Welborn is a retailer of the year EVERY year to the B&W Foods customers, its 149 employees as well as the Tuscaloosa and Northport communities,” said Alabama Retail Association President Rick Brown.
B&W Foods, an Alabama Retail Association member since 1998, was one of 13 Retailers of the Year honored at today’s luncheon. This year’s winners came from a pool of almost 100 nominees. The Alabama Retailer of the Year awards, started in 1999, honor retailers who have demonstrated growth, innovation and a commitment to their respective communities.
The Alabama Retail Association represents retailers, the largest private employer in the state of Alabama, before the Alabama Legislature and the U.S. Congress. Through sales of food, clothing, furniture, medicine and more, our 4,200 independent merchant and national company members touch almost every aspect of daily living. Since 1943, we’ve worked to promote what’s best for the retail industry in Alabama. Whether voicing the retail view when public policy is made, educating members about issues that impact them, negotiating rates for benefits and services or communicating the retail story, the Alabama Retail Association and its members are better together.