This hometown grocery chain is using its local presence to gain an advantage over the national, big-box stores it’s competing against. Nearly every sector of the retail industry has suffered a hardship of some kind during the last 12 to 18 months as a result of the economic downturn. Big-box chains and independent operations of all shapes and sizes have been forced to adapt; few have proven immune.

Fortunately for supermarket owners, grocers seem to be in better shape than others, as families tight with money tend to choose to eat at home more, as opposed to dining out at a restaurant. 

General Manger Rick Zahm affirmed that this generalization rings true for L&L Food Centers, a family-owned and operated supermarket chain that has been serving communities across Central Michigan for nearly 80 years. Of course, while the company has seen continued success and a strong revenue stream throughout the last two years, it hasn’t been wholly impervious to the effects of the economic downturn. 

In recent months, Zahm and the rest of the company’s team worked hard to develop and introduce a strategy aimed at tackling the new consumer market. One of the key facets he highlighted was product selection, naming the expanded beer and wine selection and emphasis on Michigan-made products as favorites among customers.

Another aspect of L&L’s strategy has been to highlight its meat department, an asset that has helped set it apart from big-box competitors for many decades now. Martha Levandowski explained that the supermarket chain markets a line of specialty meats through its private label, which are available to consumers at all of its retail locations. “Our meat department has been very successful because our customers know we sell the best cuts and strive to offer a great assortment of choices, and they really appreciate it,” the brand manager said.

The private-label meats are processed at the Levandowski Sausage Company plant, a USDA-certified facility that’s owned by the same family that started L&L. The unified operation, along with the convenience proximity provides, allows the supermarket’s team to streamline its distribution process, which reduces costs across the board and ensures only the freshest meat products reach consumers.

Grassroots beginning

Walter and Anna Levandowski established the first L&L Food Centers location in Lansing, Mich. in 1931. The business originally operated as small gas station but was transformed into a food store not long after opening. The company remained a single-store operation for a number of years, but its footprint has expanded in the eight decades that have since passed. Today, the company’s team operates a total of eight stores in the state of Michigan, including three in Lansing and one each in East Lansing, DeWitt, Holt, Haslett, and Okemos.  

Despite its growth, the supermarket holds true to its founding principle, and its mission remains the same: offer shoppers a breadth of top-quality products at competitive prices, supplemented by personal service. This is made possible as by its strong relationship with Supervalu, its wholesaler. As a result of this partnership, L&L is able to provide its customers with an assortment of preferred name-brand products.  

“Our main goal is to give people the items they want, and we are able to do this because we’re constantly listening to their feedback,” Zahm said, adding that this consumer-centric philosophy has helped the company build a loyal customer base. “This emphasis on customer service applies to everything we do, and I believe it’s really what allows us to stand apart from other supermarkets in the region.”

A close-knit environment

L&L Foods is a family-owned business in the truest sense of the word. According to Levandowski, children are given the opportunity to take part at a young age, working as baggers or stockers in their early teens. As they age, they’re given more responsibility and are able to work their way up the ladder. This family atmosphere, however, is not exclusive to internal operations; it permeates throughout all aspects of operation and is responsible for the company’s generous community involvement.

Throughout the years, L&L Foods has sponsored several fundraising projects, and it often partners with organizations that add value to the community, such as the local zoo, the American Red Cross, and the Greater Lansing Food Bank, to name a few. To date, the organization has contributed more than $60,000 to the local homeless shelter, and last November, it was recognized as the largest supporter of the Have-A-Heart for the Homeless campaign, an annual fundraiser that was established in 2001 by Haven House, a local nonprofit organization. 

“Being an active member of the community is something that has always been important to us,” Levandowski said. “It helps potential and existing customers get to know us, but more importantly, it improves the quality of life in the region in which we work and live.”