In a competitive grocery marketplace, Jewel-Osco's top executive believes fast and friendly service and offering shoppers diverse choices in fresh foods are effective strategies to stand out. 

While the approach may seem old-fashioned in an age where more consumers are turning to online shopping and spending less time in brick and mortar stores, Jewel-Osco President Doug Cygan says, "what's old is new again." 

"It's interesting, we're 118 years strong and when you look at our history, (Jewel) started out as a delivery business, now we're going to be doing that again," Cygan said during his address to members of the Grocery Merchandising Association of Chicagoland Aug. 31 at Drury Lane in Oakbrook Terrace, Illinois. 

Itasca, Illinois-based Jewel-Osco, which operates 187 Chicagoland stores, including four locations in Northwest Indiana, in keeping pace with its competitors also is launching its own online grocery buying and delivery service in the Chicago area.

According to figures shared by Cygan, Jewel-Osco controls about 22.6 percent of the Chicago area's grocery market share. The other major players included Walmart, 19.2 percent; Target, 13.2 percent; Mariano's, 7.6 percent; and Meijer, 5.8 percent.

Cygan said Jewel's strategy to protect its position in the marketplace includes providing fast and effective service to customers as well as giving shoppers the largest varieties of fresh food including produce, fruits and other freshly prepared items. 

"How do you differentiate yourself from Amazon," he asked the crowd. "Shoppers still like to see and feel their fresh foods, they want clean stores and fast service and that means giving people the right training." 

Jewel has devoted resources to employer training and has been actively recruiting young people through internships so it can secure and train future company leaders and executives. 

Cygan said Jewel also will be stepping up its advertising and promotions, showcasing its community involvement and historic presence in the Chicago area and Northwest Indiana.

"We want to be visible in the community," he said. "Jewel has 31,000 employees who help us do what we do and it's our people who helped build the company, and it's what they do that gives me the opportunity to be here today."

Addressing internet giant Amazon's acquisition of Whole Foods Market, Cygan believes Jewel-Osco is well positioned.

"When you look at it, Amazon doesn't make money on delivery. For us, we have to focus on our delivery service and focus on what we offer through our stores," he said. "What we offer is service and best in fresh in order to compete."

Cygan said Cook County's recently implemented sweetened beverage tax, which places a one-cent tax on every ounce of sweetened beverage sold in that county, has affected sales of sweetened drinks at Jewel-Osco's Cook County locations but didn't offer specifics.

"We've seen a drop in Cook County sales but we've also seen sales pick up in Lake County (Illinois)," he said. "Time will tell how that will play out."  

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Business Editor of The Times of Northwest Indiana