Ralphs is a major supermarket chain in the Southern California area and the largest subsidiary of Cincinnati-based Kroger. It is the oldest such chain west of the Mississippi River. Kroger also operates stores under the Food 4 Less and Foods Co. names in California.
Ralphs Grocery Company was founded in 1873 by George Albert Ralphs. The original store was located at Sixth and Spring Streets in Los Angeles, California. In the 20th century, Ralphs became a grocery pioneer, offering self-service markets with checkout stands in distributed locations. The company employed notable architects in designing its stores, and the former Ralphs Grocery Store building built in 1929 in Westwood Village has been photographed by Ansel Adams, declared a Historic Cultural Monument, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In the 1980s, it created a chain of hybrid supermarket/warehouse stores called The Giant, which failed, but the concept returned with the company's merger with the Food 4 Less discount chain. In 1994, Ralphs was acquired by the Yucaipa Companies for $1.5 billion. Yucaipa owned ABC Markets, Alpha Beta, Boys Markets, and Cala Foods. Soon, all ABC Markets, Alpha Betas, and Boys Markets were rebranded as Ralphs. At the same time, Food 4 Less was merged with Ralphs. In 1997, Yucaipa sold the Ralphs Grocery Company to Fred Meyer, Inc., owner of several chains in the west. Soon, Ralphs Marketplace stores started opening; these stores are based on the Fred Meyer model but without apparel. At the same time, they also acquired the 57-store Hughes Family Markets chain. In October 1998, the parent company, Fred Meyer, merged with The Kroger Company of Cincinnati, Ohio.
In 1999, Ralphs purchased about 30 Albertsons and Lucky stores, mostly in northern California. The stores were divested as a result of the Albertsons and American Stores merger. Ralphs operated the stores until January 2006, when they announced that all but one Ralphs in northern California would close. In August 2006, the one remaining Ralphs in northern California was given a 60-day notice of closure. Also, in August 2006, Ralphs finalized plans to sell eleven (of thirteen remaining) Cala-Bell Stores to Harley DeLano, who previously ran the chain. Ralphs's Northern California expansion did not work out as planned.
On July 20, 2007, Ralphs opened a new 50,000-square-foot (4,600 m2) store on 9th and Hope Street in the South Park neighborhood of downtown Los Angeles. This was the first full-run supermarket downtown in 50 years. In 1950, Ralphs closed a store at 7th Street and Figueroa Street.
Ralphs Grocery Company has contracts with the United Food and Commercial Workers, the largest grocery union in the United States. In late 2003 and early 2004, Ralphs locked out its workers who were members of the UFCW in sympathy with competitor Vons (owned by Safeway Inc.) in Southern California, after the UFCW had declared a strike against Vons. The issues in contract negotiations included healthcare benefits and wage structure, which the supermarkets contended were necessary to reduce costs and remain competitive in the face of the rise of discount chains like Walmart. In March 2004, the strike ended with a settlement regarded as a victory for the grocery chains—new hires would be on a much lower pay scale than existing workers and receive less generous health benefits.
On October 16, 2006, Ralphs agreed to pay $70 million to settle felony charges that it illegally rehired locked out employees using false names and Social Security numbers during the strike. Eligible UFCW members received $50 million of the settlement and the remainder was paid in fines to the federal government.
In popular culture
The Coen Brothers' 1998 film The Big Lebowski opens with its main character, The Dude, played by Jeff Bridges, walking through a Ralphs supermarket. Later in the film, The Dude is searched by the Malibu Chief of Police, who, upon finding his Ralphs Card, asks "Is this your only form of ID?" In a mortuary, the character Walter Sobchak complains about the high price of an urn to house the ashes of a friend. After asking the funeral director, "Is there a Ralphs around here?", the scene cuts to Walter overlooking the Pacific Ocean holding a Folgers Coffee can.
A sign for a Ralphs store appears in the 1975 film Dolemite.
Ralphs can be seen in the action film Die Hard when John McClane sees that the fire trucks take a route away from Nakatomi Plaza, which is where he and his wife are trapped.
In the podcast radio drama Welcome to Night Vale, the chain is occasionally mentioned in the context of a "hole in the vacant lot out back of the Ralphs." This is in spite of a lack of confirmation or evidence that the town of Night Vale is located in Southern California.
In an episode of Mad Men, Don Draper can be seen carrying a Ralphs bag while visiting a friend in southern California.