Great leaders and the management that guide them always seem to have the right instincts. Never has that been truer than with North Carolina based Merchants Distributors (MDI).
During the last three months of the battle against COVID-19, MDI, a food distributor, and their sister company Lowes Foods supermarkets have teamed to keep their communities fed. From drivers moving food to the company’s 75 supermarkets in North Carolina and Virginia or personal stocking the shelves in their retail outlets, MDI has been there to serve their communities.
That very same sense of commitment and compassion has found its way onto MDI’s trucks that serve independent grocers throughout the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast. MDI’s customers including Pennsylvania supermarkets: Sprankle’s and Oregon Dairy have both teamed with the North Carolina based distributor to ensure a daily supply of fresh food for their respective communities. An overview of the program is available by clicking here.
“We understand the extreme challenges that our retail partners are dealing with on a daily basis,” noted Kimberly George, Vice President, Communications and Corporate Citizenship of MDI’s parent company Alex Lee, Inc. “It’s our job to work to ease the burden of both management and personnel in the store that are dealing with the everyday needs of their customers.”
For MDI, staying prepared and ahead of the curve has always been part of their DNA. That commitment began as America emerged from the Great Depression when two brothers, Alex and Lee George, purchased Merchants Produce Company in Hickory, NC. The company had 12 employees, 3 trucks, and 5,000 square feet of warehouse space. In addition to small grocery stores, they serviced restaurants, schools, hospitals, and mill stores. By 1938, they had expanded to supply area grocery stores with all the goods they needed to operate. They changed the name to Merchants Produce and Grocery Company.
MDI’s vision for being able to prepare for the current pandemic finds its roots early on. The company continued to grow by valuing employees, customers, and their suppliers. The company also believed strongly in the importance of innovation. In 1949, they became one of the earliest wholesalers to install IBM punch card tabulating machinery. This enabled MDI to maintain a perpetual inventory and print invoices mechanically.
“Our company has always had an understanding of the role of price in the food chain,” George noted. In another bold and innovative move, in 1956, MDI began cost-plus pricing. This enabled the company to sell higher volume at a lower cost which was a huge risk at the time. In that same year, the company changed its name to Merchants Distributors or MDI, supplying products to full service grocery stores.
That unique understanding of its customer’s needs led to the 1984, acquisition of Lowes Foods who were being served by MDI. “Our ability to truly understand the needs of our grocery operator and the needs of their store customer has enabled us to duplicate the success owning and operating our own stores,” George added.
Lowes Foods continued their store growth by adding 19 more stores by 1989. They also introduced a new concept, FreshSmart, in 1994 that emphasized full selection of quality fresh foods, upscale customer service, and faster checkout. In 1997, Lowes Foods purchased Byrd Food Stores in Eastern North Carolina, and in 2000 purchased 12 Hannaford Brothers stores in Raleigh and Wilmington, North Carolina bringing the number of stores to over 100.
The commitment to serve its retail and wholesale customers and communities to respond to COVID-19 has been accomplished through the passion of its team of 10,000 employees. The MDI family continues to adhere to the core values of focusing on its customers, respecting its employees, and keeping the entrepreneurial spirit alive.
To learn more about MDI, please visit their website