``The square footage is more than the area needs and is more than is sustainable in the long run,'' he said.
When the food marketers waging a battle for shopping cart share in the Philadelphia region envision their ideal customer, they are likely thinking about someone like Leslie Rifkin, of Ambler, an empty-nester who works full-time in a fur store near Devon.
Rifkin said she and her husband typically eat dinner out six times in the course of two weeks. Once every two weeks, she stops at the supermarket, as she did yesterday, to bring home a meal. The other evenings, she prepares dinner at home. ``It's just easier to go out,'' she said.
In 1996, the National Restaurant Association found that 44 percent of consumers' food dollars are going to restaurants ``and there's every indication that that is increasing,'' said Caitlin Storhaug, spokeswoman for the association.
Rifkin and her husband go to restaurants for 43 percent of their dinners. Supermarkets hope that snazzy new counters offering, as Super G does, chicken potpie at $3.59 each or ready-to-heat lasagna at $4.29 a pound can snatch back some of those restaurant dollars.
In the Philadelphia food wars, Super G, a relative newcomer, is revamping its stores to put a bigger emphasis on what the food trade calls ``home-meal replacement.'' That's where most supermarkets are putting their money as they expand and modernize.
The Devon store is the first in the area with the new format, which Super G executives hope will increase the chain's market share in the region.
Still, Kmart Corp., which recently added a complete grocery line to many of its stores, sells more food in the Philadelphia area than Super G, according to the Food Trade News study.
``Kmart has found a successful niche,'' said Meg Major, an East Norriton food consultant. ``They are doing a good job in providing an array of products to nontraditional shoppers.''
Increasingly, unlikely food sources are commanding an ever-bigger mouthful of the food dollar. According to the Food Trade News study extending through April, the seventh-largest food retailer in the Philadelphia area, ahead of Thriftway/Shop N Bag, Giant, Clemens Market and Super G, was Rite Aid. Wawa and Eckerd/Thrift Drugs also were among the top 10.
``Everybody's taking a hit at the grocery stores,'' Major said.
Supermarket watchers in the region are speculating about the potential fallout from last month's announcement that Super G's parent company would be acquired for $2.7 billion by Royal Ahold NV, the international supermarket giant based in the Netherlands.
Ahold already owns Giant Food Stores Inc., of Carlisle, Pa., which operates the Giant supermarkets in the Philadelphia area. And, just to confuse matters, Super G's parent company in Landover, Md., is called Giant Food Inc.
According to the study, Giant of Carlisle is the seventh-ranked supermarket chain in the region with $341 million in sales. Super G is the ninth-largest, with $222.6 million in sales. Together they have $563.6 million, which would push them to the number-six spot.
For Ahold, the acquisition provides an East Coast swath of supermarkets from New England to the northern edge of Florida.
The deal is working its way through governmental approvals; the Federal Trade Commission will have to decide whether, to protect competition in certain areas, the supermarket companies would have to close stores.
In Yardley, a Super G and a Giant store are less than a mile apart. In East Norriton, a new Super G is no farther than eight-tenths of a mile apart, from register to register, to a new Giant just over the border in Whitpain.
In Warminster, you could almost sling a tomato from one store to the other, which are just two blocks apart on West Street Road.
About three years ago, both Giant companies had announced major expansions in the region. Last year, Super G put its plans on hold to gain a better understanding of how to market to customers here.
The result was a more aggressive advertising campaign. ``We decided we were going to retrench and develop a new store format,'' said Barry Scher, vice president of public affairs for Super G.
Here are some of the highlights from the study:
* For the first time in at least six years, Acme Markets has managed to halt the erosion of its market share. In 1992, according to the study, Acme dominated the region with 38 percent of supermarket sales. By 1997, its share of the $6.9 billion market had dropped to 28.3 percent. This year, it was 28.4 percent. ``They were running full speed to stay in place,'' said Callahan. For a number of years, Acme's parent company, American Stores Co., had neglected Acme, but in recent years, Acme has spent about $150 million a year on remodeling older stores and building larger ones.
Acme plans to open or enlarge nine stores this year. Meanwhile, there had been talk that some or all of American Stores' empire, including Acme, would be sold. The most recent rumor had Kroger Co., the nation's number-one food retailer, ready to buy the Salt Lake City conglomerate.
* Genuardi's Family Markets moved up one spot to the number-two position, topping ShopRite and Pathmark. ``Genuardi's has a very aggressive expansion program, spending heavily on capital improvements,'' Callahan said.
* Thriftway/Shop N Bag, which closed 15 stores in the last year, had the biggest loss in market share, from 9.13 percent to 6.21 percent.
* Also dropping, slightly, was Pathmark Stores Inc., as rumors continued to abound on whether the North Jersey-based company would be sold. Even though its market share went from 10.3 percent to 9.3 percent, ``they aren't bleeding as badly as they were,'' said Callahan, crediting Pathmark's chief executive officer Jim Donald with stabilizing the company.
``He was hired into a company that was in deep trouble. They were looking for a turnaround artist. They had a lot of old stores and a lot of debt. They've been able to close some of the stores hurting them the most.''