Ernest Barbella on The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, Inc.

by Ernest Barbella

In my former role as Vice President and General Manager of The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, Inc., I oversaw more than 10,000 employees for the oldest grocery retailer in the United States. More commonly known as A&P, the company can trace its roots to 1859, when George Huntington Hartford and George Gilmore turned their tea and spice mail-order business into the first Great American Tea Company store. From its flagship location in New York City, the Great American Tea Company established stores across the eastern seaboard and further expanded its mail-order enterprise into New England, the South, and the Midwest. A decade after the first store opened on Vesey Street in Lower Manhattan, the company changed its name to the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company to celebrate the completion of the transcontinental railroad and set its sights on moving west, as well.

As the first national supermarket chain in the country, A&P maintained its role as an industry leader in the years that followed. In addition to launching the first private label product and a popular range of private brands, A&P introduced the supermarket loyalty program, as well as self-service stores that allowed customers to shop without relying on clerks. By the 1930s, A&P’s advertising efforts had made the company a cultural touchstone and attracted nearly $1 billion in annual sales. After the Hartford family sold the majority share of A&P to the Tengelmann Group in 1979, the company acquired several other prominent supermarket chains, including The Food Emporium and Waldbaum’s. With 395 stores across eight states today, A&P remains committed to the traditions of quality and value established 152 years ago by its founders.

At A&P, I coordinated directly with corporate headquarters and managed all aspects of the company’s $2-billion retail organization in the New York region, including operations, personnel, advertising, and financial control. As the youngest vice president in the history of A&P upon my appointment, I am proud to have contributed to the company’s rich heritage as an American grocery retailer.

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