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Foodland turns to rewards card, local needs to keep market share

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Living in the shadow of giants such as Walmart and Kroger that have claimed much of the grocery business, Jim Oppe figures he survives with fresh produce, specially cut meat and customer service.

"We believe our niche, especially in this market, is fresh meat. We cut and grind our meat every day. We feature Angus beef (and) tender choice pork," said Oppe, who owns four Foodland stores in the Parkersburg market, one in Spencer and one in Ohio.

"You order it, we slice it the way you want."

The Foodland chain itself is taking steps to retain or increase market share. This week it unveiled a company-wide rewards card program. The program allows customers to download exclusive weekly eCoupons with one click in coming weeks, elect in to e-mails with added savings, and take advantage of special in-store offers that are available for Foodland Reward Card holders The Foodland chain of locally owned stores has 33 stores, of which 25 are in West Virginia, said company spokeswoman Meredith Klein.

Oppe said customers wanted a card similar to what Kroger has had for years, so Foodland obliged, but the programs differ, Oppe said. He added his stores have had a rewards card program since January.

Giving customers something different is how Foodland stores compete, Oppe said. A can of Del Monte brand green beans is the same whether it's bought at Walmart, Kroger, Dollar General or Foodland, he said. Oppe said he emphasizes fresh and local produce, often purchased at an auction across the river in Ohio. Or, it's bought in smaller lots, he said.

"I've got folks that will bring into my store a bushel basket of green beans. We'll buy it and sell it," he said.

"Let's face it: The less time it spends on a truck, the better it's going to taste."

Foodland stores in West Virginia are supplied by a SuperValu warehouse in the Cabell County town of Milton, Oppe said.