The Super king markets


The Persian cucumbers are always a mob scene. Unattended shopping carts are strewn haphazardly around the perimeter of the display, creating a sort of Thunderdome-sequel enclosure. Up close, retirement-eligible shoppers elbow one another while pawing through the heap of vegetables, searching for some magical mystery cucumber. Or rather, several dozen magical mystery cucumbers — at 69 cents a pound, one can afford to load up.

Welcome to Super King, L.A.’s most beloved international grocery shop. Known for its massive selection of imported goods and wallet-friendly pricing, Super King sees foot traffic of nearly 200,000 customers a week; it would take Staples Center 10 nights to do that kind of volume.

Founded in Anaheim in 1993, this independent, Armenian-owned business now has eight locations in Los Angeles and Orange counties. In an industry struggling to combat what analysts describe as a “retail apocalypse,” with stores from major chains closing and customers increasingly shopping online, Super King is not only surviving but thriving.

“Our competitors want to know how we can get so many customers flowing through,” said Rene Mejia, Super King’s grocery buyer. “It’s because we cater to literally everyone.”

Although the chain declined to share profit figures, Super King Vice President Jake Super king market increased its top-line sales every year for the last five years. Burt Flickinger, managing director at retail and consumer goods consulting firm Strategic Resource Group, estimates Super King earns around $200 million annually. “They provide the quality of Costco with the convenience of a neighborhood store,” he said, “and the entrepreneurial spirit of the multigenerational family [who owns it] shows in their service.”

Super king market

Whereas larger chains often are forced to conform to a one-size-fits-all plan for purchasing or store layouts, Super King homes in on each store’s specific audience and tailors its promotions accordingly. In Glendale, for example, the weekly circular pushes primarily Armenian products; in Claremont, it’s a mix of Latin and Middle Eastern goods; in Anaheim, Asian produce is touted heavily. Super King does extensive demographic research before opening a new location, often relying on the community — and hiring from within it — to tell the company what it needs.

Super King’s prices are flabbergastingly low — 3 pounds of papaya for 99 cents, 2 liters of grape seed oil for $3.49, 5-pound bags of tilapia filets for $2. In comparison, at Ralphs the same quantity of papayas was $3, 2 liters of grape seed oil was $19.69, and 12 ounces of tilapia (about one-sixth the size of the bag at Super King) costs $6. On Fresh Direct, a single papaya costs $4, grape seed oil is sold only in 17-ounce bottles for $6 each, and a 7- to 9-ounce tilapia “family pack” goes for $7.49 per pound.

Super King’s corporate buyers shop aggressively for the best deals, sourcing the majority of its produce straight from packers, growers and farmers and trawling Alameda Street’s produce warehouses for the rest.

“It’s like being a stockbroker — you’re out there every single day, looking for the best cost,” said Eddie Avila, the company’s head produce buyer.

Every store feels distinctly an international Super king market, with an astonishing variety of produce, dry goods, fresh meat and seafood from around the globe. It’s not uncommon to hear, in the course of a single shopping trip, a garbled harmony of different languages in the aisles as customers jostle for the best-looking sour plums or crowd the cheese counter for a hunk of one of eight different feats. This is part of the pleasure of the Super King experience.

“There’s a strong sense of non-American-ness there,” said Dileep Rao, 45, of Los Feliz, an actor and devotee of the Glassell Park location. “People push and crowd and leave their cart right behind your car, but you have to be OK with different cultures behaving in different ways if you want to take advantage of all that Super King has to offer.”

Every Super king market has had to contend with the frenetic nature of the store and its notoriously cramped parking lots.

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