If Publix’s sales are any measure, “Where shopping is a pleasure” is now as potent a motto as “Just do it.”
In its annual report for 2018, Lakeland-based Publix reported revenues of $36.1 billion — a 4.4 percent increase from 2017.
Those sales put it about on par with Oregon-based global shoe giant Nike, which reported $36.4 billion in sales at the end of its most recent fiscal year, which ended in June.
It shows Publix continues to boast impressive growth even into its eighth decade. The 2018 revenues translated into net earnings of $2.4 billion, up 3.9 percent from 2017. (Nike made $1.9 billion). Publix is listed at No. 88 on the Fortune 100 list of largest U.S. companies.
“Delivering premier customer service remains our top priority,” CEO Todd Jones wrote in a letter to shareholders last month. “We continue to find ways to focus on serving our customers where they are and where they are going.”
A Publix representative did not respond to requests for comment.
The annual report, released last month, showed Publix added approximately 9,000 employees, bringing its total count to 202,000. According to Fortune data, that would make it the 30th-largest employer in the U.S. — about the same size as CVS and Ford. In August, Publix announced it would build a $400 million, 1,000-employee distribution center in Greensboro, N.C. Last year, Publix was for the first time named to Fortune’s Best Big Companies to Work For, Fortune’s Best Workplaces for Parents, and Indeed’s Top-Rated Workplaces for Veterans. According to its website, Publix has approximately 32 locations in Miami-Dade and 50 in Broward.
Elley Symmes, an analyst for research group Kantar Consulting, said Publix is in the enviable position of being able to build out new stores into markets where existing options do not measure up to Publix’s offerings. Kantar data show a full 9 percent of all U.S. households shopped at Publix last year, equivalent to more than 11 million homes. Here’s how that breaks down:
- Florida: 822 stores
- Georgia: 188 stores
- Alabama: 75 stores
- South Carolina: 63 stores
- Tennessee: 46 stores
- North Carolina: 45 stores
- Virginia: 15 stores
Publix opened 51 new stores last year and closed seven for a net gain of 44.
The company remains employee-owned, and is not publicly traded. Still, it showed it remains sensitive to outside pressure: The company made national headlines last May after it agreed to suspend its political contributions in response to pressure from gun regulation groups.
Company data show the value of Publix stock climbed about 19 percent last year, easily beating returns on the S&P 500. Its brand remains among the strongest among all grocers: According to a survey of 12,800 shoppers last year by research group Market Force Information, Publix ranked as America’s second-favorite chain, behind New York-based Wegmans.
“While a lot of other retailers now need to squeeze a lot more out of existing assets, Publix still has some opportunity to drive organic growth by expanding into newer markets,” Symmes said in an interview.
Kantar’s research shows Publix shoppers skew older, wealthier and slightly more Hispanic than competitors. Publix has now opened at least seven Publix Sabor markets catering to Latino shoppers.
One area where Publix must continue to invest, she said, is its digital product. Though it offers them now, delivery and curbside pickup were only recently added as options, and it is still working out those features, Symmes said. And as it expands into states further north, she said, Publix will face stiffer competition from more sophisticated grocers like Harris Teeter, she said.
Publix knows its customers as well as any retailer on the landscape, and believes it will continue to innovate products, like its private label and Greenwise offerings, that meet their needs.
But the company must be mindful of “ankle-biter” upstarts, like Sprouts Farmers Market and Lucky’s Market, whose clientele overlaps with Publix’s.
“They have to be careful to avoid death by one thousand cuts,” she said.