The Early Years
The year was 1871, and Los Angeles' rural setting didn't deter partners Herman Hellman (who later became the head of Farmers & Merchants Bank), Jacob Haas (who later became Mayor of Los Angeles) and Bernard Cohn from launching a new grocery business. Housed in a two-story brick building on Los Angeles Street, Hellman-Haas Grocery Co. sold the necessities of the day, including flour, brown sugar, salt, medicine, rope, sheepherding supplies, chewing tobacco and gunpowder.
As packaged goods were yet unknown, Hellman-Haas Grocery Co.’s products arrived in bulk and typically were sold by weight. There were prunes in huge casks, barrels of currants from Greece and rice from overseas. Hellman-Haas existed so early in the city’s history that it was one of only seven names in the first Los Angeles phone directory.
In 1889 the company name was changed to Haas, Baruch & Co. after Abraham Haas (brother of Jacob Haas) and Jacob Baruch bought out Herman Hellman, Jacob Haas & Bernard Cohn.
Creating one of the earliest private label brands in the U.S., Haas, Baruch & Co. introduced a line of canned tomatoes under the name of “Iris,” with packaging to emphasize the cans' high-quality contents. The grocer's sales reached $2 million by 1895 – a huge sum at the time.
By 1900, Haas, Baruch & Co. was the burgeoning city's leading wholesale grocer. Over the next two decades, a chain of events, including the construction of the L.A. Aqueduct, the discovery of oil in Long Beach, and the opening of the Panama Canal, pushed the local population to nearly 1 million.
A Changing Industry
Meanwhile, the Santa Ana Wholesale Grocery Company, which was founded in 1912 to supply feed and grain to local farmers, was sold in 1914 to J.S. "Jim" Smart, a banker from Saginaw, Michigan. When H.D. "Hildane" Final joined the business as a partner, the company name was changed to Smart & Final Wholesale Grocers. The business relocated near the docks in San Pedro, and by 1919, sales had surged to $10 million.
The grocery industry was changing. As retail grocers gained strength, many were negotiating discounts directly with manufacturers, avoiding wholesalers altogether. Smart & Final survived this era of competition by debuting its innovative "cash and carry" concept in Long Beach While self-serve shopping is commonplace today, grocery stores previously required a clerk to collect goods for customers.
In 1953, Smart & Final merged with Haas, Baruch & Co., keeping the Smart & Final name. The company shifted its headquarters to Vernon, California, which was quickly becoming the preferred distribution location for a number of wholesale and retail companies. Shortly thereafter, the company was acquired by a leading supermarket chain, Thriftimart, and grew to 83 locations. In 1984, Thriftimart, Inc. changed its name to Smart & Final Iris Corporation.
The company ventured outside of the U.S. in 1993, opening stores in Mexico through a joint partnership. Five years later, it acquired United Grocers’ Cash & Carry chain, expanding its west coast operations from Northern Mexico to the Canadian border.
Acquisition and Growth
In May 2007, Smart & Final was acquired by funds managed by affiliates of Apollo Management, L.P. The acquisition of Henry’s Farmers Market, consisting of 27 stores in Southern California and Sun Harvest, which had eight stores located in Texas led to the company to enter a new niche of food retailing. The following year, Smart & Final debuted the Smart & Final Extra! format with larger stores and an expanded merchandise selection catering to household customers.
In 2014, Smart & Final marked another historic moment with an initial public offering (NYSE: SFS) of 13,450,000 shares. That same year, Smart & Final celebrated the opening of its 200th store in Long Beach, the same city where it had opened its first store under the Smart & Final name 91 years earlier
The years that followed brought incredible growth, as Smart & Final celebrated the opening of its 100th Extra! banner store and acquired 33 former Haggen store leases in California, which it reopened as Smart & Final Extra! stores.
In June 2019, Smart & Final Stores, Inc. was privatized through an acquisition by funds managed by affiliates of Apollo Global Management, LLC, who had previously acquired the brand 12 years earlier. In April 2020, Smart Foodservice Warehouse Stores were sold to US Foods.
New Ownership, Same Great Company
In 2021, Smart & Final marked its 150th anniversary with a yearlong campaign, celebrating its status as one of the nation’s oldest retailers still in operation today.
That same year Smart & Final entered yet another chapter in its long history when it was acquired by Bodega Latina Corporation, a subsidiary of Grupo Comercial Chedraui, a publicly traded chain of grocery and department stores based in Xalapa, Mexico. Bodega Latina Corporation subsequently rebranded as Chedraui USA to better reflect its organizational structure and association to the $11 billion Grupo Comercial Chedraui brand. Chedraui USA also includes two previously existing U.S. banners – El Super and Fiesta Mart.
As of 2022, Smart & Final operates 253 Smart & Final and Smart & Final Extra! stores in California, Nevada and Arizona. The Company continues to call Southern California home, with headquarters near Los Angeles in Commerce, California.