Food Town (Now Food Lion) Founder Ralph Ketner

On September 20, 1920, grocer, entrepreneur, and philanthropist Ralph Ketner was born in Cabarrus County.  Ketner was known as the longtime television face for the Food Lion grocery store chain.

After college in Indiana and service in World War II, Ketner and two partners opened their first store in Salisbury in 1957. Their primary competitors were Winn-Dixie, Colonial and A&P. Investors who joined them to raise capital of $62,000 in time became millionaires.

What was then Food Town expanded gradually until 1967 when Ketner took his account books and retreated into a Charlotte motel. Three days later he emerged, with a slogan “Lowest Food Prices in North Carolina” and a formula, selling 10 categories at cost or below and ensuring all products cheaper than competitors.

The strategy worked, propelling the chain to expand into Virginia and Tennessee, where the existence of stores with the same name necessitated the change in 1983 to Food Lion.

A Belgian company, Delhaize, acquired majority ownership of Food Lion in 1976. Tom Smith succeeded Ketner as president and commercial spokesman in 1981. The company now has 1,100 stores and 48,000 employees in 11 southeastern states.

Ketner funded the business school at Catawba College that bears his name.  He died in 2016 and is buried at Carolina Memorial Park in Concord.

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