Ralph Ketner, who helped turned $50 investments in a North Carolina grocery store into the Food Lion chain with more than 1,100 stores across the Southeast, died May 29 in Salisbury, N.C. He was 95.
The grocery store chain announced the death. News reports in North Carolina said the cause was complications from colon cancer.
Mr. Ketner successfully gambled that bigger sales by lowering prices to where profit margins were razor-thin were the best path to success.
In 1957, he opened the Food Town grocery store in Salisbury, N.C., with a brother and a friend, calling people listed in a phone book and asking for $50 or $100 investments.
About 125 people gave him money, and growth was modest for the first decade. The Belgian grocery giant Delhaize began investing in the business in 1974 and is now the parent company of Food Lion.
Food Lion was rocked by a 1992 hidden camera report by ABC News that showed employees selling meat that was spoiled.
Two producers got jobs with the grocery chain without revealing they were reporters. Food Lion sued and was awarded more than $5 million after a jury found the network liable for fraud. An appeals court lowered the verdict to $2 but still found ABC was liable for trespassing because the employees taped other workers without their knowledge.
Ralph Walter Ketner was born in Rimertown, N.C., on Sept. 20, 1920, and grew up in Salisbury, where his father opened a butcher shop. He attended Tri-State College (now Trine University) in Angola, Ind., but dropped out in his senior year for financial reasons during the Depression.
After Army service in World War II, he worked as an auditor, an IRS agent and an agent for the North Carolina Department of Revenue.
Mr. Ketner retired in the early 1990s and he was a philanthropist in North Carolina.
Mr. Ketner is survived by two children and four grandchildren, according to Summersett Funeral Home in Salisbury.
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