Food Lion picnic includes birthday wishes for co-founder Ralph Ketner, now 93

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 28, 2013

SALISBURY — Attending their annual picnic at the warehouse and offices off Harrison Road, Food Lion employees surprised co-founder Ralph Ketner with a cake, lion cupcakes and a huge card for his 93rd birthday.
Food Lion President Beth Newlands Campbell invited Ketner to the picnic because of his importance to the company’s history, but the former president, chief executive officer and chairman emeritus had no idea about the birthday surprise.
“It’s unbelievable,” Ketner said. “… Thank you, thank you, thank you — thanks a million.”
The inside of the giant birthday card was filled with the signatures of Food Lion associates.
Delhaize America holds the annual family picnic to thank employees for their hard work, dedication and contributions to the company. Hundreds attended the picnic Saturday for an afternoon of games, activities and food.
As Newlands Campbell told the employees, Ketner said, customers come first. Employees were second, shareholders third and, putting his arm around Newlands Campbell, Ketner said chief executive officers were last in order of importance.
“Without the employees,” Ketner said, “nothing happens. If you don’t have the right employees, you can’t have the right customers, because they won’t come.”
Looking out at the picnic crowd, Ketner said he was “halfway ashamed” that neither Food Town nor Food Lion ever had a similar family gathering for employees while he was with the company.
Ketner founded Food Lion (then Food Town) with one store in Salisbury in 1957. He started the company with his brother, Brown, and their friend, Wilson Smith, both of whom are deceased.
Today, Food Lion has 1,117 stores in 11 states and is part of the Belgium-based Delhaize Group.
Ketner paid tribute Saturday to his co-founders and the original investors who had faith in that first store.
Ketner’s birthday was Sept. 20.
“The Lord has blessed me to live 93 years,” Ketner said.
Christy Phillips-Brown, director of external communications and community relations for Delhaize America, said Food Lion thanks its vendors who helped with the picnic, along with the Salisbury Fire Department, Rowan County Sheriff’s Office and Girl Scouts who volunteered at the event.