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Companies Of A Century: Third Gen Balls Foods Innovates Supermarkets

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The company has weathered Covid, record-high inflation rates and other challenges by harnessing the innovative thinking of family leadership.

Editor’s Note: Chief Executive is kicking off a new annual tradition this year by celebrating every sizable (over $100 million in annual revenues) standalone company turning 100 in 2023. Check out the rest of this year’s class for tips, insights and, above all else, the inspiration you need to keep going….and going.




HQ: Kansas City, Kansas
Revenues: ~$717 million
Employees: ~3,500 

Balls Foods was farm-to-market before farm-to-market was cool. “My grandfather would go out in the morning and contact local farmers and purveyors of different proteins and fruits and vegetables, and come back to the store and tell my grandmother what he had in his pickup truck,” recalls David Ball, the third-generation owner of the grocery chain based in Kansas City. “So, we’ve been doing buy-fresh, buy-local since 1923.” 

And that’s not all the century-old food retailer has been doing. The family-owned and operated chain now owns 26 stores in the greater Kansas City metro area, doing business under banners including Hen House Market, Price Chopper, Sun Fresh and PayLess Discount Foods. To get to that point, Balls and its stewards have had to fight through difficulties including, most recently, Covid and record-high inflation rates, harnessing the innovative thinking of family leadership along the way. 

Indeed, David Ball and his father have taken pages from the book of Sidney and Mollie Ball, David’s grandparents, who founded Balls as a tiny general store downtown after scraping together $1,000. They settled on opening a grocery in Kansas City after studying a number of cities in the Midwest and figuring out what the populations might need, mulling investments in a furniture store and a hardware store before Mollie Ball suggested grocery retailing. 

It was just the couple at the beginning, waking up six days a week at 4 a.m. so they could gather foodstuffs to sell, then take orders over the phone, fill the orders and send delivery boys out on bicycles through the local neighborhoods. 

The business was steady and sturdy but hardly prosperous, especially during the Great Depression. “Many times the employees at the store would make more money than my father would,” Fred Ball, their son and the second-generation operator of the business, would recall. 


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