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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Jun. 21, 201803:24 PM EST

Southeastern Grocers to upgrade 100 stores this year

Jacksonville-based parent of Winn-Dixie ramps up remodeling after Chapter 11.
by: Mark Basch Contributing Writer

Now that Southeastern Grocers successfully reorganized its finances in a Chapter 11 bankruptcy process, customers will see the supermarket operator ramp up its pace of store upgrades, CEO Anthony Hucker said Thursday.

“We're now able to move with a much more powerful velocity,” Hucker said in an interview after the company unveiled a newly remodeled Winn-Dixie supermarket in the Brierwood neighborhood, at the intersection of Baymeadows and Old Kings roads.

Jacksonville-based Southeastern operates about 575 supermarkets in seven states under the Winn-Dixie, Bi-Lo, Harveys and Fresco y Mas brands.

Hucker said the company plans to upgrade 100 stores this year.

Southeastern emerged from Chapter 11 three weeks ago after filing its prepackaged bankruptcy reorganization plan in March.

The restructuring allowed the company to reduce its debt and put itself in a better financial position, Hucker said.

“The customer won’t see anything,” he said. “This doesn’t reflect on anything we do on a day-to-day basis.”

However, customers should notice a difference when stores are upgraded.

Hucker said the company uses focus groups with customers to find out what they want in their local stores, and the upgrades attempt to address their needs.

“I always believe the customer is the boss,” he said.

One suggestion from customers in the Brierwood neighborhood led to the creation of a “Dollar Shop” in that store, a section with hundreds of low-priced and convenient items.

Southeastern operated three Winn-Dixie supermarkets along Baymeadows Road but in the Chapter 11 reorganization, it closed 94 stores, including the one near the intersection of Baymeadows and Southside Boulevard.

The other Winn-Dixie on Baymeadows at Interstate 295 was launched as a prototype in 2016 for its remodeling program.

“It’s always a difficult decision to close a store,” Hucker said. But he said customers in the Baymeadows area are served with the two remaining stores, which both have both been upgraded.

Hucker said he didn’t have specific information about which other stores will be upgraded this year.

Before the Chapter 11 process, Southeastern was owned by affiliates of investment firm Lone Star Funds.

In the reorganization, Southeastern exchanged equity shares in the company for debt. After emerging from Chapter 11, there is no one specific owner.

“There’s a slew of companies” which were issued stock, Hucker said. “It’s effectively an ad hoc consortium.”

And as far as Southeastern is concerned, no one actually owns the company. “We refer to them all as our sponsors,” Hucker said.

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