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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Aug. 30, 201805:20 AM EST

Winn-Dixie parent rolling out renovations

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Southeastern Grocers CEO Anthony Hucker says company will keep updating “until we’ve done the entire fleet.”

Southeastern Grocers CEO Anthony Hucker said Tuesday the Jacksonville-based supermarket chain will have remodeled almost 100 stores by year-end and will continue until all are refreshed.

“We will continue at speed, both this year and next year and the following year, until we’ve done the entire fleet,” Hucker said in a telephone interview.

Southeastern Grocers operates 577 stores in seven states under the banners of Winn-Dixie, Harveys, Bi-Lo and Fresco y Más.

There are 39 Winn-Dixie and Harveys stores Baker, Clay, Duval, Nassau and St. Johns counties.

As a private company, the Jacksonville-based company does not disclose the investment it is making in the work, he said.

Southeastern Grocers emerged from Chapter 11 in May after filing its prepackaged bankruptcy reorganization in March. The company’s plan had approval of most of its creditors before it filed its Chapter 11 petitions. That restructuring allowed the company to reduce its debt by half.

As part of the restructuring, Southeastern Grocers closed 94 stores and sold others.

Hucker said he doesn’t anticipate more store sales, “not right now.”

Southeastern Grocers also has been converting some banners to others, such as changing some Jacksonville Winn-Dixie stores into the value-brand Harveys. 

Hucker said Southeastern Grocers doesn’t have any immediate plans to convert more.

“We don’t right now but that doesn’t mean to say we won’t,” Hucker said. “We review each store and the neighborhood it serves and determine what is the most suitable banner for that store in the neighborhood.”

Southeastern Grocers held 64 grand openings since February, he said, including two Duval County Winn-Dixie stores last week in Neptune Beach and in Jacksonville at Girvin Plaza.

The refreshed stores feature enhancements such as new signage; expanded produce departments with more organic varieties; larger deli departments; pizza and sandwich stations; a smokehouse with slow-cooked meats and a wing bar; an expanded bakery and coffee counter; craft beer selections; and other updated departments and merchandise.

“We look at brand new concepts and enhancements throughout the store, which are tailor-made to the local community,” Hucker said.

He declined to say how sales have been affected by the changes. “We don’t discuss financials as a private company,” he said.

Hucker said the changes are bringing in business. “We’re getting more customers coming into our stores,” he said.

Southeastern Grocers was formed after Winn-Dixie Stores Inc. merged with Bi-Lo LLC in 2012, with the headquarters put in Winn-Dixie’s Jacksonville offices. Both Winn-Dixie and Bi-Lo went through Chapter 11 restructurings before their merger.

Winn-Dixie reorganized under Chapter 11 in 2005 and 2006. Bi-Lo went through its own Chapter 11 restructuring in 2009 and 2010.

Hucker, a native of Wales, joined Southeastern Grocers in March 2016 as chief operating officer and took over as president and CEO in the summer of 2017 when predecessor Ian McLeod left for another position.

Hucker served as the interim leader before being named president and CEO a year ago Aug. 10.

The Shelby Report of the Southeast trade publication ranks Southeastern Grocers as the No. 3 chain in North Florida and South Georgia with a 22.8 percent share of the market with 136 stores. 

Walmart dominates with 31.9 percent of the market and Publix Super Markets Inc. takes 28.6 percent, Shelby found.

More grocers continue entering the market or expanding here, including Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Aldi and Lucky’s Market. It makes for a challenging environment.

“Most economists that are industry agnostic would agree that the retailing industry is the most competitive industry in the economy,” Hucker said.

The store changes will better position Southeastern Grocers, he said.

“We have corrected our business through the restructure and we’ve got ourselves fit for purpose which will enable us to be fit for growth,” he said.

“And when our customers are telling us they like the look and the feel of our stores, they think there is a cultural phenomenon going on with our associates because there is a much better atmosphere with our teams and associate engagement, which all leads to our customers being able to count on us.”

The company had 53,300 employees, including 15,100 who worked full-time, at the time of the bankruptcy reorganization filing. 

Hucker said the team now comprises 45,000 associates.

“We are real SEGers, as we call ourselves, and that’s about associates that are reliable, empathetic, accountable leaders,” he said.

Hucker said he is proud of the employees, “and the tenaciousness and conscientiousness and reliability that they have performed through adversity at times but have come out stronger and leaner and fitter as a result of it.”

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