At ribbon-cutting for renovated Winn-Dixie in St. Johns County, Anthony Hucker says bankruptcy reorganization not slowing company down.
Southeastern Grocers LLC filed petitions for a Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization two weeks ago, but that’s not slowing down the company’s plans to upgrade some of its supermarkets.
“Actually, it’s accelerated it,” CEO Anthony Hucker said Thursday after cutting the ribbon on the grand reopening of a renovated Winn-Dixie store in northern St. Johns County.
Hucker said the company’s prepackaged reorganization plan, which already has the approval of unsecured creditors, puts Southeastern in a better financial position as it lowers debt by more than $500 million.
Jacksonville-based Southeastern, which operates the Winn-Dixie, Bi-Lo, Harveys and Fresco y Mas supermarket chains, expects to continue operating 580 stores in seven states after closing 94 in the reorganization.
Hucker would not say how much money the company spent to renovate the store on County Road 210, west of I-95.
“Let’s just say a lot,” he said.
Before Winn-Dixie merged with Bi-Lo to form Southeastern, Winn-Dixie spent $5.5 million in 2011 to renovate the St. Johns store. But Southeastern decided to upgrade the store again because of customer feedback, Hucker said.
“We listened to you. You said you wanted more organic,” Hucker told customers before the ribbon cutting early Thursday morning.
The renovated store features 1,400 new natural and organic items.
“Freshness for us is a big, big deal,” he said.
Other new featured items include artisan pizzas and a sub sandwich shop. Hucker said those items are a response to customer research showing 62 percent of shoppers in that market make their dinner plans after 4 p.m. on a daily basis.
“The customer wanted to have more meal solutions on the go,” he said.
Hucker would not say what other stores are slated for renovations, but that the company will make those decisions based on customer feedback.
The company is closing two Winn-Dixie and two Harveys stores in the Jacksonville area as part of the reorganization.
Southeastern’s bankruptcy court filings show the company projects to be profitable with annual sales of about $850 million after it emerges from Chapter 11, which is expected within months.
A confirmation hearing on the plan is scheduled for May 14 in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware.
Winn-Dixie already went through a Chapter 11 reorganization in 2005 and 2006. Bi-Lo went through its own Chapter 11 restructuring in 2009 and 2010.
Bi-Lo acquired Winn-Dixie in 2012, and Southeastern Grocers was formed the following year.
The repeated bankruptcy filings have raised questions about the company’s future, but Hucker is assuring customers they shouldn’t worry.
“We want our customers to know they can count on us,” he said.
To back that up, Hucker pointed to the upgraded St. Johns store.
“Don’t look at our words. Look at our actions,” he said.
“This is a company that’s going to be around.”