Sweetbay supermarket to close 33 stores in florida gasbuddy va


Sweetbay’s Belgian parent company, Delhaize Group, said the move to close a third of its Florida stores was needed to improve its U.S. results and strengthen its bottom line after a difficult year. About 2,000 employees will lose their jobs, including about 1,200 locally.

The closings, effective mid-February, include six in Tampa and three in St. Petersburg. Competition from heavyweights Walmart and Publix and relative newcomers including Aldi and Target proved too much to support so many Sweetbays, officials said.

"The grocery industry in this market is extremely competitive,” LeBeau said. "As low as our prices were and as good as our stores looked, it’s been a challenge. We hope we can continue to get people in our 72 stores and keep them successful.”

For many industry analysts, the announcement late Wednesday was significant but not shocking. Sweetbay, like Winn Dixie, Albertsons and other traditional regional grocers, has struggled in recent years to stand out amid the growing competition. Walmart, Aldi, Save A Lot and other discounters got the attention of bargain shoppers during the recession. Upscale grocers such as Whole Foods and Fresh Market lured customers focused on health and the environment.

In the past month, Delhaize’s U.S. division based in North Carolina has cut several top-level positions as part of a major restructuring to reduce costs and reinvest the savings in stores. It also named Brad Wise president of Sweetbay and Hannaford brands, replacing Mike Vail, who helped lead the 2004 transformation of Kash n’ Karry stores to the more upscale Sweetbay. Vail now serves as chief supply chain officer for Delhaize America.

Last January, the company announced that it was closing 113 under-performing Food Lion stores, including 20 in the Jacksonville area. Delhaize’s latest earnings report released Thursday showed sales for its U.S. stores dropped 2.2 percent last year to $18.8 billion.

Sweetbay’s shedding of stores will likely create opportunities for new stores to come into the market, such as Kroger, said Steven Kirn, executive director of the Miller Center for Retailing Education and Research at the University of Florida. It probably will have minimal impact on Publix, which will continue to focus on customer service.

"The good news is that they have good real estate,” said Berman, a senior director at Cushman & Wakefield of Florida in Tampa. "They have good access, good visibility, good signage and they are a size that can accommodate a lot of other uses.”

Although the addition of empty big boxes could decrease rental rates, he expects it won’t last for long. Both retailers and non-retailers are looking for mid-size space in prominent locations, he said, citing Walmart neighborhood stores, Marshalls, Ross, Hobby Lobby, Big Lots and LA Fitness as a few examples.

Publix spokeswoman Shannon Patten said the company continually looks for new sites and is exploring its options relating to the Sweetbay stores. But no decisions have been made. Publix, with more than 760 locations in Florida, encouraged Sweetbay employees to apply for jobs at their stores.