Supervalu parent UNFI sells 13 Shoppers stores; Will Cub be next?


Supervalu parent UNFI sells 13 Shoppers stores; Will Cub be next?

Photo: Shoppers parent company United Natural Foods has agreed to sell 13 locations.


By Mark Reilly and Katishi Maake  –  Minneapolis / St. Paul Business Journal

United Natural Foods Inc., the company that bought Supervalu Inc. in 2018, has sold off another big piece of Supervalu's retail supermarket holdings.

The Providence, R.I.-based company (NYSE: UNFI), said Friday it's agreed to sell 13 Shoppers Foods stores in the Washington, D.C., and Baltimore markets to three separate grocery store operators. Another four stores will be closed.

The first closures will come by the end of January. The company opted not to renew the leases to three of the locations and the fourth is being cancelled due to an agreement with the landlord, UNFI said in its release.

The sales are expected to be complete between mid-December and the end of February, with Shoppers winding down operations and selling remaining inventory before those 13 stores close and reopen under other banners. You can see a full list of the stores being sold at the Washington Business Journal.

Earlier this year, UNFI closed 30 Shoppers pharmacies and sold the prescription and pharmacy inventories to CVS and Walgreens. Recently several stores were converted to Giant Food stores in Montgomery County and Northern Virginia. What will happen to the rest of the 26 stores Shoppers has in the Baltimore-Washington market is still unclear.

The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400, a union representing retail food workers in Greater Washington, expressed concern for the employees in the stores upon hearing the announcement.

"We were shocked because this announcement has come after more than a year of silence from the company on its plans," Mark Federici, the union's president, said in a statement. "Since UNFI acquired Shoppers, we have requested, insisted and demanded to be given information on the fate of these stores. In response, we have been met with cold indifference. UNFI has refused to provide us with assurances that the hardworking men and women who have dedicated their careers to this company won't be left out in the cold."

The sales were expected, as UNFI made no secret of wanting to exit the retail chains it acquired in its $2.9 billion acquisition of Supervalu. Even before that deal, Supervalu had also been looking to deemphasize its retail chains in favor of its better-performing wholesale and distribution business.

The company's biggest retail chain remains Cub Foods, but maybe not for long. In October, UNFI CEO Steve Spinner said a sale for Cub stores was expected in early 2020.  “We're working diligently to divest both Shoppers and Cub and have advisers fully engaged to push this forward who were working on several deals, each of which involves multiple stores, which increases the level of complexity,” he said.

In announcing the deals for the Shoppers stores Friday, Spinner echoed that sentiment. "Today's announcement reflects progress on our commitment to reduce UNFI's retail footprint and marks another step toward transforming UNFI into North American premier food wholesaler," he said.