Taking Stock

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 Metro New York Minutes

It took until the 11th hour, but Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s fanatical effort to ban all sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces at restaurants, food carts, movie theaters and other establishments is dead for now. Calling the proposed law “arbitrary and capricious,” New York State Supreme Court Justice Milton Tingling overturned the ruling, which was passed by the New York City board of health last year. Tingling’s ruling came a day before the controversial law was to take effect. Bloomberg’s team has already appealed the judgment (an appellate court will hear those arguments in June), but, isn’t this whole episode a huge waste of time and money? Nobody’s denying that obesity is a growing national problem, nor should those naysayers be too critical of Bloomberg, whose concerns about public health issues have been consistent and well-meaning. But in the end, it’s all about personal choice and the role that any form of government should play in making decisions which should not be part of their domain…big catch for Bozzuto’s in being named to supply the 17 store Bogopa/Food Bazaar group. And a tip of the hat to the whole Bozzuto’s gang for once again hosting one of the best regional trade shows in the business and especially to CEO Michael Bozzuto’s continued philanthropic work, In addition to the company’s Dream Cruise motorcycle rally for Special Olympics, Michael was instrumental in raising money to buy a $75,000 Leica 3D camera, a new piece of technology that will aid law enforcement in mapping out crime scenes, which was sadly an important factor in the mass homicides that occurred on December 14 in Newtown, CT. During the Cheshire, CT based wholesaler’s “Retailer & Supplier Excellence Awards” dinner held at Foxwoods earlier this month, Bozzuto called up many of the first responders from that horrible day in Newtown and thanked them personally for their efforts…AUA Private Equity Partners, the firm that specializes in investing in U.S. Hispanic-oriented and/or family-owned businesses, announced that it has completed a recapitalization of Associated Foods Holdings, LLC in partnership with the company’s owners. AUA Equity’s strategic partnership with Associated’s owners and management team will allow the company to accelerate its growth by adding new stores to its existing network and increasing its financing capacity available to its customers for remodeling and expansion. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed. Established more than 50 years ago, Associated is a specialty distributor of grocery products to branded independent (predominately Hispanic owned) retail supermarkets in the New York metropolitan area, one of the largest retail food markets in the United States. Associated provides grocery distribution, financing, marketing and promotional services to approximately 250 independently owned and operated grocery stores, which typically carry the “Associated” or “Compare” trade name. Harry Laufer and Ira Gober, Associated’s co-CEOs, will continue to lead the company through its next stage of growth with AUA Equity. Andy Unanue, managing partner of AUA Equity and chairman of Associated commented: “We are pleased to partner with Harry Laufer and Ira Gober who are true icons in the New York City supermarket industry. Associated has an outstanding business model and Harry and Ira have done a tremendous job building the company over the past 30 years. We look forward to partnering with them to help grow the company and increase its profitability.” Gober added, “Over the past few years we have been thinking about bringing in a strategic investor and I believe that we have now found the right partner to help accelerate our growth plans. We are excited to be in partnership with the AUA Equity team. They understand our Hispanic customer base and their collaborative approach has shown me that they will add true value.” Laufer commented, “We have known Andy and his father Joe for many years and we believe that Andy’s experience in the Hispanic market will allow Associated to continue to successfully expand our presence in New York City and other markets.” Unanue added: “This is a quintessential investment that fits squarely within AUA Equity’s wheelhouse – a Hispanic-oriented and family-owned business. Our investment team’s complementary skill set and appreciation, understanding, and know-how of the industry allowed us to successfully consummate this recapitalization. I am proud to be connected to a company that has done so much for the New York City Hispanic supermarket community.” In addition to Unanue, the AUA Equity deal team was led by partners Steven Flyer and David Benyaminy, VPs Kyce Chihi and Nancy Rocha and associate Jack Lin, counsel to the company. And with a seasoned and skilled pro like Joe Garcia joining its ranks, it seems like Associated’s future is very, very solid…I, like many, was very surprised to hear that Fred Brohm, executive VP, has left Kings/Balducci’s after 32 of service to the Parsippany, NJ upscale merchant. Kings/Balducci’s CEO Judy Spires praised Fred for all his hard work, noting his departure was due primarily to the overlap of duties between her and Fred…and it appears that the battle for e-commerce grocery business in Manhattan is heating up. Peapod, the nation’s largest web-driven grocer is seeking to cut into FreshDirect’s reported 80 percent share of NYC wealthiest borough by lowering prices, offering free delivery and turning up the marketing dial. Peapod has been serving the City for less than two years (Fresh Direct began in 2001), but do you think it’s merely coincidental that Peapod’s turning up the heat because of FreshDirect’s recent entry into the Philadelphia area, a market that Peapod has had a presence for quite a few years? And what do you think will happen to the e-commerce/home delivery business when Amazon Local gets its engine cranked up?…on the earnings front, Springfield, NJ-based Village Super Markets, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, posted flat profits ($9.10 million this year vs. $9.14 million in 2012) in its second quarter ended January 26. Overall sales at the 29 store ShopRite operator increased 5.4 percent to $382.2 million and same store revenue jumped a healthy 3.4 percent which the company said was because of “strong sales at several stores that reopened quickly after Hurricane Sandy” and improving sales at its two Maryland units.