Taking Stock

Print Friendly

Local Notes

Weis Markets late last month reported third-quarter net income of $17.2 million, up 1.2 percent for the period ended September 29, while its earnings per share increased 1.6 percent to $0.64 per share compared to the same period in 2011. For the period, Weis’ sales decreased 1.5 percent to $668.4 million, while comparable stores decreased 1.7 percent. This is first time in many moons that the Sunbury, PA retailer has failed to post positive comp store gains. Weis noted that its net income and operating income increases were the result of continued focus on disciplined promotions and marketing, increased store-level productivity, improved operational and supply chain efficiencies and a decrease in depreciation expenses due to its change of depreciation methods from accelerated to straight-line. While asserting that its overall market share remained stable, it also attributed its sales results to an unfavorable year over year comparison. In September 2011, a majority of its stores located in Pennsylvania and New York counties were impacted by flooding due to Hurricanes Irene and Lee, resulting in emergency sales surges throughout these areas. Also negatively impacting sales was a $4.5 million decline in pharmacy sales due to the conversion of brand drugs to generic. As part of its strategy to offset this decline, Weis has expanded its immunization programs. Other reasons offered for the challenging third quarter were cautious consumer spending due to high unemployment in Northeastern Pennsylvania, New York’s Southern Tier and parts of Central Pennsylvania along with higher gas prices throughout its five state market area. But to the casual reader, here’s what you should know: the investments that the company has made in infrastructure and talent under the leadership of CEO Dave Hepfinger and executive VP Kurt Schertle have put Weis in great shape for the future. Since 2009, nobody in the supermarket channel has enjoyed a better run. And given the foundation that’s been built over the past four years, the increased capital investment and the continuing growth of its talent base, one flat quarter won’t deter the “new” Weis Markets from future gains. And on December 9, Weis will open a new 65,800 square foot replacement unit in Fogelsville, PA (Lehigh County) and its first LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) unit in its 162 store fleet…one retailer that continues to hit it out of the park is Whole Foods, which posted another quarter of remarkable sales and earnings. In its fourth quarter ended September 30, the Austin, TX-based natural and organics retailer saw overall sales increase 24 percent to $2.9 billion and comp store revenue jump a whopping 8.5 percent. “We ended the year with strong sales growth and record fourth quarter results, delivering the best year in our 32 year history,” said John “Wacky” Mackey, the retailer’s co-CEO and founder. The results cap a year in which comp sales increased 8.4 percent (the industry comp store median for all channels of retailers is about 2 percent positive). During its fourth quarter, Whole Foods opened seven stores and, in its current first quarter, has opened seven of a planned 10 new units (including a humdinger of an opening in Virginia Beach). Whole Foods announced that it has recently signed 11 new leases which call for new stores to be built in Morristown, NJ (a former A&P), Philadelphia; and New York City (two units, including a 39,000 square footer on 125th Street and Lenox Avenue in Harlem; the other is a 38,000 square foot store on 3rd Avenue and E. 87th Street.). Additionally, the retailer announced earlier this month it has agreed to acquire six Boston area locations from independent retailer John DeJesus (Johnnie’s Foodmaster) in South Weymouth, Arlington, Charlestown, Melrose, Somerville and Brookline (another Foodmaster unit in Medford, MA was acquired by Stop & Shop and three other units will close). There’s nobody hotter than Whole Foods, not only in the retail food business, but arguably in any segment of retailing…Ahold USA has promoted Dave Lessard to VP-produce and floral, filling the open slot that was created when Dan McCullough left the retailer earlier this year. Dave’s a sharp and talented produce executive who spent many years at A&P and AUSA banner Giant/Landover. We wish him well in his new post where he will report to Ahold USA senior VP- fresh merchandising Steve Mayer. Other Ahold USA stuff (if there wasn’t enough already): Ahold has officially agreed to build a new 162,000 square foot meat processing facility in Lower Allen Township, PA (Cumberland County) that will produce beef and pork products for the chain’s Giant/Carlisle and Giant/Landover divisions. The big global retailer said it will invest at least $63 million in the project and will hire about 850 workers. Ahold has named Vantage Foods to operate the facility when it opens in late 2013. Vantage currently supplies the southern region of Martin’s Food Markets from a facility in Lenoir, NC. “Ahold USA is proud to be part of the economic engine of central Pennsylvania, bringing new jobs to the region and a new business, Vantage Foods, to the state” said Mark McGowan executive VP- supply chain for Ahold USA. “This meat packaging facility is a significant investment in the future and these incentives will help us ensure its long-term success… Fresh Grocer, opened its first unit in the Garden State earlier this month, a beautiful new 50,000 square foot store in New Brunswick, NJ, the first new supermarket development in that central New Jersey city in more than two decades. The project took awhile to complete and Pat Burns, Grant McLoughlin and the entire Fresh Grocery team deserve a lot of credit for their perseverance and their continued efforts to open grocery stores in challenging urban areas…Sheetz, one of the best c-store retailers in the country, has named Joe Sheetz as its new president and CEO, replacing Stan Sheetz, who will now become chairman of the $6.3 billion Altoona, PA-based retailer which operates approximately 430 convenience stores in six Mid-Atlantic states. Joe Sheetz was most recently EVP and CFO of the company, having joined the privately-held family owned regional chain shortly after graduating from the Wharton School of Business at the Universityof Pennsylvaniain 1995. “While I am looking forward to serving the company in a new capacity, I am also extremely excited to see Joe takeover leadership as president and chief executive officer,” said Stan Sheetz. “When his father Big Joe Sheetz passed away, Joe added the store development department to his responsibilities in finance, accounting and IT and has been doing a fantastic job! Joe is driven, bright and has the experience we need to help us write the next chapter of our company’s history.”…the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) has named Danny Wegman, CEO of Wegmans Food Markets, and Tim Smucker, chairman of the J.M. Smucker Co., recipients of the 2012 GMA Hall of Achievement Award, the highest honor given by the national manufacturer trade group…and speaking of awards, a tip of the hat to Jeff Brown, owner of 10 ShopRite in the Philadelphia area and partner with Klein family in two other Baltimore area projects, on being named as this year’s winner of the Pete Manos retail executive of the year. Jeff’s not only a premier retailer, his efforts and contributions to creating awareness and solutions to the national “food desert” problem make him one of the most extraordinary people in our industry and a deserving winner…Philabundance, a hunger relief group that Brown is very familiar with, will open its first Fare & Square supermarket in the Chester, PA, a city that hasn’t had a supermarket within its boundaries in more than a decade. The 13,000 square foot unit will be run as a non-profit entity (in fact, Brown’s UpLift Solutions will help with store design and merchandising) and could be the first of several such stores in the Delaware Valley, which has as many food deserts as any region in the country based on population. And kudos to Brown’s parent organization, Wakefern Food Corp. for another stellar year in continuing challenging market conditions. The Keasbey, NJ cooperative wholesaler posted $13.6 billion in retail sales (for the year ending September 29), an impressive 6.4 gain from 2011. Revenue from wholesale was $10.1 billion. That not only ranked Wakefern as the largest co-operative grocery wholesaler in the country (according to National Cooperative Bank), it jumped one spot to number four among all co-ops nationally (CHS Inc, Dairy Farmer of America and Land O’ Lakes were the respective overall leaders). During the past 12 months, Wakefern opened 10 new ShopRite units and one new PriceRite discount store. Additionally, last month, a new PriceRite store debuted in Syracuse, NY, its first in that Central NY city and in the next few months, two more PriceRites will open in Maryland, where there is currently only one such unit. The new stores will cut ribbons in Baltimore City and District Heights…interesting read of the month: the Ron Burkle feature story that appeared in the October 8 issue of The New Yorker. Burkle is an interesting, complicated and very shrewd dude, and one who, after the reading the piece penned by Connie Bruck, you might not feel that warm and fuzzy about… last month we reported the untimely death of Minute Maid (Coca-Cola) executive BJ Land, and truly one of the nicest guys and most talented executives in the business. For many years, BJ supervised his company’s activities in the Mid-Atlantic and Minute Maid has established a scholarship fund on BJ’s behalf. If you’re interested in making a donation, the address is: 3 Family Fund, c/o Minute Maid, Fred Arnold, 2150 Town Square Place, #400, Sugarland, TX 77479…last month I had the pleasure of hearing Denise Morrison, CEO of Campbell’s, address a packed house of about 240 students at the annual Pat McCarthy Lecture Series at Saint Joseph’s University. Denise’s speech was not only insightful, she connected with the university’s food marketing students on a real and visceral level. The Genuardi’s banner, which was acquired by Safeway in 2001, will officially become extinct by the end of the year. In the past month, the company’s Jersey shore stores in Barnegat andEggHarbor have been closed to be followed next month by Genuardi units inMarlton,NJ andAudubon,PA. A sad ending for a once great regional chain…much sadder is the damage and destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy late last month. The human and physical toll taken is truly indescribable and it will be years (if ever) before structures can be replaced and those affected can gain a sense of normalcy. As awful and heartbreaking asSandy’s impact was, I’ve got to give props to many, many people who serve the food industry. The help that was provided and still continues from retailers, vendors and distributors was incredible and should never be forgotten. From cash donations in the tens of millions, to providing food, shelter and clothing to many unfortunate victims, the food industry shined its brightest light during the past few weeks. Those retailers and wholesalers who gave notable contributions that, I’m aware of include: Ahold USA’s whopping $2.5 million donation to the American Red Cross; CVS also gave $100,000 to the Red Cross; C&S Wholesale contributed about 100,000 pounds of meals, water, snacks and cleaning products to Feeding America food banks in Connecticut and New York City; Target donated $500,000; Wakefern contributed up to $1 million in funds and in-kind donations; Walgreens charitable offering was $250,00; and Wal-Mart donated up to $1.5 million; Wawa gave $10,000 to the Community Food Bank of New Jersey and also for food banks in Monmouth and Ocean Counties; $100,000 was donated to the American Red Cross from Rite Aid; King Kullen and Bozzuto’s teamed up to donate $100,000 in supermarket gift cards to those in need; and Wegmans provided three truckloads of food worth approximately $200,000. Of course, there was much more donated from other retailers, wholesalers and countless manufacturers that I’m not even specifically aware of. In the end, it was all about reaching out to help others in need. As tragic as this episode was (and will continue to be), it makes me proud to be a member of one of the greatest industries in America.