The “Sweetbay” name will soon be no more, replaced by “Winn-Dixie.”
After a nearly decade-long run, the Sweetbay brand will fade into the sunset as part of a corporate buyout that will dramatically shuffle the identity of grocery stores across Florida and the broader East Coast.
This comes as Bi-Lo Holdings LLC already operates BI-LO and Winn-Dixie stores and is set to purchase the remaining Sweetbay locations from Sweetbay’s current owner, Belgium-based Delhaize Group. (While the parent company spells its name Bi-Lo, it’s stores are branded “BI-LO.”)
For shoppers, the change really means they’ll find that former Sweetbay locations will adopt the pricing strategy of Winn-Dixie. Unlike Sweetbay, Publix, Wal-Mart or Target, the Winn-Dixie chain uses a membership card system that has discounts on select items for customers who join the program and use their card at the register. There are other discounts on gasoline if shoppers spend enough money at Winn-Dixie, and redeem points at certain gas stations that use the Fuel Perks program.
While praising the Sweetbay brand, Bi-Lo officials also said they would jettison it.
“Sweetbay, Harvey’s and Reid’s have outstanding reputations, and their talented teams of associates have played a key role in making these stores an important part of the communities they serve,” said Randall Onstead, president and CEO of Bi-Lo Holdings. “We are pleased to soon welcome the outstanding associates of all three chains to the Bi-Lo Holdings family.”
The transaction will shuffle a few other grocery names. Other Delhaize-owned stores under the “Harvey’s” brand will remain branded as they are today, though a few Harvey’s stores may convert to the Winn-Dixie or BI-LO banner or vice versa. “Reid’s” stores will convert to the BI-LO banner.
This comes as the dominant grocery chain in Florida, Publix, has 1,073 stores and is rapidly expanding north, with new locations opening up in Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina and Tennessee.
Bi-Lo’s transaction is set to close in the first quarter of 2014, pending regulatory approvals, which marks only the latest gyration of brand identity for the grocery company. Years ago known as Kash n’ Karry, the company transformed in the mid-2000s into “Sweetbay” in a drive to become more upscale.
Even then, the store stocked a mix of other sub-brands in one way or another related to its parent company, including “Hannaford”-brand cheese, “Home 360”-brand aluminum foil, “My Essentials”-brand sugar and “Taste of Inspiration”-brand frozen pizzas.
Still, Sweetbay was caught in the middle, as Publix grew and Wal-Mart entered Florida, and more dollar stores and value stores such as Aldi rushed into Florida as well.
In January this year, then-parent company Delhaize announced plans to close 33 “underperforming” Sweetbay stores of 105 in Florida, all of them by February. That included prominent locations such as those at Hillsborough Avenue in Tampa and a location in south St. Petersburg in the Midtown shopping center. (Wal-Mart has since announced plans to open a Neighborhood Market there.)
Then in May, Bi-Lo Holdings LLC announced a deal with Delhaize to acquire substantially all of the stores in the Sweetbay, Harveys and Reid’s supermarket chains from Delhaize for $265 million in cash, and re-open some closed Sweetbays. In the following months, Bi-Lo cut other deals to acquire 22 Piggly Wiggly stores in South Carolina and coastal Georgia, and then sell seven Bi-Lo supermarkets in North and South Carolina to Publix Super Markets.
Then on Sept. 26, the parent company of both BI-LO and Winn-Dixie announced plans to launch an initial public offering of stock, just as the original deal with Delhaize is set to close.
How the former Sweetbay locations will compete on price is yet to be seen. Over the course of the last four years, the Tampa Tribune’s own pricing research found Wal-Mart was regularly the cheapest, Winn-Dixie the most expensive by a wide margin, and Publix and Sweetbay somewhere in between.