INVESTORS LACK WINN-DIXIE'S OPTIMISM

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- With Winn-Dixie Stores' stock trading near historically low levels, Frank Lazaran, president and chief executive officer, tried to convince shareholders at the company's annual meeting here last week that his turnaround plan will succeed -- but he did say it will take some time."Our efforts won't result in improvement overnight," he said at the meeting, which took place at at

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- With Winn-Dixie Stores' stock trading near historically low levels, Frank Lazaran, president and chief executive officer, tried to convince shareholders at the company's annual meeting here last week that his turnaround plan will succeed -- but he did say it will take some time.

"Our efforts won't result in improvement overnight," he said at the meeting, which took place at at the company's headquarters.

Although Winn-Dixie last Wednesday reported a loss of $153.1 million for its first fiscal quarter, Lazaran remained upbeat about the company's turnaround plan announced in April. The plan includes the closing of 156 of its 1,078 supermarkets and new branding initiatives to make its remaining stores more appealing.

"We are encouraged by the progress we are making on our strategic initiatives," he said.

Investors haven't shared that optimism recently. Winn-Dixie's stock, which traded as high as $59.38 in 1998, fell to a low of $2.97 last month. "As a fellow shareholder, I share your frustration with that," Lazaran said.

Some shareholders at the meeting also didn't share his optimism about the turnaround. "We're not going in the right direction," Dan McKitterick of Miami said, noting that other turnaround efforts in recent years have failed. "The real problem, I think, is we keep trying new things. We don't stick with anything."

Despite efforts to offer better products and service, some shareholders said they still see problems first-hand at Winn-Dixie stores. Sarah Ann Bennett of Jacksonville, a former Winn-Dixie employee, said she has often found "rotten food" in the perishables section of her local store.

"I personally, as well as the company, take those issues seriously," Lazaran said. "We clearly understand we need to turn this company around. Nobody's hiding from it. Nobody's denying it."

Lazaran did get support from some shareholders. "If I was a little bit older when I got the stock, I would probably be a little panicky," said 27-year-old Robert Brown Jr. "But I've followed the company. I think the company has a good plan. The company is going to turn around. It's just a matter of time."

Brown's father, Robert Brown Sr., praised outgoing Winn-Dixie Chairman A. Dano Davis and his late father, J.E. Davis, for responding to his pleas 10 years ago to open a store to serve residents of his low-income Jacksonville neighborhood. "I am, and my family is, totally committed to Winn-Dixie," Brown Sr. said.

Davis, whose family owns 36.5% of Winn-Dixie's stock, announced his retirement as chairman last month after working for the company for 35 years. He said it was time for "new blood," and he expressed optimism about the company's future.

"Our family has always been committed to our company. We continue that commitment as we go forward," Davis told shareholders. "I do believe we're working on the right things."

Also at the meeting, shareholders approved Winn-Dixie's previously announced transition plan calling for Davis to be succeeded as chairman by H. Jay Skelton, CEO of DDI, also based in Jacksonville.