RIVALS GEAR FOR ALBERTSON'S MUST-SELL UNITS

BOISE, Idaho -- Western retailers are positioning themselves to acquire stores that Albertson's would be required to divest once its merger with American Stores Co., Salt Lake City, is complete, industry sources told SN.Albertson's here said last week it expects to close the deal before June 30."We are still working through the regulatory process," Gary E. Michael, chairman and chief executive officer,

BOISE, Idaho -- Western retailers are positioning themselves to acquire stores that Albertson's would be required to divest once its merger with American Stores Co., Salt Lake City, is complete, industry sources told SN.

Albertson's here said last week it expects to close the deal before June 30.

"We are still working through the regulatory process," Gary E. Michael, chairman and chief executive officer, said in disclosing financial results for the first quarter ended April 29.

The company said it is waiting for final approval of the merger from the Federal Trade Commission. A company spokesman acknowledged last week that divestitures would be required, although he declined to comment on how many stores might have to be sold.

Albertson's and the Lucky Stores division of American Stores compete with each other throughout California and in Las Vegas, and industry sources told SN last week divestitures are expected to exceed 100 units, with an estimated 110 likely to be sold in California alone, plus an unspecified number in Las Vegas.

While the company declined comment, industry observers told SN the stores may be divested as follows:

In southern California, Stater Bros. Markets, Colton, Calif., is expected to acquire more than 40 locations, with the balance going to Certified Grocers of California, the Los Angeles-based member-owned cooperative.

In northern California, Ralphs Grocery Co., Compton, Calif., is the likely buyer, with stores being converted to the Cala or Bell Markets banner.

In Las Vegas, West Sacramento, Calif.-based Raley's Supermarkets and Scolari's Food & Drug, Sparks, Nev., are reportedly bidding on locations.

Jack Brown, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Stater Bros., told SN his company began negotiating with Albertson's in January and reached an agreement in principle two months ago regarding the number of stores it would acquire, their locations and the price.

Brown declined to pinpoint the number, although industry sources told SN it would exceed 40 units, which would increase Stater's current size of 112 stores by more than one-third.

"We've been in dress rehearsals with our top people for weeks, going through scenarios to make the transition smooth," Brown said.

Al Plamann, president and chief executive officer of Certified Grocers, said the distributor has "been working on the bidding process" to acquire some of the remaining southern California stores for its members.

A spokesman for Ralphs declined comment on the reports. Ralphs, which operates 24 stores in northern California, is a division of Fred Meyer Inc., Portland, Ore., which is being acquired by Kroger Co., Cincinnati.

In Las Vegas, industry observers said the FTC would require Albertson's to decide whether it wants to operate under the Albertson's or Lucky name.

Raley's declined comment and Scolari's could not be reached for comment last week. Raley's operates in northern California and northern Nevada and Scolari's only in northern Nevada, so acquiring stores in Las Vegas would extend one or both chains into a new marketplace.

A new distribution center in Tulsa, Okla., is scheduled to open in August, the company said.