SENTRY MAKEOVER STIRS UP LOCAL OPPOSITION

MILWAUKEE -- The decision by Fleming, Dallas, to remodel its 10 corporate-owned Sentry Food stores here as warehouse-format Fresh 4 Less units has run into opposition at the grassroots level, local government officials told SN last week.Fleming declined to comment whether it will change its decision to remodel and reflag the 10 stores. The company said it will announce the stores' formats closer to

MILWAUKEE -- The decision by Fleming, Dallas, to remodel its 10 corporate-owned Sentry Food stores here as warehouse-format Fresh 4 Less units has run into opposition at the grassroots level, local government officials told SN last week.

Fleming declined to comment whether it will change its decision to remodel and reflag the 10 stores. The company said it will announce the stores' formats closer to their scheduled reopenings.

Last year, Fleming announced it would sell off 24 of the 34 Sentry units it owned and operated in Wisconsin, and would convert the remaining 10 to a value format. The move was part of Fleming's overall corporate strategy to leave the conventional supermarket field and focus on distribution and price-impact retailing.

Local newspaper reports here have speculated that the stores may be reflagged under the Rainbow Foods banner, a Minneapolis-based Fleming division. The 40-store Rainbow chain is one of the few Fleming divisions still operating conventional supermarkets.

The local officials said Fleming's Fresh 4 Less stores do not offer the higher-end service departments -- including deli, bakery and pharmacy -- that their communities want in a supermarket.

Theresa Estness, mayor of Wauwatosa, Wis., where one of the Sentry units is located, told SN that there was strong community resistance to the Fresh 4 Less conversion.

"The store was recently renovated, and the community where the store is located is changing into a more residential area. It doesn't make sense to spend the money remodeling the store yet again," Estness said.

"Also, the store is located on a major commuting line and is located in close proximity to a retirement community," Estness added. "By converting to a warehouse format and eliminating services like pharmacy, they are cutting off local seniors' access to prescription drugs."

Estness told SN that she had several discussions with Fleming, and had urged the company to reconsider its decisions concerning the Sentry stores.

"I agree that Rainbow is a more full-service operation than Fresh 4 Less, but the Sentry banner is really an icon in the Wisconsin marketplace," she said. "I suggested that they take a long, hard look at the situation before making a decision."

Estness said Fleming has provided Wauwatosa officials with a floor plan of the new store that shows it would include bakery and floral departments. However, she added that Fleming did not say what banner the store would operate under once the remodel is completed.