Sweetbay to Close Seven Stores

Sweetbay plans to close seven Florida stores in the next six to eight weeks, encompassing three locations in the Tampa Bay area, two in Sarasota and one each in Fort Myers and Englewood, a spokeswoman for the chain told SN last week.

TAMPA, Fla. — Sweetbay plans to close seven Florida stores in the next six to eight weeks, encompassing three locations in the Tampa Bay area, two in Sarasota and one each in Fort Myers and Englewood, a spokeswoman for the chain told SN last week.

Sweetbay currently operates 108 supermarkets, all in Florida. Meanwhile, the chain plans to open three new stores in 2009: one each in Tampa, Tarpon Springs and Clermont, Fla. Sweetbay’s parent company, Brussels-based Delhaize Group, announced the closings as part of its 2008 sales report on Friday.

“While most Sweetbay stores have been performing consistently better since their banner conversion and the price investment program started mid-2007, a handful of Sweetbay stores remained significantly underperforming with too much of an uncertain future,” the company said in a prepared statement.

Delhaize will take a pre-tax charge of $23.8 million in the fourth quarter for the closures.

The company said increased traffic — due to remodels — as well as improved pricing and strong private-label initiatives drove sales gains in the U.S. of 3.9% in the fourth quarter, excluding an extra week in 2008, compared with year-ago results. Including the extra week, sales were up 12.2%, to $5.15 billion. For the year, U.S. sales were up 3.8% excluding the extra week, and 5.9% with the extra week included, to $19.24 billion.

Comparable-store sales were up 2.9% in the fourth quarter and 2.5% in the year. The company said it had a net increase of 24 U.S. stores during the year, ending with 1,594 locations.

In addition to the three new Sweetbays, Delhaize plans to open 30 to 35 Food Lions (under its various banners) and five Hannaford Bros. stores, while closing 27 locations. It plans to remodel 52 stores, including two Food Lion marketwide renewals in Daytona, Fla., and Columbia, S.C.

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