C&S Sells Southern Family

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Belle Foods, a newly formed entity that has agreed to purchase 57 Southern Family Market locations from C&S Wholesale Grocers [4], hopes to return the chain to the luster it had when most of the stores were operated by Bruno’s Supermarkets.

“The management team has done a good job turning the stores around,” Jeff White, who will become chief administrative officer, told SN last week, “and if we can get back to the family-owned roots the stores had as part of Bruno’s, then I believe we can make a difference in the communities we will be serving.”

After the deal is completed — probably within two months, White said — C&S, based in Keene, N.H., will continue to supply the stores through Birmingham Logistics, a subsidiary that has been overseeing warehouse, distribution and procurement services for the chain.

SFM operates its 57 stores in Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi under the names Food World (30 stores), Piggly Wiggly (18 stores), Bruno’s (six stores) and Southern Family Markets (two stores), all with conventional formats, plus a single discount store called Buy 4 Less. White declined to pinpoint the chain’s volume.

C&S declined comment last week on the pending sale.

The wholesaler acquired the stores that became the basis for SFM in 2005. Though that original group of stores was closed over several years because they were too small, the operation was kept alive with the acquisition in 2009 of larger Bruno’s stores.

Bill White and his son, Jeff, formed Belle Foods specifically to acquire the SFM stores, and they are the company’s only shareholders, Jeff White told SN.

He said the new owners do not contemplate making any changes in the operation for several months. “We plan to operate all 57 stores going forward, with no plans for any closings,” he said. “Hopefully we can continue to make the stores profitable and possibly improve that a little bit.”

The company will wait about six months to evaluate the variety of banners “to determine what’s best for the business,” he said, including a decision on whether to expand the Buy 4 Less discount banner to other stores or to convert that store to a conventional operation.

Jeff White told SN he and his father are committed to operating SFM for the long term. Although Max Henderson, SFM’s president and CEO for the past two years, will leave the company when the deal is completed, the new owners hope to keep virtually all 97 of the company’s headquarters employees and to offer employment to store-level personnel, White noted.

Jeff White said his father has worked since 1987 “as an advisor on the future strategic direction of several family-owned chains to help them operate their stores more efficiently.”

The elder White is chief financial officer of Big Y Foods [5], Springfield, Mass., responsible for finance, accounting, treasury, real estate and facilities. Jeff White oversees human resources at Big Y.

Earlier in his career Bill White was CFO of the retail division of Richfood Holdings, Richmond, Va. (subsequently acquired by Supervalu), and also CFO of Farm Fresh Supermarkets there.

He had previously spent 11 years as CFO of Balls Food Stores [6], Kansas City, Kan., after working as director of financial accounting and director of real estate at King Soopers [7], Denver, and as controller for McLane’s Western Grocery wholesale division, also in Denver.

Jeff White told SN that a business contact with The Food Partners, a Washington D.C.-based financial advisory firm, mentioned several months ago that C&S was looking for a buyer for the SFM stores, “and we started talking with C&S last fall.”

C&S has also reportedly sold the 10 SFM Liquor locations it operates in the South, though it was unclear who the buyer is.

Besides Southern Family Markets, C&S also owns 26 Grand Union Markets in the Northeast, which industry sources said are for sale “because C&S does not want to be in the retail business.”

However, because those stores are small and located in rural communities, it has not found a buyer for several years, sources told SN.