NEWSWATCH

COMP GAINS GROW SPARTAN EARNINGS GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. Combining comparable-store sales gains of 5.2% with improved gross margins in its distribution business, Spartan Stores here grew net earnings in its fiscal fourth quarter ending March 29 by 11.6% to $8.1 million. Sales of $570.7 million in the quarter increased by 9.1%, and by 18.7% when adjusted for an extra week in the 2007 fourth quarter. Spartan

COMP GAINS GROW SPARTAN EARNINGS

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Combining comparable-store sales gains of 5.2% with improved gross margins in its distribution business, Spartan Stores here grew net earnings in its fiscal fourth quarter ending March 29 by 11.6% to $8.1 million. Sales of $570.7 million in the quarter increased by 9.1%, and by 18.7% when adjusted for an extra week in the 2007 fourth quarter. Spartan said the sales lift was due primarily to the acquisition of Felpausch stores, along with a comparable-store sales gain of 5.2%. The elimination of sales to Felpausch, a former Spartan distribution customer, also helped effect a margin rate improvement in the distribution segment, the company said. Sales for the 52-week fiscal year increased 12.5% to $2.5 billion, compared with $2.2 billion in the 53-week preceding year.

UNIFIED'S EARNINGS DROP IN 2Q

LOS ANGELES — Investments in its distribution network, rising fuel costs and volatility in the equity markets impacted second-quarter earnings for Unified Grocers here, the company said last week. Unified said it expects earnings for the year to be “materially in line” with last year's performance. Net income for the quarter ended March 29 fell 64.7% to $1.3 million, while sales rose 31.6% to $991.9 million, reflecting $201.5 million from business in the Pacific Northwest following Unified's acquisition last fall of Associated Grocers, Seattle.

SPROUTS TO STEP UP STORE EXPANSION

PHOENIX — Sprouts Farmers Market here last week said it will accelerate its store growth as the result of raising $22 million in a recent debt offering. The natural foods retailer, which currently operates 25 stores, said its goal is to open 15 or more stores a year and 100 over the next five years. It will open stores this summer and fall in Texas (Murphy, Richardson, McKinney), California (Tustin, Seal Beach) and Colorado (Westminster, Parker, Fort Collins).

MORE SUPERCENTERS SET IN CANADA

MISSISSAUGA, Ontario — Wal-Mart Canada said it will continue a national rollout of its supercenters this year, planning to build more than a dozen new stores in Canada by the end of its fiscal year in January. In addition, Wal-Mart said it will expand eight or nine existing discount stores to the supercenter format, and relocate two discount stores as supercenters in their current markets. Included in the retailer's 25-27 new projects this year is its first supercenter in British Columbia, which opened last month in Duncan. Wal-Mart Canada, a division of the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer, opened its first Canadian supercenters in 2006 and currently operates 32 locations in three provinces.

DOLLAR TREE SALES TOP EXPECTATIONS

CHESAPEAKE, Va. — Consumers worried over the economy flocked to Dollar Tree stores, helping the discounter post sales increases exceeding company and analyst expectations during its fiscal first quarter. Overall sales of $1.05 billion for the quarter, ended May 3, increased by 7.8% compared with the same period last year, while comparable-store sales improved by 2.1% as basket size and store traffic increased, the discounter said last week. Sales were driven by food, health and beauty, and party supply categories, and came from shoppers “pressured by rising prices,” Dollar Tree said in a statement.