Safeway Plans Innovations

PLEASANTON, Calif. Safeway here told shareholders at its annual meeting last week that it plans many significant innovations this year, though it did not elaborate. It also said it would use some of its $1 billion in free cash flow to boost the dividend it pays to 12 cents a share per quarter, or 48 cents annually a 20% increase, or a total of $184 million. Steve Burd, chairman, president and chief

PLEASANTON, Calif. — Safeway here told shareholders at its annual meeting last week that it plans “many significant innovations” this year, though it did not elaborate.

It also said it would use some of its $1 billion in free cash flow to boost the dividend it pays to 12 cents a share per quarter, or 48 cents annually — a 20% increase, or a total of $184 million. Steve Burd, chairman, president and chief executive officer, also said the company's priorities for the balance of free cash flow will be to repurchase shares and pay down debt.

Regarding Safeway's pricing, he said the chain has moved from 2% higher than conventional competitors to “slightly lower than the chief conventional competitor in each market,” and from 2% lower than the largest secondary competitor in each market to 4% lower, “which provides an opportunity for us to take share from them.”

In voting during the meeting, shareholders reelected the nine directors up for reelection and also approved a board recommendation to allow holders of at least 25% of outstanding common stock — down from 50% — the right to call special stockholder meetings.

Shareholders also voted with management to defeat four other proposals: to allow cumulative voting (72.8% no); to support specific global warming specifications (92.2% no); to eliminate death benefits to the families of deceased executives (59.4% no); and to encourage controlled-atmosphere methods to slaughter poultry (98.5% no).