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Supervalu Pulls Sunflowers

Late Friday Supervalu announced they would be shuttering the Sunflower Markets concept it introduced with fanfare just about two years ago. There are five stores currently operating: three in Ohio, and one each in Chicago and Indianapolis. All will close the week of Feb. 18, according to a brief story in the Ohio publication, Business First of Columbus.

While a surprise, it's not really a shock. During Supervalu's July 2007 quarterly conference call, president and CEO Jeff Noddle alluded briefly to Sunflower's performance, and seemed less than enthusiastic about it.

“We certainly like the concept, but the playing field has changed a little bit, and we have to evaluate whether a separate, distinct format is the right way to address it or if incorporating it more into traditional stores is a better path,” he told analysts.

Well, management has evaluated the situation, and the decision dovetails nicely with the company's new enthusiasm for its Premium Fresh & Healthy remodeling program, which Noddle touted during the most recent call just last week.

“We are pleased with our early remodel performance and plan to maintain our commitment to the important remodel program, increasing our major remodels in fiscal 2009 to 165 stores, up from fiscal 2008’s 125 store remodels,” he said.

We don't know exactly what management's expectations were, though Supervalu spokeswoman Haley Meyer said the Sunflower wasn't meeting company expectations. It's a shame the Sunflower concept didn't work. It represented an unprecedented commitment to the idea of a stand-alone wellness format, and marked an exciting departure from conventional retail thinking. Supervalu took a big chance. Publix has been moving much more slowly in opening its long-delayed GreenWise units, and Bashas' has christened a single Ike's Farmers' Market.

We'll leave the discussion over why this happened to you, but be assured shoppers will be seeing the more profitable elements of Sunflower in new and remodeled Supervalu-owned stores going forward.