LOS ANGELES — Supermarket magnate Ron Burkle’s Yucaipa Cos. here is considering a bid for Fresh & Easy stores and a possible rebranding under the Wild Oats Markets name, according to reports last week.
A Bloomberg News report cited anonymous sources saying Burkle would name Jim Keyes, the former longtime 7-Eleven chief executive officer, to lead the venture. Keyes, who also ran the Blockbuster video chain for two years, owns the Wild Oats name in partnership with other management, sources told SN.
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A spokesman for Yucaipa would neither confirm nor deny the reports of its interest in Fresh & Easy.
Wild Oats was retired from retail use after Yucaipa sold the chain to Whole Foods Market in 2007. The Bloomberg report cited a trademark application for an entity called “Wild Oats Marketing LLC” with Yucaipa’s address to open retail grocery stores.
On the career networking site LinkedIn, several people who have been affiliated with Yucaipa and/or Keyes list themselves as employees of Wild Oats Marketing LLC, either in California or Texas.
A source told SN that entities other than Yucaipa also were examining a bid for El Segundo, Calif.-based Fresh & Easy, which operates 200 small-format stores in California, Arizona and Nevada. Cheshunt, England-based Tesco, which launched Fresh & Easy in 2007, recently said it was “on track” with its previously announced effort to divest the Fresh & Easy banner.
Scott Van Winkle, a Boston-based analyst at Canaccord Genuity, said it is too early to evaluate what Yucaipa’s plans might be, but he said there could be an opportunity for Wild Oats to make a comeback.
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“The market opportunity is robust, Wild Oats is a brand that should still have some equity in the natural/organic food retailing world and the people involved [Burkle and his Yucaipa Cos.] are obviously highly skilled, well capitalized and have experience in the sector,” he said. “The challenge would be the significant reinvention of the existing Fresh & Easy retail concept. Wild Oats was an early entrant in many of its markets in its former life; now it would be restarting without the early mover advantage. All said, I wouldn’t bet against Ron Burkle.”
A website for Wild Oats Marketplace lists its parent company as Wild Oats Marketing LLC, based in Irvine, Calif., and says the company is preparing to launch a line of natural and organic products this year, including cereals, coffee, granola, popcorn, potato chips, pancake mix and other products.
Van Winkle said Wild Oats as a product brand “should have some equity. But, at the end of the day, how the products perform has a lot to do with taste, pricing, support and positioning rather than the Wild Oats brand.”
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