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Bi-Lo Takes Over Winn-Dixie

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Shareholders of Winn-Dixie Stores overwhelmingly approved the company’s acquisition by Mauldin, S.C.-based Bi-Lo Holding, which will migrate its headquarters here over time, the companies said last week.

Michael Byars will remain as president of Bi-Lo and work from that chain’s South Carolina headquarters as the chain maintains a “very strong regional presence” for distribution and local store support, a spokeswoman for Bi-Lo told SN last week.

She said it would be several months “or maybe a year” before the integration of the two chains is completed.

As previously reported, Randall Onstead, who had been chairman of Bi-Lo, has become president and chief executive office of Bi-Lo Holding. Peter Lynch, who had been chairman, president and CEO of Winn-Dixie, is leaving the company.

Both chains are expected to retain their banners, and no closures are expected as a result of the merger.

Jacksonville was chosen as the headquarters because the location is “centrally located within its eight-state operating area,” Bi-Lo said in a statement last week. “The Jacksonville-based infrastructure is best positioned to host the combined Bi-Lo and Winn-Dixie support center, corporate office and distribution facilities.”

Bi-Lo is currently supplied by C&S Wholesale Grocers, Keene, N.H., while Winn-Dixie is self-distributing. Some analysts have speculated that the combined chains could seek to outsource all of their distribution to C&S. Winn-Dixie currently operates through six distribution centers, including one that it owns and five that are leased.

Karen Short, a New York-based analyst with BMO Capital Markets, also suggested that savings could be achieved by supplying some Bi-Lo locations through Winn-Dixie’s infrastructure.

In a report last week following the merger, Standard & Poor’s said it forecast same-store sales growth for 2012 at Winn-Dixie locations of about 2%, and same-store sales “in the mid-single digits” at the legacy Bi-Lo stores. The debt-ratings agency also predicted “relatively stable operating margins” at Bi-Lo and “slight expansion of margins” at Winn-Dixie and at the company overall.

About 39.9 million Winn-Dixie shares voted in favor of the merger, vs. 950,000 against, according to reports. The price was $9.50 per share, or $560 million.

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