JASPER, Ind. — Buehler Foods here said last week it has signed a letter of intent to be acquired by Houchens Industries.
Houchens, a diversified company based in Bowling Green, Ky., plans to keep all 22 of the Buehler stores open and to retain the Buehler name after the sale goes through, Kris Buehler Massat, Buehler's president and chief executive officer, told SN.
Sales at Buehler, which operates under the Buehler Buy-Low banner, totaled approximately $281.8 million last year. The company operates 16 stores in Indiana, five in Illinois and one in Kentucky.
According to Massat, Buehler (pronounced BEE-ler) had not contemplated selling the stores, “but when Houchens approached us, we thought it was a good fit,” she told SN.
The timing was right for a sale, she said, because of “continuing pressures in the retail marketplace, our ongoing need for growth and expansion and the future of our 1,500-plus associates. [Following the sale], associates will be provided long-term opportunities in a way that today's environment has prevented us from doing.”
Houchens operates 140 conventional supermarkets under several banners (including Houchens, Food Giant, IGA, Piggly Wiggly and Mad Butcher); 224 Save-A-Lot stores; and 40 convenience stores, all of which combined account for approximately 70% of the company's 2007 sales of $2 billion. The balance came from other businesses, including warehousing, construction and recycling.
Jimmie Gipson, chairman and CEO of Houchens, told SN his company was interested in acquiring Buehler “because of the geography it adds to our territory.”
He said Houchens does not anticipate making any changes in the Buehler operation once the deal is completed. “They are well-run stores, and it makes sense to keep them as much like they are now as possible.” He said he anticipates expanding the Buehler franchise at some future point.
Buehler filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2005 after debt from its purchase of 16 Winn-Dixie stores in Kentucky proved too burdensome. Under its 2006 reorganization plan, ownership of the 22 supermarkets passed from Dave Buehler, son of the chain's founders, to his daughter, Massat, while the elder Buehler retained ownership of a group of Save-A-Lot stores, which are not included in the pending deal with Houchens.
Buehler Foods is not affiliated in any way with Wooster, Ohio-based Buehler Food Markets.