The 2003 bankruptcy of Fleming Cos. launched C&S Wholesale Grocers as a national player in the food wholesaling arena, and since then the company has continued to expand as a “salvage wholesaler” for distressed companies.
Under the leadership of the company’s media-shy chairman and chief executive officer, Rick Cohen, privately owned C&S has grown to become an estimated $19 billion goliath delivering to more than 5,000 stores in 12 states. Although it also counts independents as its customers, Keene, N.H.-based C&S is primarily focused on offering third-party supply to such large regional chains as A&P and Tops Friendly Markets.
In the past year, it has also taken over supply operations for Penn Traffic, the Syracuse, N.Y.-based operator that emerged from bankruptcy two years ago, and has acquired 31 Southeast supermarket locations from Bruno’s, the former Ahold-owned chain that filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy earlier this year.
C&S, which operates the Bruno’s and Food World stores through its Southern Family Markets division in Birmingham, Ala., recently began reopening some of the acquired locations with new merchandising.
Gregory J. Young, president and CEO, Penn Traffic, said during a recent conference call with analysts that the company’s sale of its distribution operations to C&S in December has been “a real success.”
“While the divestiture lowered Penn Traffic’s revenues in the short term, the transaction immediately improved our capital structure, margin rates and operating cash flows,” he said. “In addition to leveraging C&S’ purchasing power to lower Penn Traffic’s cost of sales, this arrangement is bringing up cash that would otherwise be tied up in inventory and trade receivables.”
In addition to his work as a dealmaker, Cohen also is known in his headquarters state as a philanthropist, according to John Dumais, president and CEO of the New Hampshire Grocers Association.
“He has made the company very sensitive to the needy, be it the children’s hospital or the local food banks,” he said.
— Mark Hamstra