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Sweetbay grocery chain to become Winn-Dixie stores

After nearly 10 years, the Sweetbay grocery store name is going away.

Bi-Lo Holdings, the parent company of Winn-Dixie and soon-to-be owner of Sweetbay Supermarket, said Tuesday that it will retire the Sweetbay name and convert the stores to the Winn-Dixie brand.

The name change is expected to happen in the first quarter of 2014, after Bi-Lo's purchase of Sweetbay goes through.

In May, Jacksonville-based Bi-Lo said it intended to buy Tampa-based Sweetbay and two other grocery chains from their Belgian owner Delhaize Group for $265 million.

The deal called for Bi-Lo to acquire 72 Sweetbay stores, plus the leases to 10 underperforming Sweetbay stores that had closed earlier this year. Also included were 72 Harveys stores and 11 Reid's stores.

Bi-Lo plans to keep the Harveys name on the majority of the stores but will also retire the Reid's name. Reid's stores will convert to the Bi-Lo banner.

Bi-Lo Holdings said the changes would allow the company to provide products at a great value to a broader base of customers and reduce overlapping between its brands. Pending regulatory review, Bi-Lo said it will retain all store-level employees in the stores being acquired and operated.

Sweetbay has had a prominent spot in the marketplace since 2004, when Tampa's Kash n' Karry changed its name to Sweetbay as part of plans to remodel stores, expand product selection and create a customer-friendly culture. The name comes from a type of magnolia tree.

But caught between customer service-oriented Publix and value-driven Walmart, Sweetbay still struggled to find its niche and gradually lost market share. In January, Sweetbay said it was closing 33 underperforming stores in Florida, including 22 in the Tampa Bay area.

Even with news of the name change, it's still unclear what Bi-Lo plans to do with the 10 closed Sweetbay stores it is acquiring. Also unknown is whether Bi-Lo intends to close any of the Sweetbay stores now in operation.

Bi-Lo Holdings, the country's ninth-largest conventional supermarket chain, bought Winn-Dixie in 2011, several years after the store had emerged from bankruptcy and major shedding of stores. Winn-Dixie operates more than 480 stores and 380 in-store pharmacies in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi.

Winn-Dixie is known for its rewards card, beef promotions and fuel rewards program, which earns members 5 cents off per gallon for every $50 spent on groceries.

Founded by William Davis in 1914 as a general store in Idaho, Winn-Dixie had more than 1,000 stores at its height and ranked 24th in the 2010 "Top 75 North American Food Retailers." Today, it has about 45 stores in the Tampa Bay area.

Susan Thurston can be reached at sthurston@tampabay.com or (813) 225-3110. Follow @susan_thurston on Twitter.

Sweetbay grocery chain to become Winn-Dixie stores 10/08/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 9, 2013 8:05am]
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