Make us your home page

Sweetbay wounded in grocery wars fought on price, quality

What to do when you're an aging grocery brand striving not just to survive but compete against heavyweight Publix Super Markets and the thundering invasion of Walmart — the world's biggest retailer?

Nine years ago, Kash n' Karry and its Belgian parent, the Delhaize Group, opted for a new strategy and new name: Sweetbay Supermarket. The idea at the time was to redesign its stores and make itself more upscale. Sweetbay became a cheaper-priced version of Publix and tried to hold on to what was in 2004 an impressive No. 2 market share in this region among supermarkets.

Then the grocery battle intensified.

Sweetbay this week said it will cut 2,000 jobs and shut 33 weak stores by mid February. That leaves just 72 locations to fight an uphill fight, mostly in the Tampa Bay area and south to Fort Myers.

In a conference call Thursday, Delhaize chief financial officer Pierre Bouchut hinted the parent company is not done with Sweetbay.

"We decided to close the loss-making stores, and we believe that this is a sensible decision," he said. "Regarding the strategy on the remaining stores and how it fits within Delhaize, we thought strategically about this. And what we are announcing today is a first step to stop the bleeding at a loss-making operation, and definitely over time a more structural solution for the rest of Sweetbay would be a logical step."

Lakeland-based Publix sits solidly in its No. 1 spot among Tampa Bay and Florida grocers. Walmart long ago blew by Sweetbay and Winn-Dixie to become No. 2. Combined, Publix and Walmart now grab 70 cents of every $1 spent on groceries here.

In a metro market where Publix offers convenience, quality service and an incomparable in-store bakery, and where Walmart and sister chain Sam's Club increasingly offer lower-priced options, what can middle-of-the-road Sweetbay bring to the table?

A diminished Sweetbay must now supply a good answer to area consumers.

Shoppers consider many other variables when deciding where to buy food.

Location counts. Publix, with 768 stores in Florida, is famous for demographic analysis and building new stores where it anticipates growing populations. Walmart employs similar tactics. Sweetbay lacked the financial muscle to keep up with such real estate investments.

Cleanliness and good service count. Sweetbay remodeled Kash n' Karry into brighter, more compelling stores. But Sweetbay slowly grew fatigued. Stores often seem down to one or two cashiers — good cost control, perhaps, but an unfortunate reminder of few customers.

Good marketing also counts. Publix aggressively employs BOGO (buy one, get one) promotions that can drive prices lower than Walmart. Day to day, Walmart underprices Publix (and everybody else) but typically does not have the same range of goods and brands.

Sweetbay's latest ad campaign features "Kevin the Butcher," so enamored with the store's meat quality and value that he tries to change Sweetbay's name to Meatbay.

What was amusing, now seems bittersweet. No word if Kevin is among the thousands losing their jobs.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at

Sweetbay wounded in grocery wars fought on price, quality 01/17/13 [Last modified: Friday, January 18, 2013 7:09am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Nearly 1 in 4 Tampa Bay homeowners considered equity rich

    Real Estate

    If your home is worth at least 50 percent more than you owe, you're rich — equity rich that is.

    About one in four Tampa Bay homeowners are considered "equity rich." [Associated Press file photo]
  2. The FHP trooper behind quota on speeding tickets will retire Sept. 5

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — A Florida Highway Patrol official's call for troopers to meet ticket quotas has cost him his job.

    Major Mark D. Welch, Troop Commander of Troop H, wrote an email asking his employees that he wants them to write two citations each hour. "This is not a quota," he wrote. His resignation is effective Sept. 5. [Florida Highway Patrol]
  3. Trump shuts down CEO advisory councils as main group acts to disband


    President Donald Trump's main council of top corporate leaders disbanded on Wednesday following the president's controversial remarks in which he equated white nationalist hate groups with the protesters opposing them. Soon after, the president announced on Twitter that he would end his executive councils, "rather than …

    President Donald Trump meets with Merck's chief executive, Kenneth Frazier, second from left, and other leaders of the pharmaceutical industry in the Roosevelt Room of the White House last January. On Wednesday, Trump's main council of top corporate leaders disbanded following the president's controversial remarks in which he equated white nationalist hate groups with the protesters opposing them.
[New York Times file photo]
  4. A long-awaited vision for Tampa's Westshore Marina District

    Real Estate

    TAMPA —Eleven years after plans to develop a waterfront tract on the Tampa side of the Gandy Bridge were first announced, a new rendering gives a hint of what Westshore Marina District ultimately will look like.

    Rendering of Marina Pointe, a condo project overlooking Tampa Bay as part of the Westshore Marina District. [Courtesy of Masterfile Corp.}
  5. Buddy Brew Coffee to open downtown Tampa location


    TAMPA — Buddy Brew Coffee plans to open a new location in downtown Tampa at Park Tower in early 2018. The specialty coffee craft roaster, which was founded in 2010, has five other locations throughout Tampa including the Oxford Exchange, Sarasota, Hyde Park Village and Terminal F inside the Tampa International …

    A cappuccino is displayed at Buddy Brew in Tampa in January 2017. [CHARLIE KAIJO | Times]