Sweetbay to lay off 346 as it closes its Tampa headquarters and distribution center

Published Nov. 14, 2013

Sweetbay Supermarkets plans to lay off 346 employees at its Tampa headquarters and Plant City distribution center amid the grocery chain's pending sale to Jacksonville-based Bi-Lo Holdings.

In a layoff notice filed with state officials Wednesday, Sweetbay said it intends to permanently close both its corporate office on Sugar Palm Drive and its distribution hub on Jim Johnson Road "on or after" Jan. 1.

Sweetbay spokeswoman Nicole LeBeau said the number may be less if some employees are offered relocation opportunities. But if it holds, it would rank among the largest layoffs of the year in the Tampa Bay area.

The bulk of the cuts target the company's distribution center, where 183 workers involved in distribution and 75 on the trucking side are being laid off. A total of 88 employees in the Tampa headquarters are affected as well.

In its filing, the company places the affected jobs in the category of "administrative and support and waste management and remediation services."

Bi-Lo, which is also the parent company of Winn-Dixie, is buying Sweetbay and two other grocery chains from their Belgian owner Delhaize Group for $265 million. Included in the deal are 72 Sweetbay stores plus the leases to 10 underperforming Sweetbay stores that had closed earlier this year.

Last month, Bi-Lo said it planned to retire the Sweetbay name and convert the stores to the Winn-Dixie brand in the first quarter of 2014.

The layoff news comes while the deal is still awaiting regulatory approval.

LeBeau said Sweetbay employees have been bracing for this since the acquisition was announced in May. Sweetbay currently leases its Tampa headquarters and may seek another tenant to take over vacated space.

The layoff notice aside, LeBeau said it remains unclear how many of the 80 to 90 employees at the company's headquarters — or other workers — will be retained. Most employees in the Tampa headquarters had an opportunity to interview with the Bi-Lo/Winn-Dixie team, she said, but the outcome of those interviews has not yet been disclosed.

"We're not sure what Winn-Dixie will do with job offers," LeBeau said. "It's a weird situation we're in."

Bi-Lo officials declined comment, referring all questions back to Sweetbay.