Advertisement
  1. Business

Winn-Dixie vs. Sweetbay? Winn-Dixie may prove to be the stronger

Published Oct. 14, 2013

Sweetbay or Winn-Dixie?

For many shoppers, Sweetbay is superior. Most of the stores are clean and newly remodeled. The produce is fresh and well displayed, surpassing even Publix's at times. (Blasphemy!) I particularly like Sweetbay's $3.99-a-pound salad bar.

So when Bi-Lo Holdings, the parent company of Winn-Dixie that's buying the Sweetbay chain, said it will convert the Sweetbay stores into the Winn-Dixie brand, reaction was bland.

But maybe it shouldn't be.

Burt P. Flickinger III, a retail expert on the local grocery scene, said this could be Winn-Dixie's big chance, after years of decline. Adding Sweetbay's 72 stores will expand its geographic coverage and raise its prominence, especially in the Tampa Bay market, where it doesn't have as mighty a following as in other places.

"It gives Winn-Dixie more size and scale to compete in the state of Florida,'' said Flickinger, managing director of the Strategic Resource Group, a retail consulting firm in New York. ''It gives it a stronger base.''

Arguably Winn-Dixie is the stronger chain.

For decades, Winn-Dixie was considered a top Florida grocer, especially in the north and the south. Consider its roots. The chain's owner, William Davis, started it in Miami in 1925. Its headquarters is in Jacksonville.

By 1998, Winn-Dixie was a monster retailer with 1,200 stores across the South — even more than Publix's current 1,073. Shoppers praised the store for its meat and its low prices. And the word Dixie had Southern appeal.

But amid increased competition from Publix, Walmart and other discounters, Winn-Dixie struggled to find its niche. In early 2005, it filed for bankruptcy protection.

The company re-emerged the next year a significantly smaller player. It closed more than 360 stores and pulled out of the Carolinas and some big markets in Georgia. Efforts turned to beefing up customer service and upgrading the stores' looks.

Today, the chain has 479 stores in Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi. Some have been remodeled with brown, neutral tones, but most still have the dated pastels and not-so-exciting facades.

Absorbing the Sweetbay stores allows Winn-Dixie to quickly upgrade its image in the Tampa Bay area, where Winn-Dixie's stores are often spread out in remote areas such as Palm River and Seffner. Sweetbay stores are typically nicer and more modern than most Winn-Dixies, having gone through extensive remodelings when the brand converted from Kash n' Karry to Sweetbay several years ago.

In the long run, Sweetbay probably didn't have much of a chance anyway. After closing 33 underperforming stores earlier this year, it didn't have a lot of locations left. Seldom do I see big crowds at the stores that remain.

Shoppers didn't like that Sweetbay was owned by a non-U.S. company, Flickinger said. Although Sweetbay has its corporate headquarters in Tampa, its parent company, Delhaize Group, is from Belgium. Its U.S. subsidiary is in North Carolina.

"Winn-Dixie has always been a name that has connected well in Florida,'' Flickinger said. "Sweetbay has not connected well.''

Maybe putting Winn-Dixie's name on Sweetbay's buildings will be the change that works.

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

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Frances Werner-Watkins Julie Rinaldi
    News and notes on local businesses
  2. Left to right: Oak Hill Hospital Anesthesiology residents Daniel Eskander, Wayne Simmons, Jeffrey Huang and Benjamin Segil. Katie Stacy/Oak Hill Hospital
    News and notes on local businesses
  3. A total of 131 employees are scheduled to be laid off in January as Locale Market and Farm Table Cucina close at the Sundial to make way for a new food hall created by the developers of the Heights Public Market at the Armature Works in Tampa. CHRIS URSO   |   TIMES
    In a notice to the state of Florida, Sundial owner Bill Edwards said the layoffs are expected to take place the first week of January.
  4. WeWork is opening Tampa offices at 501 E Kennedy Blvd. despite company struggles, including $1.25 billion in losses over 2019. SCOTT KEELER  |  Tampa Bay Times
    WeWork has 200 planned coworking space openings as leadership tries to manage $1.25 billion in losses.
  5. Florida's unemployment rate was unchanged in October at 3.2 percent, according to numbers released Friday. LYNNE SLADKY  |  AP
    The latest numbers were released Friday morning.
  6. Apollo Global Management has offered $130 per share for Tech Data's stock in an acquisition worth $5.4 billion. If regulators shareholders approve, the home-grown company will remain based in Pinellas County, where it employs 2,000 of its 14,000 workers. DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Private equity firms like Apollo create wealth for pension funds, financial institutions and individual investors by buying assets that typically are sold later at a profit.
  7. Some of Tampa Bay's largest companies are being sold or are up for sale. Times files and Bloomin' Brands
    Tech Data is just the latest in a growing list of public companies bought up by out-of-state firms.
  8. Hillsborough Community College solicited "non-binding letters of interest or intent” last month from developers interested in purchasing the Dr. Gwendolyn W. Stephenson District Administration Center on Davis Islands. OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times
    Developers have eyed the 3.7 acre waterfront parcel for years, but recent interest has prompted the college’s trustees to finally start the conversation.
  9. Tampa International Airport looking north. The Wall Street Journal ranked it the best midsize airport in America. [Times files]
    TPA took first place in the Wall Street Journal’s annual survey of U.S. airports.
  10. Tech Data's CEO Rich Hume (left) shares a moment with former CEO Bob Dutkowsky during a send off celebration for Dutkowsky earlier this year. JIM DAMASKE   |   Times
    A private equity firm has agreed to buy Tech Data.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement