FINANCE

Supervalu Q1 profit plunges, initiates strategic review

BY Katherine Boccaccio

Minneapolis — Grocery giant Supervalu Inc. reported Wednesday that profit for the quarter ended June 16 plummeted 45% to $41 million, compared with $74 million in the year-ago period. The struggling parent to Albertsons, Jewel-Osco and Save-A-Lot grocery banners, among others, had begun to show improvement in its fourth quarter, but tumbling revenues have halted the forward momentum.

Sales dropped to $10.59 billion, from $11.11 billion in the same period last year, and missed Wall Street’s forecasted $10.61 billion in revenue.

CEO Craig Herkert, the former Wal-Mart Stores executive who joined the company in 2009 to effect turnaround efforts, said that SuperValu will suspend its dividend and review its options, which he emphasized, do not include bankruptcy. However, although the company has not made an announcement regarding a sale, a strategic review typically involves considering selling the company.

In the meantime, Herkert emphasized that the grocer will enact aggressive price-cutting measures and concentrate on paying down debt and investing in its stores.

"These are bold but necessary moves, which will position Supervalu for success in this increasingly competitive environment," Herkert said in a statement.

Part of the plan calls for cutting capital spending to a range of $450 million to $500 million from $675 million. The company said it still expects to complete approximately 40 store remodels and increase Save-A-Lot’s store count by approximately 40 stores, including licensed locations.

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Herkert on hot seat as Supervalu flounders

BY CSA STAFF

Yikes! After a monstrous earnings miss, Supervalu suspended its earnings guidance and dividend and said it was exploring strategic alternatives.

Supervalu said its earnings per share for the first quarter ended June 16, fell to 19 cents a share from 35 cents a share and missed analysts’ consensus estimate of 38 cents. Sales declined to $10.6 billion from $11.1 billion. The company said the sales decline was due to the disposition of a majority of its fuel centers in addition to a 3.7% decline in identical-store sales at traditional supermarkets and a 3.4% decline in identical-store sales at the low price oriented Sav-A-Lot division.

The bad news on the sales and profit front was accompanied by the revelation that Supervalu was suspending its dividend and would no longer provide investors with sales and earnings guidance. The company also announced it was working with its financial advisors, Goldman Sachs and Greenhill & Co. to review strategic alternatives and put board member Wayne Sales in charge of the process so management can remain focused on executing what was described as an accelerated business plan.

That plan, as described by president and CEO Craig Herkert, involves further expense reduction and a lowering of prices to improve the retailers competitive positioning.

“While our shift to a fair price plus promotion strategy is right for our business, it is essential that we move even more aggressively to lower prices, and anticipate and respond to competitor actions,” Herkert said. “We expect our business transformation to meet our customers’ demands for great quality at lower prices. We intend to do this while remaining profitable, continuing to pay down debt and investing the capital to maintain and enhance our stores and related assets.”

As a result, the company will pursue deeper and more structural cost savings initiatives and adopting more flexible financing facilities, reducing near-term capital expenditures and suspending the dividend, according to Herkert.

“As we proceed with these actions in an effort to drive more traffic to our stores and ensure we are the destination of choice in the neighborhoods we serve, we remain focused on maintaining our operational and financial strength,” Herkert said. “We are committed to generating operating cash flows of more than $1 billion annually and meeting or exceeding our debt reduction targets. And, to assure we are evaluating the full range of opportunities available to us to create value for shareholders, the company’s board and management, together with its financial advisors, are reviewing strategic alternatives for our business.”

He characterized the moves as bold and necessary to position the company for success, but history has shown that a retailer in decline tends to stay in decline. Supervalu may be able to buck that trend, but the competitive forces contributing to its weakness are not abating. The company is feeling the pinch from a variety of competitors. Among conventional grocers, Kroger (click here for special report on Kroger) remains on a role with eight, yes eight, consecutive years of identical-store sales growth. Meanwhile, while such value players as Dollar General (click here for special report on Dollar General) and Family Dollar continue to open and remodel stores at a blistering pace that contain large assortments of food and consumables. Walmart has regained its footing with core customers who are shopping its large stores more often and spending more per visit as evidenced by company resurgent same-store sales growth. And the company later this year is likely to announce an acceleration of its small format store expansion. Target too has become more of a force in the food world, as upwards of 1,000 of its conventional food stores have been converted to a concept called PFresh that features fresh food and groceries in just the past three years.

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Eddie Bauer broadens online presence with ChannelAdvisor

BY CSA STAFF

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — Eddie Bauer is engaging the software services of ChannelAdvisor to broaden online visibility and simplify the selling process on shopping engines, ChannelAdvisor anounced. Specifically, Eddie Bauer is using Managed Marketplaces and Managed Comparison Shopping solutions.

“ChannelAdvisor provides a solid foundation to our digital marketing programs,” said Eddie Bauer director of digital marketing Michael Saracino. “Consolidating all of our data feeds into its integrated system allows us to successfully participate in multiple programs with ease. ChannelAdvisor’s superior functionality continues to improve our online performance and ultimately ensures that we are able to provide a positive user experience to all of our customers.”

ChannelAdvisor is a multichannel solution that simplifies the online selling process by connecting retailers to consumers through a web-based software platform. ChannelAdvisor’s Managed Services experts use the advanced software to compose efficient business rules that generate top-performing search terms and product descriptions so that Eddie Bauer’s inventory is easily found on shopping engines. Likewise, ChannelAdvisor’s Marketplaces solution helps map the proper Universal Product Code information and category data to each Eddie Bauer product on Amazon to guarantee accurate listings on the marketplace.

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