Kroger could buy Fla. Winn-Dixie stores: reports

CINCINNATI -- The Kroger Co. has chosen its next expansion market, according to a report from WCPO-9, our ABC affiliate in Cincinnati. The name of the town is still unknown, but experts say northern Florida makes the most sense for the Cincinnati-based grocery giant.

The Tampa Bay Business Journal says Kroger could buy Bi-Lo Holdings LLC, based in Jacksonville, which owns and operates more than 500 stores throughout the south.

Kroger CFO Michael Schlotman got the speculation started in October, when he told analysts that the company probably would have entered a new city by now if it hadn't acquired Harris Teeter Stores Inc. and Vitacost.com, an online retail of health supplements.

"We're going into a new market," Schlotman said. "We have a really good feel of exactly where that's going to be. But we want to make sure the time's right for the organization, because we have 2,650 stores that we don't want to get distracted from every day just to say we've gone into a new market organically."

Kroger spokesman Keith Dailey said the company is providing only sparse detail on the expansion plans because it doesn't want to alert competitors or drive up real estate prices.

First Coast News reached out to Bi-Lo Holdings, but its spokesperson had no comment.

Winn-Dixie announced June 21, 2005 it would cease operations in four southern states and cut 22,000 jobs after it filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Winn-Dixie is the fifth-largest conventional supermarket in the United States based on store count and employs 50,000 associates who serve customers in 532 grocery stores and 399 in-store pharmacies throughout the five southeastern states of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi, according to its website.


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