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Winn-Dixie CEO confident in outlook

BY Michael Johnsen

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Winn-Dixie president, chairman and CEO Peter Lynch expressed confidence in the grocer as it heads into its fourth quarter, maintaining that the grocer’s estimated adjusted EBITDA will come in at the lower end of the $100 million to $130 million range for fiscal 2011, a 52-week period ending June 29, in light of relatively flat third-quarter results.

So far, the fourth quarter is looking especially positive, Lynch said. “[Identical-store] sales are low single-digit, and the performance is strong,” he told analysts Tuesday morning.

Rising gas prices may prove to be a double-edged sword for the Southeastern supermarket, however, especially if high fuel costs impact Florida’s tourism industry coming into the peak season of June through August. “What we’re seeing in tourism in Florida is a lift of about 5% versus last year,” Lynch said. That lift looks sustainable, Lynch added, as Florida tourism has been up over the two most recent quarters and personal income of Floridians is up some 3.4%. “We’re starting to see good signs.”

But any deviation from that growth could have a significant impact on Florida residents, as tourism is a significant factor in the health of the state’s economy. “The economy in Florida still lags behind the rest of the country with unemployment higher than the national average [11.1% vs. 9%],” Lynch said.

Winn-Dixie’s recently launched Fuelperks! program, where members can achieve savings of between 50 cents and $1 per gallon, should help the grocer capture more trips as gas prices rise. That and an increased emphasis on just-in-time meal solutions have Winn-Dixie positioned well against rising energy costs.

“Fuelperks! is evolving our card into a loyalty instrument,” Lynch said, especially as Winn-Dixie seeks to expand its partnerships with local gas stations in honoring Fuelperks! savings. “As the price of gas gets higher, … our program becomes more advantageous to the consumer.”

Winn-Dixie’s Fuelperks! program is active across 44% of the company’s store base in 213 locations, including stores in the Jacksonville, Fla., Miami and New Orleans markets. Winn-Dixie is expected to expand its Fuelperks! program across the entire store base by the end of next year, Lynch said.

Meanwhile, Lynch also noted the Jacksonville-based grocer is augmenting its just-in-time meal solutions with ready-to-eat meals tailored to the tastes of the surrounding neighborhoods and increased merchandising of convenient-meal solutions.

Lynch told analysts that the market continues to be “very rational” in terms of passing any inflationary costs to consumers. Cost inflation was up 2.8% across the third quarter, he said, and retail inflation (the costs passed along to the consumer) was up 2.2%. Price increases across the meat category — which is a high-promotion category — are a little more difficult to pass along, Lynch said, explaining in part the 60-basis point difference between rising costs to the grocer and rising retail pricing.

Winn-Dixie on Monday posted net sales of $1.6 billion for the 12 weeks ended April 6, essentially even when compared with the same period in the prior fiscal year. Identical-store sales were down 0.5% for the third quarter, compared with the prior-year period.

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Bounce, Downy, Tide go retro

BY Allison Cerra

CINCINNATI — Procter & Gamble is taking its packaging for three of its laundry products to the past.

The company said that its Bounce, Downy and Tide brands will sport a retro look for a limited time, giving a nod to P&G’s past advertising for the products.

Tide, Bounce and Downy vintage packages will be available at Target from May 22 through June 10. What’s more, P&G will feature $1-off coupons for Tide and Bounce and 75-cent coupons for Downy in Sunday newspapers nationwide on May 29.

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U.S. Preventive Medicine’s Prevention Plan launched at Sam’s Club

BY Allison Cerra

JACKSONVILLE, Fla., and BENTONVILLE, Ark. — U.S. Preventive Medicine’s new version of a health management solution for small businesses now is available at Sam’s Club.

The Prevention Plan, a personalized, step-by-step health management program that evaluates an individual’s health risks and creates a personalized plan to reduce those risks, now includes a resource center for small businesses, offering information on creating a culture of health and how to apply for state and federal wellness grants, U.S. Preventive Medicine said. The program features online health risk appraisal, as well as comprehensive blood test available through Quest Diagnostics with 25 results, including cholesterol, blood sugar, liver and kidney function, thyroid, bones and fluids and electrolytes. Additionally, personal health coaching, ongoing support, a variety of tools and a plan-wide health challenge are designed to help to keep members motivated to maintain a healthy lifestyle, U.S. Preventive Medicine said.

The new program now is available through Sam’s Club website for $99 and in nearly 540 Sam’s Club locations nationwide.

"As America continues to progress toward sustained economic recovery, we recognize that small businesses will be a key contributor to our country’s success, and we are committed to offering our members as many small business solutions as possible," Sam’s Club health-and-wellness SVP Jill Turner-Mitchael said. "We realize that reducing healthcare costs and supporting employee health are extremely integral to the success of small businesses, which is why we’re offering The Prevention Plan."

For more information on The Prevention Plan, members can call 866-713-1180, or visit ThePreventionPlan.com/SamsClub.

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