Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

CEO: Winn-Dixie's Efforts Paying Off

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

CEO: Winn-Dixie's Efforts Paying Off

Article excerpt

Byline: Mark Basch, Times-Union business writer

Two years after launching a massive restructuring effort to improve Winn-Dixie Stores Inc.'s operations, President and Chief Executive Officer Al Rowland thinks customers are noticing the results.

"We're confident if we can get people back into our stores, we can win some of them over again," Rowland told shareholders yesterday at the Jacksonville-based supermarket chain's annual meeting.

As evidence, Rowland pointed to Winn-Dixie's earnings of $34.8 million, or 25 cents per diluted share, for the first quarter ended Sept. 18. Those earnings were 12 percent higher than earnings from continuing operations a year earlier and beat the consensus forecast of 23 cents by analysts surveyed by First Call Corp.

"We're running better stores than we used to," Rowland said in explaining why earnings improved.

Identical store sales, which exclude stores that opened or closed over the past year, rose 2 percent in the quarter. That's a key industry statistic, and Rowland said Winn-Dixie is outperforming its competitors in that area.

For example, Kroger Co. announced three weeks ago that same-store sales were up only 0.8 percent in the quarter, and Delhaize Group, which operates Food Lion and several other supermarket chains, said U.S. sales declined in the quarter.

"We are starting to grow market share again," Rowland said.

As part of its restructuring program, Winn-Dixie has closed unprofitable stores, reducing the number of supermarkets in the chain from 1,188 at the end of fiscal 1999 to 1,073 at the end of fiscal 2002 in June.

But the company is now looking to grow and add stores.

In fact, Winn-Dixie's Ponte Vedra Beach supermarket, which closed in spring 2000 in the first phase of the restructuring program, will soon reopen with features tailored specifically to that market, Rowland said after the meeting.

"It will be a totally different Winn-Dixie than you've ever seen before," he said. But he added that, for competitive reasons, he couldn't give details or an opening date for the new Ponte Vedra Beach store.

Winn-Dixie's biggest splash in the Jacksonville area recently has been its Jacksonville Jaguars ticket giveaways. …

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