I talked to a couple of people with close ties to Ingles, who flat-out denied that any sale was imminent. They note that some form of the same rumor has come up from time to time over the years.
Now the rumor is back, with an update – supposedly there are a few firm bids from buyers interested in acquiring Ingles, with the leading bidder being Safeway. The California-based chain, the second-largest grocery chain in the U.S., was bought out earlier this year by Cerberus Capital Management, a private equity firm. (Kroger, the largest U.S. grocery chain, purchased North Carolina-based Harris Teeter earlier this year.)
From Bloomberg.com in March:
Albertsons and Safeway are seeking to cut costs and expand their reach amid mounting competition from Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and warehouse clubs, as well as online food sellers and delivery services. U.S. supermarket and grocery-store sales rose an estimated 0.4 percent to $531.4 billion in 2013 and are expected to decline 1.7 percent this year, according to a January report from research firm IBISWorld Inc.
It’s been three years since Ingles founder Robert Ingle died. Bobby Ingle Jr. took the helm as CEO following his father’s death. Robert Ingle opened his first grocery store in Asheville in 1963. The company is based in Black Mountain, and it now operates about 200 stores in six Southeastern states. It has annual sales of nearly $4 billion, according to a company profile.
From the Ingles company profile:
Early on, Ingles implemented a successful strategy of real estate investment in the communities it served, often owning the real estate on which its stores are located. Ingles today owns two-thirds of the real estate on which it operates.
He cut prices, extended store hours to include Sundays and holidays, advertised specials, expanded the supermarket, set up mass merchandise displays, offered games, stamps and other promotional items and generally, ran what he called “a circus” in order to get people in the door.
Today, the grocery store has remained successful despite increased competition by renovating stores, highlighting locally sourced brands and adding gas stations to many store locations.
In the meantime, competition has picked up. Publix is building its first Asheville store on Hendersonville Road, and Whole Foods opened its first full-fledged store in Asheville earlier this year on Tunnel Road. (Whole Foods bought Greenlife a few years ago.) Trader Joe’s recently opened in Asheville, as did the independent Katuah Market. Also, Walmart, Sam’s Club, Target and Aldi add to the competitive pressures.
We’ll see what happens. If you have any intel, shoot me an email or leave a comment.