Justine Griffin / Herald-Tribune – Word on the street is that Midwest grocer chain Kroger Co. may be making its way into Florida soon.
The Cincinnati-based chain has been growing rapidly over the years, including a 2013 acquisition of another chain, Harris Teeter Supermarkets Inc., and executives said this week that the company has a vested interest in expanding into a new market, though they weren’t specific about which.
One version of the theory has Kroger buying Bi-Lo/Winn-Dixie, the grocery chains held by Jacksonville-based Southeastern Grocers LLC since September 2013.
Florida makes sense for a Kroger expansion in a lot of ways, according to some retail analysts.
In 2014, the Sunshine State surpassed New York as the third-largest state by population. Florida is a top tourism destination, too, for part-time residents who are loyal to the chains they know from the Midwest, Northeast and elsewhere. Florida also is home to educated and savvy consumers who cross-shop now more than ever, said Jeff Green, retail analyst who’s familiar with the Southwest Florida market.
“It’s a trend we’ve been seeing a lot lately — that shoppers go to certain stores for certain items,” Green said. “Like Sprouts for fruits and veggies and Trader Joe’s for their in-house brand. Costco for meat and fish and more traditional shopping at Publix or Walmart.”
Florida’s already been on the radar of many new brands in recent years.
Southwest Florida welcomed its first Costco Wholesale at Sarasota Square Mall in 2012. That same year, Trader Joe’s opened its second Florida store on Tamiami Trail in Sarasota. Fresh Market is another newcomer in recent years, with two stores, in Bradenton and University Park.
Wawa opened its first convenience store and gas station south of St. Petersburg in Bradenton last month.
Sprouts, a boutique-like grocery chain out of Arizona that competes with Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe’s, also is eyeing Florida for expansion. The chain recently opened stores in the Atlanta market for the first time.
Considering the mass appeal of Wawa and Trader Joe’s openings in Southwest Florida, Kroger would likely be a welcome addition. But it wouldn’t be easy.
“It would be tough for Kroger to come in and take away from Walmart and Publix at first,” Green said of the state’s two largest grocery retailers. “But Kroger would be opening brand new, nice stores at a time where Publix is renovating older centers and Walmart, though cheap, is not known to be the easiest shopping trip.”
Kroger acquired Harris Teeter in 2013 in a deal valued at $2.5 billion. Kroger got 212 stores, including one in North Florida, as part of the deal.
The company saw a 21 percent increase in profit in the third quarter of 2014, ending Nov. 8, when compared with the same period in 2013. Same-store sales, a key retail measure, were up by 5.6 percent.
Kroger was No. 2 on a list of the top 75 grocery retailers in 2015, according to Supermarket News, a trade publication, with 2,631 grocery stores across the country and an estimated $108.8 billion in annual sales.
Walmart Stores Inc. was the only chain to surpass them on the list, with 4,987 stores and $221.8 billion in annual sales.
Only time will tell if Kroger has a real interest in expanding in Florida, which would be similar to Publix’s expansion into North Carolina and other Southeastern states in recent years.
The idea could fade away like the peculiar rumor that spread like wildfire last year suggesting Publix was buying Whole Foods.
Shaner’s reopens in Gulf Gate
Shaner’s Pizzeria, the locally owned pizza restaurant that, for a short time, occupied the space that now houses McCurdy’s Comedy Theater in downtown Sarasota, has reopened.
The restaurant, known for its thin-crust pizza and owned by former Major League pitcher Shane Rawley, reopened in Gulf Gate, where the business started out 25 years ago. The new pizzeria is at 6500 Superior Dr., near the intersection with Mall Drive.
The restaurant offers indoor and outdoor seating in the Gulf Gate shopping-and-dining district.
The new restaurant’s hours are 4 to 10 p.m. daily.