Nash Finch to buy 18 grocery stores, 12 in Omaha market

  • Article by: MIKE HUGHLETT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 15, 2012 - 9:19 PM

Purchase of No Frills Supermarkets is second Nebraska deal this year.

Nash Finch Co. is known mostly as a food wholesaler, but it's opted to make a big splash in the Omaha retail grocery market.

The Edina-based company announced Tuesday it has agreed to buy No Frills Supermarkets, less than two months after buying another Omaha chain. It's now a close No. 2 in the Omaha grocery market after the Hy-Vee chain, said Robert Dimond, Nash Finch's chief financial officer.

However, Nash Finch's Omaha play reflects opportunities in that market, not a strategic shift to more retail. "The stars lined up just right," Dimond said.

No Frills has 14 stores in Nebraska, 12 of which are in the Omaha area, and four more outlets in western Iowa. Its annual sales are in excess of $225 million, Dimond said.

Terms of the No Frills deal haven't yet been disclosed. But in April, Nash Finch completed a $29.9 million cash deal for Bag N' Save, a 12-store chain with $149 million in sales last year, according to federal securities filings.

Both No Frills and Bag N' Save have long been major customers of Nash Finch's grocery distribution business. The No Frills deal "made sense in light of our acquisition of Bag N' Save," Dimond said.

Ajay Jain, a stock analyst with Cantor Fitzgerald, wrote in a research note that after the No Frills deal, "Nash will have very meaningful market share in the [Omaha] region." The two Omaha deals are "highly opportunistic," not indicative of a strategy shift, he wrote.

Retail grocery operations made up almost 10 percent of Nash Finch's nearly $5 billion in revenues last year. Prior to the Omaha deals, the company had 46 retail supermarkets, its largest chain being Sun Mart with 20 stores, including one each in Moorhead and Fergus Falls.

Nash Finch's 13-store Econofoods chain operates in small cities and towns mostly in Minnesota and western Wisconsin.

The No Frills chain has been owned for the past few years by its senior management team. Fred Witecy, a No Frills owner and its chief executive, is a former Nash Finch employee who will now rejoin Nash.

Nash Finch's stock closed Tuesday at $22.91, up 48 cents, or 2.1 percent.

Mike Hughlett • 612-673-7003

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