Supervalu Inc. is buying 22 Food Lion stores on the East Coast in a transaction that already has an exit strategy.
The deal, announced late Wednesday, was one of several by Food Lion’s owner, Belgium-based Delhaize Group, to satisfy antitrust regulators who are concerned about its merger with Dutch-based Koninklijke Ahold NV.
Terms weren’t disclosed.
Delhaize made deals Wednesday to sell 61 Food Lions, including to other firms such as Weis Markets Inc. It also sold 10 Hannaford stores. Ahold, meanwhile, sold 15 stores. In all, the 86 stores represent about 3 percent of U.S. sales of the combined Ahold and Delhaize operations.
The $31 billion merger of Delhaize and Ahold creates one of the world’s largest grocery companies, with 6,500 stores in the U.S. and Europe. In the U.S., Delhaize is best known for Food Lion and Hannaford chains and Ahold owns the Stop & Shop and Giant Food chains.
Eden Prairie-based Supervalu, known locally for its Cub Foods retail chain, approached this deal with an eye on benefiting its biggest business as a wholesaler of groceries.
The company said it will initially run the 22 Food Lion stores under its Shop ’n Save brand. But it added that it is talking to antitrust regulators and store managers about selling some of its interest in the stores. The stores are in northern West Virginia, western Maryland, south central Pennsylvania and northwestern Virginia.
The company already acts as the wholesale supplier to nearly 100 independently-operated Shop ’n Save stores in western Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Those stores are among the strongest performers in Supervalu’s network of wholesale customers, the company said.
“This acquisition is another example of the work we’re doing to grow our business and to deliver creative solutions for our wholesale customers,” Mark Gross, Supervalu’s chief executive, said in a statement.
Wholesale operations accounted for 45 percent of its $17.5 billion in revenue during Supervalu’s most recent fiscal year. The company last week added a significant new customer to the business, Marsh Supermarkets, which operates about 70 stores under the Marsh and O’Malia brands in Indiana and Ohio.
Meanwhile, Supervalu is believed to be on the verge of spinning off a majority stake in one of its main retail units, the Save-A-Lot chain of discount groceries. The company recently changed terms of a loan agreement that was perceived as another step in such a transaction, though it hasn’t set a date for the move.
With the new Food Lion stores, Supervalu said it will continue to have full meat departments, expand its produce selection and provide marketing support. It also said it will offer jobs to all the 1,200 people now employed at the stores.