Supervalu Inc. cut its size in half Thursday by closing on the $3.3 billion sale of its major grocery store chains, an event that drove the company’s stock up more than 11 percent.
The deal transferred Supervalu’s four largest grocery store chains to an affiliate of Cerberus Capital Management and other investors. Following the widely anticipated announcement, Supervalu shares rose 11.7 percent to close at $4.68, up 49 cents.
Ajay Jain, an analyst with Cantor Fitzgerald in New York, called the sale the “end of a long period of value destruction” after Supervalu’s 2006 acquisition of the Albertsons grocery stores. “The latest transaction reunites all of the Albertsons banners under very capable hands” at Cerberus, he said.
The sale was largely intended to reduce Supervalu’s debt. Supervalu sold the grocery chains to Cerberus for $100 million in cash plus the assumption of $3.2 billion in debt.
Following the deal, Supervalu said in a statement that it becomes ‘‘a more efficient grocery wholesale and retail company’’ with annual revenue of about $17 billion, or slightly less than half of its $36.1 billion in sales in the fiscal year that ended in February. The closing also follows Supervalu’s loss of $1.04 billion in the just-completed fiscal year.
The grocery stores in the deal, including Albertsons, Acme, Jewel-Osco, Shaw’s/Star Market, were sold to AB Acquisition, an affiliate of Cerberus. The stores will transfer to the new owner overnight, and Supervalu will turn into a company much more reliant on wholesale business on Friday. The deal also included the Osco and Sav-On in-store pharmacies.
At the same time, Symphony Investors, a Cerberus-led consortium, became Supervalu’s largest shareholder with a 21.2 percent share. It did so through a tender offer to shareholders and purchase of $170 million in additional stock from Supervalu.
But Supervalu isn’t leaving the retail grocery business entirely. Cub Foods in the Twin Cities and four other smaller chains will remain with Supervalu, making up 28 percent of its future sales. So will Save-A-Lot, Supervalu’s national discount chain, which will constitute 25 percent of revenue.
The sale followed a sharp decline in Supervalu’s food distribution business, due in part to the gradual loss of one of its biggest customers, Target, which has aggressively entered the grocey business on its own terms.
Supervalu’s wholesale revenue has fallen 17 percent in the past four years, to $8.2 billion in fiscal 2012. In addition, Supervalu’s grocery store customers were hurt by retail food competition from Target, Wal-Mart and other discount chains, plus a difficult economy.
Despite these trends, Supervalu has insisted recently that it remains the primary supplier to some of the nation’s “premier” independent grocers.
Along with the sale of the stores, Supervalu announced related changes in its board of directors. Robert Miller, CEO of Albertsons, will become nonexecutive Supervalu board chairman, replacing Wayne Sales, who had been executive chairman since last August. Sales will remain on the board.
In addition, as part of an agreement negotiated by Supervalu and Symphony, five other Supervalu directors resigned from the board on Thursday. They are Ronald Daly, Susan Engel, Edwin “Skip” Gage, Steven Rogers and Kathi Seifert.
In other board changes, Lenard Tessler, who was chosen by Symphony, joined the Supervalu board. Two other executives — Supervalu CEO Sam Duncan and Mark Neporent, designated by Symphony — will join the Supervalu board once the board names two independent directors.